The Isamu Noguchi Museum Puts Online an Archive of 60,000 Photographs, Manuscripts & Digitized Drawings by the Japanese Sculptor

No matter how unfamiliar you may be with the work of Isamu Noguchi, you're likely to have encountered it, quite possibly more than once, in the form of a Noguchi table. Designed in the 1940s for the Herman Miller furniture company (in a catalog that also included the work of George Nelson, Paul László, and Charles Eames of the eponymous chair), it shows off Noguchi's distinctive aesthetic as well as many of his most acclaimed sculptures, set designs, and public spaces. That aesthetic could only have arisen from a singular artistic life like Noguchi's, which began in Los Angeles where he was born to an American mother and a Japanese father, and soon started crossing back and forth across both the Pacific and the Atlantic: a childhood spent around Japan, schooling and apprenticeship back in the U.S., a Guggenheim Fellowship in Paris, periods of study in China and Japan — and all that before age 30.

Now, thanks to the Noguchi Museum, we can take a closer look at not just the Noguchi table but all the fruits of Noguchi's long working life, which began in the 1910s and continued until his death in the 1980s. (He executed his first notable work, the design of the garden for his mother's house in Chigasaki, at just eight years old.)




The institution that bears his name recently digitized and made available 60,000 archival photographs, manuscripts, and digitized drawings, and also launched a digital catalogue raisonné designed to be updated with discoveries still to come about Noguchi's life and work. "The completion of a multiyear project, the archive now features 28,000 photographs documenting the artist’s works, exhibitions, various studios, personal photographs, and influential friends and colleagues," writes Hyperallergic's Alissa Guzman. "The wealth of imagery is overwhelming and also surprising, bringing attention to works we might not often associate with Noguchi."

Indeed, as the project's managing editor Alex Ross tells Guzman, the research process revealed "several significant artworks which were assumed to have been lost or destroyed," as well as "previously unattributed pieces that the archive is now able to confirm as works by Noguchi." The difficulty of confirming the authenticity of certain works speaks to the protean quality of Noguchi's art that goes hand-in-hand with its distinctiveness, a balance struck by few major artists of any era. And though quite a few of Noguchi's creations (and not just the table) have been described as timeless, no other body of work reflects quite so clearly the intermingling of East and West – a West that included the Old World as well as the New — that, having begun on economic and social levels, reached the aesthetic one in the century through which Noguchi lived. Explore his catalogue raisonné, and you may find that, no matter what part of the world you're from, you have more experience with Noguchi's work than you thought.

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch the Hot Guitar Solos of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “America’s First Gospel Rock Star”

Many of us first encounter Sister Rosetta Tharpe—now deservedly known as the “Godmother of Rock and Roll”—in footage from her 1964 appearance on a Manchester railway platform. She arrives by carriage, struts out before a dilapidated train station, plugs in her custom Gibson SG, and belts out in her powerful soprano, “Didn’t it rain, children!” for an audience of spellbound Brits. The televised performance, part of The American Folk Blues Festival that toured the country between 1963 and 1966, made a significant impression on blues and rock guitarists of the Invasion generation.

Yet Tharpe’s influence extends a generation further back, to rock and roll’s acknowledged forefathers. She was 49 when Keith Richards and Eric Clapton had the chance to see her on TV, and had been touring Europe since 1957, reviving a career she launched in 1938 when she released her first single, “Rock Me,” and took the stage as a regular performer at the Cotton Club.




Born Rosetta Nubin in Arkansas in 1915, she started performing in churches and revivals at 6, and scandalized many of her gospel fans by singing secular music. But her forceful, soaring voice and innovative guitar playing mostly drew them back again, along with thousands of secular admirers.

She was a rock and roll pioneer in every respect: a gospel singer who crossed over onto the popular charts, a black queer woman playing the fierce lead for mixed audiences during segregation, fronting touring bands that included the all-white Jordanaires, best known for later backing Elvis. She was “America’s first gospel rock star,” notes the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame introduction above, before there were such things as rock stars. Her 1945 single “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” with its “hot guitar solo,” Will Hermes writes at Rolling Stone, “was the first gospel single to cross over on the Billboard race charts” and is sometimes cited as the first rock and roll song.

The following year, she met singer and piano player Marie Knight. The two became lovers, recorded “Up Above My Head,” and toured together in the late 40s as a team before Tharpe married her third husband at Washington, D.C.’s Griffith Stadium in front of 25,000 fans. At the height of her fame, “she influenced innumerable… people who we recognize as foundational figures in rock and roll,” says biographer Gayle Wald. Johnny Cash named her as his favorite singer. “Everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to Aretha Franklin” to Little Richard “credit her musicianship as an important influence on them,” writes Erin White at Afropunk.

