Underground
from Even No. 5, published fall 2016

It really wasn’t that long ago, in the northwest corner of Anatolia, that a civil engineer working for the Ottoman grand vizier saw a group of builders making lime in a roadside kiln, fueled by blocks of ancient marble thrust into the fire. It took him years, plus cash from Berlin and a license from Constantinople, to make sense of what was going on. But by 1882, Carl Humann and his team had dislodged from the earth 132 panels of a grand frieze: tableaux of thrusting gods and winged giants, less re ned but livelier than the Greek ideal. “We have found an entire artistic epoch!” Humann exulted, and he was savvy enough to know it despite having no archaeological training of any kind. The engineer’s painstaking drawings — which I pored over this summer in New York, at the Met’s blowout exhibition of Hellenistic sculpture — are an amateur’s work, careful but ardent. Each slow, delicate sketch of the altar was an act of studious love.

That dumbfounding show included art from collections in Germany, Italy, Greece, Tunisia — but nothing from Turkey. Loans from Turkish museums to the Met, as well as to the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin, have been proscribed for several years by a government with — among other geopolitical hangups — a very particular idea of antiquity and national boundaries. “It never has anything to do with history,” sighs Aslı Çavuşoğlu, the brilliant young Turkish artist interviewed in this issue. It has to do with something duller: the legitimation of power through any legacy you can dig up.

We traveled widely to complete this largest ever issue of Even, not only across the globe but into the history books. Over the course of a year’s reporting, Anna Altman examined an unlikely new art museum in the West Bank (itself a cauldron of archaeological dispute), whose vacant galleries might as well be debating chambers. In Cape Town, M. Neelika Jayawardane met a group of young artists for whom South Africa’s vicious past is not merely source material; it’s the armature of their daily lives, and calls out to be reassembled or else dismantled. Silas Martí, in a favela in north Rio and on an island in Guanabara Bay, discovered the forgotten sightlines of a city whose planners have a serious case of Olympic amnesia.

The healthiest thing to do, when today’s powers tell you the book’s been written and when Google Earth tells you the whole world’s been mapped, is to take an amateur’s approach: to see for yourself, to do your own excavations. Art can’t save the world, but it has subtler virtues, and once you stop looking for answers beyond the horizon you may find them beneath your feet. Humann lies buried on a hillside in Turkey, a place where history is a literal battlefield. He might have told us that the past is everyone’s business, and that modern life requires an everyday archaeology.

—Jason Farago, editor

Johannes van Wijckersloot (attributed). The Card Game on the Cradle: Allegory. c. 1663. Oil on canvas. 38½ × 47½ in. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

The game looks like it’ll go to the young fellow smirking at us: a backer of William of Orange, if you judge by the feather in his cap. Or is he bluffing? Either way, the ace between his thumb and forefinger suggests our man would rather win hearts than hands, and neither he nor his opponent seems unduly fussed by their improvised card table: a baby’s cradle, occupied by a shrunken adult with sideburns and goatee.

Gambling was frowned upon by the authorities of the Protestant Netherlands — and yet, in Golden Age Amsterdam, the manufacture of playing cards was a codified skill, practiced in the same guild as printmakers and booksellers. This stumper of an allegory, complete with a masked man crouched in the corner, may warn of the transience of pleasures, and though our card players seem unruffled, the woman who rocks the cradle while peeking at her neighbor’s cards has figured it out. This world can’t be crisscrossed by luck or virtue alone; to win the hand you need both.