A Presidential memoir and library without precedent

I’ve been reading about two things that seem to happen to each US President once they’ve left office. They write a memoir, and get a library. Here’s something to set the mood.

In ‘A Promised Land,’ Barack Obama thinks — and thinks some more — over his first termThe New York Times
Nearly every president since Theodore Roosevelt has written a memoir that covers his years in office; this one contains some inevitable moments of reputation-burnishing and legacy-shaping, though the narrative hews so closely to Obama’s own discursive habits of thought that any victories he depicts feel both hard-won and tenuous. An adverb he likes to use is “still” — placed at the beginning of a sentence, to qualify and counter whatever he said just before. Another favorite is “maybe,” as he reflects on alternatives to what happened, offering frank confessions of his own uncertainties and doubts. At a time of grandiose mythologizing, he marshals his considerable storytelling skills to demythologize himself.

Can you imagine Trump being so reflective? Me neither.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama review – memoir of a presidentThe Guardian
To read Barack Obama’s autobiography in the last, snarling days of Donald Trump is to stare into an abyss between two opposite ends of humanity, and wonder once again at how the same country came to choose two such disparate men.

Who knows what he’d write about. Certainly not the truth.

A Trump memoir would sell. Will publishers buy it?The New York Times
“I would take a meeting,” said Dana Canedy, the senior vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster’s namesake imprint. “But there’s a huge gap between taking a meeting and publishing a book.” … “I’d have to be satisfied that he met Simon & Schuster’s overall standards for publishing a book, which is that book be honest, fair and balanced,” Ms. Canedy said. “We’d want to know that he would be willing to be edited and submit to a rigorous fact-checking process.”

The Office of Presidential Libraries, within the National Archives and Records Administration agency, oversees the 14 libraries established so far, from Hoover’s to Obama’s (possibly), via JFK’s, Nixon’s and all the others in between. These are repositories for preserving and making accessible the papers, records, and other historical materials of the US Presidents. Many aspects of Trump’s presidency are without precedent, so who knows if he’ll get one. Not that there will be much to archive.

Will Trump burn the evidence?The New Yorker
Donald Trump is not much of a note-taker, and he does not like his staff to take notes. He has a habit of tearing up documents at the close of meetings. (Records analysts, armed with Scotch Tape, have tried to put the pieces back together.) No real record exists for five meetings Trump had with Vladimir Putin during the first two years of his Presidency. Members of his staff have routinely used apps that automatically erase text messages, and Trump often deletes his own tweets, notwithstanding a warning from the National Archives and Records Administration that doing so contravenes the Presidential Records Act.

Trump’s library hasn’t been built yet, but as we’re used to wandering around libraries and museums virtually these days, let’s take a stroll round this online version. With its Autocrats Gallery, Alt-Right Auditorium, Felon’s Lounge and Wall of Criminality, there’s something for everyone.

Donald J. Trump Presidential Library
We are still grappling with what it means to have endured Donald J. Trump’s presidency while still repairing the historic carnage of this tumultuous period in American history. This Presidential Library is an attempt to provide the American and International communities a place to reflect on what the rise of White Nationalism has meant to our country and try to eradicate it from our political discourse.

What an accurate presidential library for Donald Trump would look likeFast Company
It’s clearly a parody. But the design also highlights a major question facing the post-Trump era, whenever that may be: How might such a presidential library attempt an accurate historical representation of a president and administration so prone to disinformation and falsehood?

Twitter Gallery
Alt-Right Auditorium
Covid Memorial
Drumpf’s Diner

Update 26/11/2020

The Library now has a Gift Grift Shop.

And it’s fun to see others joining in with the pranks.

President pranked as comedians snap up Trump 2024 domainThe Guardian
“We got the domain DonaldJTrump2024.com,” comics Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler, AKA The Good Liars, wrote on Twitter. … Selvig and Stiefler offered to give the president the domain name “if you tweet ‘My name is Donald Trump and I lost the 2020 election by A LOT. I am a loser. SAD!’” As of Wednesday lunchtime Trump had not done so, despite having plenty of phone time on a day officially free of public engagements.

