The cultural heritage of centuries is decaying, beset by "extreme temperatures, high humidity, and devastating insect and rodent infestations." What treasures remain are routinely plundered by outsiders. Governments stand helplessly by.
The reason you probably didn't know about any of this is that it's happening in West Africa. Andrew Decker of ARTnews delivers a troubling firsthand report on the pitiful state of ancient art and the museums that store it in Nigeria, Mali, the Ivory Coast and Senegal.
Art conservation in these countries, where great civilizations once thrived, remains a rude affair, whether by neglect or choice. "The fundamental difference between the conception of art for somebody from your country and from ours is that for us art was seen as functional, to be used," one Nigerian official observed. Museums are alien institutions, colonial inventions. "Ceremonial masks and costumes allow a deity's spirit to enter the wearer," Decker writes. "Statues representing ancestors or gods are kept in shrines and worshiped, as crucifixes are in churches. When objects are taken from the village and removed from ritual use to be installed in a museum, most Africans feel that they have lost their power and are thus no longer interesting."
Those objects that have been preserved are often ruined by the elements, and those that survive nature are easy prey for unscrupulous international art dealers, who pay relatively modest bribes to museum guards and customs officials to liberate the apparently unwanted treasures for eager Western buyers. Despite renewed international efforts to build modern facilities in West Africa, the situation Decker describes sounds pretty hopeless.
To the Core Time's gloomy cover this week proclaims "The Rotting of the Big Apple," a process hastened by the outrages of the last few months, weeks and days in New York City. Joelle Attinger accumulates here the grim evidence of lawlessness and decay, suggesting (with the added evidence of polls) the possibility of an exodus from the great metropolis.
Yet, as HG reminds us in its all-New York issue (October), the opulent are bearing up. These articles about fabulous houses and apartments and gardens fortified against the rot include a charming contribution from Tom Wolfe, who used to be a journalist. It's about Eddie and Susie Gilder Hayes, a Manhattan couple who happen to have taste and let all kinds of architects and craftspeople go to town on their town house. His friend Eddie, Wolfe observes, "resembles" Tommy Killian, the criminal lawyer in "The Bonfire of the Vanities." Susie, incidentally, is a contributing editor of Conde Nast Traveler, sister magazine of HG. But she's not conspicuous in this regard. Just a few pages beyond, Marina Schiano, style director of Vanity Fair (another Newhouse magazine), gets a story and spread on her apartment too. And just a few pages beyond that, "noted literary figure" Jason Epstein (a senior editor at Random House, another Newhouse property) is pictured cooking and interviewed about the dinner parties he throws. "The fewer the guests there are, the better the conversation, according to Jason's dictum, and who could disagree? With Joan Didion and Norman Mailer at the table, one wouldn't want to miss a word."
Manhattan is such a cozy place. Could it also be rotting at the top?
New Sex Mag Scholarly journals aren't usually sent to this department, but for some reason a brand-new academic quarterly, Journal of the History of Sexuality, was. It's published, under a distinguished-sounding board of editors, at Bard College and by the University of Chicago Press, and it's aimed at serving a new cross-disciplinary field, "the study of human sexuality ... by social historians, sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, psychologists, literary scholars, classicists, art and film historians," according to the editor's note in Vol. I, No. 1.
Even the lay reader will be able to understand much of what appears in such arcane but fascinating articles as Ruth Mazo Karras's "Holy Harlots: Prostitute Saints in Medieval Legend" and Laurence Senelick's "Mollies or Men of Mode? Sodomy and the Eighteenth-Century London Stage." Only certain scholars, however, will be sufficiently conversant or interested to appreciate Ann duCille's " 'Othered' Matters: Reconceptualizing Dominance and Difference in the History of Sexuality in America." Coming articles (in No. 2) include "Rubber Wars: Struggles Over the Condom in the United States" and "Nazis and Drifters: The Containment of Radical (Sexual) Knowledge in Two Italian Neorealist Films."
For a year's subscription to JHS, send $29 (institutions, $58) to University of Chicago Press, 5720 S. Woodlawn, Chicago, Ill. 60637.
In Memoriam The recession is kicking magazines out from under this year, and now two more particularly distinguished and seemingly successful titles folding.
Memories, the two-year-old Diamandis Communications magazine of 20th-century retrospectives, had a bright newsy look, a willingness to pay for intelligent writers and a courage to tell readers things they didn't know or might have forgotten about their own past, albeit only their recent and most colorful past. Mortimer Zuckerman, who owns U.S. News & World Report and the Atlantic magazines, took a long look at buying Memories, but the numbers not surprisingly didn't add up for him. Pity. The October issue will be its last, though twice-yearly specials are planned.
New England Monthly has been looking rather lean of late. The regional economy has been squeezing the magazine hard, at a time when its owner, Canada's Telemedia, is struggling to make headway in a tightly competitive field with Harrowsmith Country Life and has just launched Eating Well into another crowded section of the newsstand. New England Monthly, a sophisticated and sympathetic voice in a region that needed and deserved it, was a special favorite in its professional community too. It was nominated every year it was published (six) for a National Magazine Award and won the general excellence citation two years in a row. No more issues after September's.