But it was her guitar skills that most awed musicians like Chuck Berry and Elvis. Presley “loved Sister Rosetta,” the Jordanaires’ Gordon Stoker remembers, especially her playing. “That’s what really attracted Elvis: her pickin’.” Tharpe’s style contains within it a treasury of the early 20th-century American popular music that would transmute into R&B, rockabilly, and rock and roll—from western swing to country to gospel to jazz to the blues. At the top of the post, see a compilation of solos from her televised appearances, including some serious shredding in later concerts in the late sixties, broadcast in color.

Tharpe continued to tour the continent until 1970, when she played her last concert in Copenhagen. She died three years later, nearly obscure in her home country, her legacy overshadowed by male artists. But we should hear her in Chuck Berry’s first records, and “when you see Elvis Presley singing early in his career,” says Wald, “imagine he is channeling Sister Rosetta Tharpe.” Thanks to revived interest in Tharpe herself—from Wald’s 2008 biography to her 2018 induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—the “Godmother of Rock and Roll” continues inspiring new players to pick up the guitar, especially those who aren’t used to seeing guitarists who look like them in guitar hero history.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Watch Life-Affirming Performances from David Byrne’s New Broadway Musical American Utopia

It’s time, writes Kim Stanley Robinson in his essay “Dystopia Now,” to put aside the dystopias. We know the future (and the present) can look bleak. "It’s old news now,” and “perhaps it’s self-indulgence to stay stuck in that place any more.” Of course, David Byrne has never been a dystopian artist. Even his catchy deconstructions of the banality of modern life, in “This Must Be the Place,” for example—or Love Lies Here, his disco musical about Imelda Marcos—are filled with empathetic poignancy and an earnest desire to rehumanize contemporary culture.

Still his oblique take on things has always seemed too skewed to call utopian. Lately, however, Byrne has become unambiguously sunny in his outlook, and not in any kind of starry-eyed Pollyannish way. His web project Reasons to Be Cheerful backs up its optimistic title with incisive longform investigative journalism.




His latest stage project, the musical American Utopia, which he performs with a cast of dancers and musicians from around the world, announces its intentions on the sleeves of the matching monochromatic suits its cast wears.

Barefoot and holding their instruments, Byrne and his backup singers, musicians, and dancers march on the “Road to Nowhere” with smiles hinting it might actually lead to someplace good, They perform this song (see them on Jimmy Fallon at the top), and a couple dozen more from Talking Heads and Byrne solo albums, especially last year’s American Utopia. In the course of the show, Byrne “lets his moralist outrage explode” yet “balances it with levity,” writes Stacey Anderson at Pitchfork. “There is a political engine to this performance… with a clearly humming progressive core… but Byrne’s goal is to urge kinder consideration of how we process the stressors of modernity.”

The musical doesn’t simply urge, it enacts, and proclaims, in spoken interludes, the story of an individual who opens up to the wider world. “Here’s a guy who’s basically in his head at the beginning,” Byrne told Rolling Stone. “And then by the end of the show he’s a very different person in a very different place.” The road to utopia, Byrne suggests, takes us toward community and out of isolation. American Utopia’s minimalist production communicates this idea with plenty of polished musicianship—especially from its six drummers working as one—but also a rigorous lack of spectacle. “I think audiences appreciate when nobody’s trying to fool them,” says Byrne.

See several performances from American Utopia, the musical, above, from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, and the Hudson Theatre, where it’s currently running. The musical debuted in England last June, causing NME to exclaim it may “just be the best live show of all time.” Its Broadway run has received similar acclaim. Below, see a trailer for the show arriving just in time, The Fader announces in a blurb, to “fight your cynicism.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912): The Truly Weird Origin of Modern Stop-Motion Animation

These days, ever more ambitions computer-animated spectacles seem to arrive in theaters every few weeks. But how many of them capture our imaginations as fully as works of the thoroughly analog art of stop-motion animation? The uncanny effect (and immediately visible labor-intensiveness) of real, physical puppets and objects made to move as if by themselves still captivates viewers young and old: just watch how the Wallace and Gromit series, Terry Gilliam's Monty Python shorts, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even the original King Kong as well as Ray Harryhausen's monsters in Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad have held up over the decades.