Virtual libraries and enigmatic librarians

First museums and art galleries, now libraries.

7 spectacular libraries you can explore from your living roomAtlas Obscura
Regular visitors to libraries may be missing the hush of the stacks, the smell of old books, and the welcoming atmosphere of the local branch. Many of these public, private, and academic spaces have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But much like museums, libraries around the world have produced immersive, 360-degree tours of their interiors. These simulations can offer more than inspiring views of literary sanctuaries; often, they serve as interactive platforms that provide information about the library’s history and resources.

I particularly enjoyed wandering the ridiculously baroque Klementinum library in Prague, as well as Harvard University’s Widener Memorial Library, so grand it has its own Gutenburg Bible.

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From opulent libraries to perplexing librarians. Here’s an opportunity to delve a little deeper into the life and work of a man who knew his way around a library or two.

An Introduction to Borges with Henry EliotIdler
Jorge Luis Borges, the blind Argentinian writer and librarian, was a master of the short story. But despite their brevity, his genre-contorting tales can intimidate the first-time reader. How can we get to grips with the work of this giant of postmodern literature?

Join Penguin Classics Creative Editor Henry Eliot as he takes you through the life and work of Jorge Luis Borges. In this accessible and illuminating guide, Henry shows how Borges fundamentally challenged the way we think about space, time and identity. Beginning with Borges’s library desk in Buenos Aires and finishing at his grave in Geneva, Henry takes you through the span of the great writer’s biography and writing.

Is it a little pricey at £42 for about three hours of content? Whilst you’re deciding, you can read this for free, a collection of his books that you won’t find on any library’s shelves.

The Crimson Hexagon: Books Borges never wroteAllen Ruch (pdf)
The fiction of Borges is filled with references to encyclopedias that do not exist, reviews of imaginary books by fictional authors, and citations from monographs that have as much real existence as does the Necronomicon or the Books of Bokonon. As an intellectual exercise of pure whimsical uselessness, I have catalogued here all these “imaginary” books that I could find in the stories of the “real” Argentine. I am sure that Borges himself would fail to see much of a difference…

I remember reading about a few of these, including A First Encyclopaedia of Tlön and The Garden of Forking Paths, but many seem new to me. Perhaps I do need to shell out for Henry Eliot’s course after all.

But let’s end with a library that won’t require any kind of virtual tour, as the books it holds, like those in The Crimson Hexagon above, don’t actually exist except in other books.

The Borges Memorial Library: a brief survey of imaginary booksThe Paris Review
Which brings us to Borges himself, the patron saint of imagined books. Borges played every metafictional game imaginable, but what makes his bibliographic inventions so much fun is his interest in the books themselves. For Borges, whose translators collected his stories in a book called Labyrinths, what are a fictional footnote on A General History of Labyrinths and a fictional essay on “The God of the Labyrinth” except a wish list?

Telling the stories about all this

As I’ve mentioned before, there seems to be no shortage of art galleries and museums to visit digitally during this coronavirus crisis…

2,500 museums you can now visit virtuallyHyperallergic
Google Arts & Culture’s collection includes many of the world’s biggest museums: Tate Modern and the British Museum in London, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in NYC, among hundreds of others. In most, you can browse through entire exhibitions online, and in many, you can also walk through the museum using Google’s street view.

(and how can you let this one pass you by)

Tim alone: Mona’s human artwork is still sitting in an empty gallery for six hours a dayThe Guardian
Tim is one of numerous artworks in Mona and museums around the world that continue to hang, or stand, or sit, in emptiness. As coronavirus has shut down live access to the arts, the art remains. The humans behind, around and under the art remain. They remain in anxious, faithful anticipation of their audience’s return. They hold firm. Steady. Constant.

… but one thing I hadn’t thought about was an exhibition about this pandemic, and how difficult that might be to co-ordinate and collect.

