This week we asked Adam Lerner, author of From Russia with Doubt: The Quest to Authenticate 181 Would-be Masterpieces of the Russian Avant-Garde, to share five things that have been on his mind.
1. Letatlin I often think about the great Russian constructivist artist Vladimir Tatlin spending 1929 to 1932 in the bell tower of a monastery in Moscow, dressed as a medieval craftsman, while trying to build a thing he called Letatlin, an orinthopter, which is a human-powered bird-like flying machine. I don’t know what exactly he thought he was doing making an aircycle years after the invention of the airplane but the fact that he went whole hog on such an utterly ambiguous, let alone impractical, enterprise, makes it feel to me like one of the most profound and moving endeavors in the history of art.
2. Drunk History I feel a strange kind of hope for the future of American culture when I watch the television series Drunk History, where schnockered historians narrate episodes of history while actors “lip-sync” their slurred lines. Somehow it manages to feel both DIY and sophisticated, like the kind of thing that only the coolest person you know could make. My only hope is that my new book with Princeton Architectural Press will earn me an appearance on the show.
3. Machine Project As an art museum director, I have strangely never found myself feeling envious of anything happening at another art museum. But I continually find myself wishing that I had thought of any number of ideas that come out of the art space Machine Project, in Los Angeles. Founded by Mark Allen and based in an unassuming storefront space, among its many oddball programs, Machine has organized a museum sleepover for houseplants, a poetry delivery service and an auto theft workshop for children. Who can touch that?
4. Cassoulet Growing up in an immigrant Jewish household in Queens, virtually every week my father would make a stew called Cholent. With a precise way of placing every piece of potato and meat and a method of spreading lima beans that seemed to be prescribed by rabbinic tradition, my father would prepare this sacred dish on Friday night before sundown and allow it to simmer overnight so that we could eat it for lunch on Saturday. And about a year ago, the thought occurred to me: It’s a cassoulet. I love cassoulet!
5. Moonrise Kingdom Wes Anderson helped me see that our best self is our child-self. I take the film Moonrise Kingdom, and everything else he made, to boil down to a single imperative: We may never have connected with our child-self as a youth and we are even less likely to tap into it as an adult, but it remains our task to try nonetheless. When we are able to lighten the heaviness of the world, then we are truly artists and the world is ours.
‘From Russia with Doubt’ | Book Launch, Opening and Discussion with Adam Lerner
Opening reception: Thursday, November 14, 7–9 pm 7–8 pm: conversation about the book with author Adam Lerner and Cabinet magazine’s Sina Najaf 8–9 pm: reception and book signing Cabinet, 300 Nevins Street, Brooklyn, NY
In 2010, Adam Lerner, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, did something unheard of in the museum world: he mounted a large exhibition of paintings without first knowing whether they were real or fake. Painted in the Suprematist and Constructivist styles of early twentieth-century Russian avant-garde masters, the 181 canvases had been acquired by amateur collectors Ron and Roger Pollard from a mysterious seller in Germany. The man, who they met on eBay, claimed that the paintings had been found in an abandoned shipping container held in German customs since the 1980s.
This event—which celebrates the publication of From Russia with Doubt, (Princeton Architectural Press)—Lerner’s book on the making of the exhibition and the stakes involved with showing unauthenticated artworks also marks the opening of an exhibition co-organized by MCA Denver and Cabinet featuring a selection of paintings from the Pollards’ collection. The evening will include a discussion with Lerner about the value of inauthenticity and the benefits of not knowing within the modern cultural institution.
Exhibition dates: November 18–29, 2013 (closed Thanksgiving) Gallery hours: Monday to Saturday, 12–6 pm Location: Cabinet, 300 Nevins Street, Brooklyn (map and directions here) Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and Cabinet