The filmmakers who best understand the magic of cinema still use stop-motion today, as Wes Anderson has in The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. They all owe something to a Polish-Russian animator of the early-to-mid-20th century by the name of Ladislas Starevich. Longtime Open Culture readers may remember the works of Starevich previously featured here, including the Goethe adaptation The Tale of the Fox and the much earlier The Cameraman's Revenge, a tale of infidelity and its consequences told entirely with dead bugs for actors. Starevich, then the Director of the Museum of Natural History in Kaunas, Lithuania, pulled off this cinematic feat "by installing wheels and strings in each insect, and occasionally replacing their legs with plastic or metal ones," says Phil Edwards in the Vox Almanac video above.

"How Stop Motion Animation Began" comes as a chapter of a miniseries called Almanac Hollywouldn't, which tells the stories of "big changes to movies that came from outside Hollywood." It would be hard indeed to find anything less Hollywood than a man installing wheels and strings into insect corpses at a Lithuanian museum in 1912, but in time The Cameraman's Revenge proved as deeply influential as it remains deeply weird. Starevich kept on making films, and singlehandedly furthering the art of stop-motion animation, until his death in France (where he'd relocated after the Russian Revolution) in 1965.

And though Starevich may not be a household name today, Edwards reveals while tracing the subsequent history of stop-motion animation that cinema hasn't entirely failed to pay him tribute: Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox is in a sense a direct homage to The Tale of the Fox, and Gilliam has called Starevich's work "absolutely breathtaking, surreal, inventive and extraordinary, encompassing everything that Jan Svankmajer, Walerian Borowczyk and the Quay Brothers would do subsequently." He suggests that, before we enter the "mind-bending worlds" of more recent animators, we "remember that it was all done years ago, by someone most of us have forgotten about now" — and with little more than a few dead bugs at that.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hannah Arendt Explains Why Democracies Need to Safeguard the Free Press & Truth … to Defend Themselves Against Dictators and Their Lies

Image by Bernd Schwabe, via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the most trenchant and enduring critics of authoritarianism, Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno, were also both German Jews who emigrated to the U.S. to escape the Nazis. The Marxist Adorno saw fascist tendencies everywhere in his new country. Decades before Noam Chomsky coined the concept, he argued that all mass media under advanced capitalism served one particular purpose: manufacturing consent.

Arendt landed on a different part of the political spectrum, drawing her philosophy from Aristotle and St. Augustine. Classical democratic ideals and an ethics of moral responsibility informed her belief in the central importance of shared reality in a functioning civil society—of a press that is free not only to publish what it wishes, but to take responsibility for telling the truth, without which democracy becomes impossible.




A press that disseminates half-truths and propaganda, Arendt argued, is not a feature of liberalism but a sign of authoritarian rule. “Totalitarian rulers organize… mass sentiment,” she told French writer Roger Errera in 1974, “and by organizing it articulate it, and by articulating it make the people somehow love it. They were told before, thou should not kill; and they didn’t kill. Now they are told, thou shalt kill; and although they think it’s very difficult to kill, they do it because it’s now part of the code of behavior.”

This breakdown of moral norms, Arendt argued, can occur “the moment we no longer have a free press.” The problem, however, is more complicated than mass media that spreads lies. Echoing ideas developed in her 1951 study The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt explained that “lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows.”

Bombarded with contradictory and often incredible claims, people become cynical and give up trying to understand anything. “And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.” The statement was anything but theoretical. It's an empirical observation from much recent 20th century history.

Arendt’s thought developed in relation to totalitarian regimes that actively censored, controlled, and micromanaged the press to achieve specific ends. She does not address the current situation in which we find ourselves—though Adorno certainly did: a press controlled not directly by the government but by an increasingly few, and increasingly monolithic and powerful, number of corporations, all with vested interests in policy direction that preserves and expands their influence.

The examples of undue influence multiply. One might consider the recently approved Gannett-Gatehouse merger, which brought together two of the biggest news publishers in the country and may “speed the demise of local news,” as Michael Posner writes at Forbes, thereby further opening the doors for rumor, speculation, and targeted disinformation. But in such a condition, we are not powerless as individuals, Arendt argued, even if the preconditions for a democratic society are undermined.

Though the facts may be confused or obscured, we retain the capacity for moral judgment, for assessing deeper truths about the character of those in power. “In acting and speaking,” she wrote in 1975’s The Human Condition, “men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities…. This disclosure of ‘who’ in contradistinction to ‘what’ somebody is—his qualities, gifts, talents, and shortcomings, which he may display or hide—is implicit in everything somebody says and does.”