How museums will eventually tell the story of COVID-19Atlas Obscura
Collecting during a pandemic means that curators must grapple with both practical challenges and thorny moral questions. Herman would like the City Reliquary to eventually collect face masks, which have become a ubiquitous sight in Brooklyn and all over the world, but, he says, “we certainly don’t want to take masks off of people’s faces right now to make sure they go into an archive.” (Several museums, including the New-York Historical Society, have donated the protective garb that conservators wear, including face masks and latex gloves, to medical staff.) Scouting for artifacts “is not an essential service at this particular moment,” Herman adds. “But when we look back, it will be essential to see how this has affected us.”

UK Science Museum group is building a coronavirus collection in response to pandemicThe Art Newspaper
The museum will research stories and identify objects linked to the pandemic but crucially “our curators are undertaking this serious project within strict ethical guidelines, given the current global emergency, so as not to distract from vital work,” the spokeswoman stresses. There are no plans to show the coronavirus artefacts, however. “Indeed, we have not talked about a timeframe, and in any event the timing would reflect public appetite,” she adds. […]

Other UK museums are also documenting this historically significant moment. Leeds Museums and Galleries has asked people via its social media platforms to share their “positive and negative experiences… these could be things like hygiene notices, images of your working from home set-ups, diaries or empty shopping aisles.”

Pentagram’s Yuri Suzuki creates a crowdsourced sound archive of the pandemic eraIt’s Nice That
Pentagram partner and sound designer Yuri Suzuki has created a new artwork in collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art which aims to capture the sounds of the pandemic across the world. Sound of the Earth: The Pandemic Chapter invites people from any country to submit their sounds to be part of the digital artwork. Be it cooking dinner at home to an ambulance passing by or online connections with loved ones, the artist is looking for all types of auditory experiences, which will be mapped onto a virtual rendering of the globe based on the location it is captured.

For all the talk of virtual visits, museums and galleries are not having an easy time of it, so I wonder if their own struggles will feature in these stories.

Curiouser and curiouser

Have you had a chance to promenade around any of the virtual galleries and museums I mentioned last week? Here’s another one to add to your list, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. It’s definitely my favourite so far.

Virtually wander & weave through an enchanting odditorium of curiositiesMessy Nessy
It almost feels like you’ve clicked on something you shouldn’t have and suddenly, a door to internet Narnia has opened and you find yourself roaming the aisles of a huge maze of glass cabinets, overflowing with an insane amount of objects. You’ve stumbled into the cabinet of wonder that is the Pitt Rivers Museum. Indefinitely closed, like thousands of other cultural institutions around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, this 136 year-old Victorian museum hiding within another museum in Oxford, England, is free to roam at the click of your mouse – every glass cabinet, every last aisle, all to yourself. And what a beautiful sight it is to discover, even if only from behind your screen for now.

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Virtual promenades

What would Mussorgsky have made of these virtual promenades around pictures at exhibitions, I wonder.

Google virtual tour The National Gallery
In 2016, Google created this 360° tour of Rooms 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 and Central Hall. Immerse yourself in Renaissance masterpieces from Northern Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, including works by Titian, Veronese, and Holbein.

How to explore the British Museum from homeThe British Museum Blog
Did you know that the Museum is the world’s largest indoor space on Google Street View? You can go on a virtual visit to more than 60 galleries – perfect for creating your own bespoke tour around your favourites. See highlights like the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery or discover gems like the beautiful textiles in the Sainsbury African Galleries.

It’s not the same, though, is it?

The rise of the virtual gallery tour: what works and what doesn’t (yet)Frame
Received wisdom, and newspaper columnists, would have you believe that we’re currently experiencing a revolution in the way we consume art and artefacts online. The British Museum, frequently the institution at the top of the global visitor-number leaderboard, has seen a corresponding surge in its digital audience since it closed its doors. Meanwhile Art Basel has rushed through the development of its digital viewing rooms (which had over €248 million of art on display for its Hong Kong inauguration) and Hauser and Wirth is hosting its first digital-only exhibition, a collection of drawings by Louise Bourgeois.

But for gallery-goers who are yet to log on, visiting these aforementioned virtual venues is likely to result in disappointment.

