How China’s artists made sense of their country

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The artistry of the ambulance

HANGING from the ceiling of the magnificent rotunda that Frank Lloyd Wright created for the Guggenheim Museum in 1959 is an undulating black dragon. Twenty-six metres (85 feet) long, it is made almost entirely of the inner tubes of bicycles. Its head is a sculptural confection of broken cycles, its rear a writhing excrescence of black rubber loops. The visual etymology is obviously and satisfyingly Chinese. Then you notice hundreds of tiny black cars crawling all over its underbelly, like head lice on a schoolchild—symbolic of the moment when the country, in the headlong pursuit of economic growth, swerved from pedal power to petroleum.

This work, “Precipitous Parturition” by Chen Zhen, a Chinese-French conceptual artist, is at once fiercely visual, emotional and political. It is the most grandiose work in the Guggenheim’s magnificent new exposition of art, by 71 artists and artists’ collectives, that was made…Continue reading

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Personal pronouns are changing fast

NOT so long ago a man could be jailed in Texas for sex with another man. In 2015 a county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for refusing to certify the marriage of two men. Gay rights in America proceeded at an extraordinary rate between Lawrence v Texas (2003), in which …

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Giorgio Vasari, the man who created art history

Vasari made craftsmen into stars The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art. By Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney. Norton; 432 pages; $29.95 and £23.99. TOWARDS the end of his life Michelangelo Buonarroti, the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance, began burning his drawings. He did …

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Esther Kinsky muses on a river in England

Esther Kinsky goes with history’s flow River. By Esther Kinsky. Translated by Iain Galbraith. Fitzcarraldo; 368 pages; £12.99. To be published in America this autumn by Transit Books. IN HER post-war childhood beside the Rhine, the narrator of Esther Kinsky’s third novel learns that “every river is a border.” Flowing …