Even if democratic institutions let the free press fail, Arendt argued, we each bear a personal responsibility under authoritarian rule to judge and to act—or to refuse—in an ethics predicated on what she called, after Socrates, the “silent dialogue between me and myself.”

Read Arendt's full passage on the free press and truth below:

The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.

via Michio Kakutani

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Prisons Around the U.S. Are Banning and Restricting Access to Books

“We live,” wrote philosopher Alain Badiou, “in a contradiction.” Dehumanization must be normalized in order to keep the economy going. “A brutal state of affairs… where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone—is presented to us as ideal.” Yet the market that promises freedom just as often strips it away, in public-private partnerships that bring censorship and rent-seeking into happy symbiosis.

In recent years, free market opportunism has taken hold in the most unfree places in the U.S., the country’s prisons, which hold more people proportionally than in any other nation in the world: a huge, previously untapped market for sales of hygiene products and visits with family. “Like the military,” writes Adam Bluestein at Inc.,, “the corrections system is a big, well-capitalized customer.”




One recent commercial encroachment on prisoners’ freedoms arrived this year when the West Virginia Division of Corrections issued inmates tablets, under a contract with a company called Global Tel Link, who charge them by the minute to read books online. One might make the argument that forcing inmates to pay for basic needs satisfies some ideal of punishment. But to restrict access to books seems to dispense with the pretense that prison might also be a place of rehabilitation.

“Any inmates looking to read Moby Dick,” reports Reason, “may find that it will cost them far more than it would have if they’d simply gotten a mass market paperback.” Katy Ryan of the Appalachian Prison Book Project, which donates free books and materials to prisons, points out how limiting the scheme is: “If you pause to think or reflect, that will cost you. If you want to reread a book, you will pay the entire cost again.”

West Virginia is not banning print books, purchased or donated. It is, however, charging inmates for already free material. The books they pay per minute to read online are all on Project Gutenberg, the open platform for thousands of free eBooks. That the program amounts to a kind of economic-based censorship may hardly be coincidence. Other states around the country have begun limiting, or outright banning, books in prisons.

The Washington State Department of Corrections has prohibited all books donated by nonprofits, presumably because they might be used to smuggle contraband. Prison officials at the Danville Correctional Center in Illinois made clear what they considered contraband—books about black history, 200 of which were removed from the prison library—including W.E.B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin—after they were deemed “too racial.”

These are only a few examples of a widespread phenomenon PEN America details in a new report, “Literature Locked Up: How Prison Book Restriction Policies Constitute the Nation’s Largest Book Ban.” Paradoxically, some restrictions can seem at odds with market demands—such as limits on inmates’ ability to order books from online retailers. But like many contradictions in the system, perhaps these also serve a larger goal—preventing prisoners from educating themselves may ensure a steady stream of repeat customers in the hugely profitable carceral industry.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Doris Kearns Goodwin Teaches U.S. Presidential History & Leadership

FYI: Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin--author of Leadership: In Turbulent Times, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt--has just released a new online course on MasterClass. Here's the ground that the course covers:

Altogether, she’s spent more than 50 years studying great American presidents and leaders of the past, writing several award-winning, bestselling biographies, including No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History. Now she’s sharing her knowledge and teaching you to lead like a president.

In Doris’s MasterClass, you can learn to develop the characteristics and human skills of exceptional American leadership, from Lincoln to Obama. Doris brings to life the stories and experiences of four presidents she knows by heart—Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ—and shares a template of human skills that make great leaders: humility, empathy, resilience, self-awareness, self-reflection, the ability to create a team and communicate through stories, and sharing your ambition for the greater good. She also uses examples from other historical figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr., to teach effective leadership qualities and practical wisdom for every day. Learn how to make better decisions, manage a crisis, and get a message across, whether you’re interacting with the media, communicating to a team at work, or delivering a speech meant to inspire and empower thousands of people.

In this class, you’ll learn about:
• Developing emotional intelligence
• Experiences and stories of U.S. presidents
• Building resilience
• Building and leading a team
• Making better decisions, big or small
• Navigating a crisis
• Delivering a message and considering an audience
• The power of speeches
• Replenishing your energy
• Civic engagement

Purchase a pass ($90) to the course here. Or, for $199, get an All Access Pass to the 70 courses in the MasterClass catalogue.

As a free unrelated bonus, you can stream Kearns Goodwin's long interview with Tim Ferris. There, she takes an engaging look at the leadership skills of four American presidents--Lincoln, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and LBJ. It's well worth a listen...

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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