I found myself nodding along vigorously to this part further down.

Perhaps the answer lies in the more creative use of an established medium. It’s interesting to note that, as lockdown was looming, and perhaps in a nod to the insufficiency of the above interfaces, The Van Gogh Museum launched an alternative form of the gallery tour. A series of seven carefully choreographed 4K films, available on their YouTube channel, walk the user through the museum’s various rooms to an accompanying sound track. It’s clearly a more prescribed way of experiencing both the art and the space, but one that also feels more natural. The camera movement doesn’t equate to a true point-of-view walkthrough; the stabilized image glides through the rooms in a rather disembodied way. But the manner in which it glances across paintings, occasionally stopping and approaching a particularly affecting portrait before pulling back, does a far better job of transmitting the pleasure of being in the presence of the artefacts than staccato jumping and zooming.

That’s certainly been my experience. I’ve been randomly clicking around the National Gallery for a while now, feeling like that Anish Kapoor fan unable to find his way out.

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So I think I’ll head over to the Van Gogh Museum’s YouTube channel, after I’ve been guided round the Tate’s Warhol exhibition.

Andy Warhol exhibition guideTate
This major retrospective is the first Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern for almost 20 years. As well as his iconic pop images of Marilyn Monroe, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s soup cans, it includes works never seen before in the UK. […] Join curators Gregor Muir and Fiontán Moran as they discuss Warhol through the lens of the immigrant story, his LGBTQI identity and concerns with death and religion.

There are other ways of approaching this.

 You can download thousands of coloring book pages from museum collectionsMy Modern Met
This year alone touts 117 PDFs from various cultural institutions that can be downloaded and printed right at home, and colored in. You can jump into the past through local advertisements from the West Virginia and Regional History Center Coloring Book or take a ride on a vintage motorcycle with the Harley-Davidson Archive’s digital collection. Visit these exhibits through pages detailing the beloved fairy tale Cinderella, to fascinating diagrams of medical equipment from a bygone era. Simply, there are coloring pages made for every kind of interest a person may have, and the ones available through the #ColorOurCollections website will help you refine your coloring skills at the same time.

Manchester Museum in Quarantine
We believe connection and inspiration is needed during challenging times like this one. We have uploaded our digital content onto this mobile site so you can explore and enjoy Manchester Museum in your own home. We hope it helps entertain, educate and sparks joy and wonder until we re-open.

An augmented reality tool to sell art during the pandemicDesign Milk
ALL World is a self-publishing platform that allows artists to digitally exhibit and sell their work via augmented reality. Artists and designers can upload images of their work, create AR exhibitions, and then share it with users, allowing them to visualize the work within their own space. By being able to see the work at scale in context, the guesswork of whether or not it will work dissolves which could potentially create more sales. While it’s a great tool for established artists and designers, imagine what it could do for those just starting out and struggling to get eyes on their work.

Perhaps some normality (kind of) is slowly returning.

German galleries will reopen next week with strict precautionsArtsy
Galleries in Germany are carefully preparing to reopen their doors over the next few weeks as the government begins to lift business restrictions in the wake of COVID-19. These reopenings will come with strict precautions including a visitor limit and facemasks.

‘Bring your own mask’: German art galleries prepare to reopen in a new reality, giving US dealers a preview of things to comeArtNet
“I am more than thrilled to be opening again. Galleries cannot exist in an online-only world,” dealer André Schlechtriem tells Artnet News. “My gallery is a personal social space where every visitor is greeted personally by myself or my staff. We are always happy to answer questions and talk about the art we present. That’s what we live for.”

Meanwhile.

‘We are all Edward Hopper paintings now’: is he the artist of the coronavirus age?The Guardian
Who can fail to have been moved by all the images of people on their doorsteps clapping for the NHS last night? They filled TV screens and news websites, presenting a warming picture of solidarity in enforced solitude – all alone yet all together. But there are some far less reassuring images circulating on social media. Some people are saying we now all exist inside an Edward Hopper painting. It doesn’t seem to matter which one.