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‘I Was at Home, but …’ Review: In Grief, What Dreams May Come

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A woman mourns in this German movie filled with narrative ellipses, visual beauty and a pervasive sense of melancholy.

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Editorial

A Billion-Dollar Scandal Turns the ‘King of Manuscripts’ Into the ‘Madoff of France’

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Mr. Lhéritier seems an unlikely figure to spark this mania. He was raised in a small village in the east of France, the son of a plumber, and he wrote “self-taught” in the diplomas section of his Who’s Who entry. Other than some handsome volumes he published to hype his collection, there aren’t a lot of books in his home.

Which is a villa, valued at $6 million, with a swimming pool, a panoramic view of the coast and, rather incongruously, a number of chickens roaming the backyard. In an expansive living room crammed with photographs and art, a huge TV played a loop of burning logs, right next to a log-less, ornate hearth.

“It’s a good time to save money,” Mr. Lhéritier said with a shrug.

None of it belongs to him anymore. All of his assets have been confiscated by the authorities. A judge has allowed him to continue living here as his case is adjudicated.

But he seemed every bit the lord of the manor, wearing an electric-blue sport jacket over a Hitchcockian frame. With surprising serenity and flashes of wit, he argued that he was the victim of petty French officials, who he believes were embarrassed by and resented his success. The logic of his narrative could be hard to follow, and the facts maddeningly difficult to pin down. He lectured, backtracked, dissembled and fibbed. (In a postinterview email, he claimed to be 82 years old, for some reason.)

As Mr. Lhéritier thumbed endlessly through receipts, catalogs and lists, his show-and-tell lacked neither vigor nor conviction.

“One day, if you want to be a crook, ask me about it,” he said at one point, smiling. “Because it’s a lot of work.”

Seventeen years ago, Mr. Lhéritier crashed through the doors of the genteel market for manuscripts with all the subtlety of a famished wild boar. That Einstein collection was the first he divvied into virtual shares. Soon, representatives of Aristophil were rampaging through auctions around Europe and the United States, outbidding everyone for anything of quality.

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With Final Gracie Mansion Show, First Lady Aims to Secure Arts Legacy

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With two years left in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term, it will be some time before the city’s first family has to pack up and head back to their three-story rowhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

But Chirlane McCray, the mayor’s wife, is keenly aware of the time remaining — “696 days,” she said in a recent interview — and of the legacy she wants to leave, at least as far as art and culture are concerned.

A big part of that effort has been the exhibitions she has spearheaded at Gracie Mansion, the fourth and last of which opens on Feb. 24: “Catalyst: Art and Social Justice.” Like her other shows in the mayoral residence on East End Avenue, this one emphasizes equity and inclusion, the general priorities of the mayor and first lady.

“When we came here and were surrounded by all these portraits; it wasn’t long before I said, ‘Where are we?’” Ms. McCray said over strong ginger tea in the mansion’s formal dining room. “‘How do we fit in here? Where are the people we know? Where are the people of our city and what do we need to do to really be the people’s house?’”

“Catalyst” looks at transformational New York moments from 1965 to the present, including the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and AIDS activism.

“We can’t do everything,” Ms. McCray said. “But I think we’ve done our best to incorporate as much as we can so that people get to see the variety of the activism in our city.”

The nearly 80 works in the exhibition include Martine Fougeron’s portraits of trade workers in the South Bronx (from auto-parts makers to cake-bakers), Diana Davies’s photographs of LGBTQ+ activism and Tania Bruguera’s project on undocumented immigrants.

The more than 50 artists in the show — including Nari Ward, Glenn Ligon and Lorna Simpson — have strong connections to the city. “I want to make sure we have artists from every borough,” Ms. McCray said. “We want this to be as inclusive an exhibit as possible.”

That emphasis initially caused concern that the administration would neglect or shortchange larger institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center in favor of smaller ones outside Manhattan.

The city, for example, has given bigger funding increases to smaller cultural organizations than to larger institutions to try to level the playing field.

But Ms. McCray said there is more than enough to go around. “We have not put any institution in jeopardy,” she said. “This is a wealthy city and there is no reason why we need to concentrate on anyone. There are no losers here.”

Indeed, the pie has increased overall by more than 35 percent, to about $212 million for fiscal year 2020, up from about $156 million for 2014.

“Despite record funding for culture these last few years, there hasn’t been the sense that the arts are a real passion for the mayor, so it’s a net positive that Chirlane seems to care about these issues,” said Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens, chairman of the City Council committee overseeing cultural affairs. “She’s an influential behind-the-scenes player when it comes to fighting for the arts.”

Small arts organizations said there is still progress to be made. “There is a lack of attention and equitable funding to not-for-profit arts and cultural organizations of color,” said Marta Moreno Vega, founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute.

Ms. McCray has taken her share of heat in the cultural sphere. Some blame her for the abrupt departure last fall of Tom Finkelpearl, the former cultural affairs commissioner. He resigned amid battles over the city’s rethinking of public monuments to honor more women and people of color, an effort led largely by Ms. McCray’s She Built NYC commission.

“Tom and I got along great,” was all she would say, adding, “From everything I know, it was a mutually agreed upon departure.”

Mr. Finkelpearl said he had a “warm relationship” with Ms. McCray, “who is a strong advocate for arts and culture.”

While the actor Chazz Palminteri called Ms. McCray a “racist” after the city decided not to devote one of its first statues to Mother Cabrini, a patron saint of immigrants, Ms. McCray said “It has nothing to do with her not being worthy.”

That discussion became conflated with her efforts to honor “people who were underrepresented, who had no recognition whatsoever,” she said.

Given the strong feelings around the issues, however, Ms. McCray acknowledged that the public process could use improvement. (Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who often clashes with the mayor, said the state would commission a Mother Cabrini statue.)

“We need a more coordinated process for statues,” Ms. McCray said. “I’ve been working on that.”

Both the first lady and the mayor have also been criticized for not attending as many cultural events as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg did. While Ms. McCray has attended the occasional gala — namely at the Studio Museum of Harlem and Carnegie Hall — she said, “that has not been the top priority on my list — to be seen at things.”

“I’m not that kind of person — I don’t like getting all dressed up,” she added. “I work really hard, so at the end of the day I like to just sit with my husband and watch TV.”

Ms. McCray has faced questions over her stewardship of ThriveNYC, a nearly $1 billion plan that addresses mental illness in the city. The initiative, now in its fifth year, includes dozens of programs across numerous agencies; critics, including some City Council members, have questioned its performance and its spending.

At the same time, Ms. McCray said she is proud of what they have accomplished with CreateNYC, the city’s cultural plan — which linked city funding to diversity requirements — and the Gracie Mansion exhibitions, which helped draw 40,000 visitors to the residence last year, up from 25,000 in 2016.

Jessica Bell Brown, an art historian who curated “Catalyst,” said Ms. McCray “has shown interest in art as a bridge for thinking about social justice — the way in which artists can offer a window into the most important issues of our time.” Ms. Brown also was curator of the first lady’s show, “She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York,” which focused on female and women-identified creators.

Ms. McCray said she was particularly moved by the appreciation of the artists in “She Persists,” some of whom have had “little or no recognition.”

Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum, said Ms. McCray’s installations have attracted new audiences and “created the opportunity for a broad range of artists, artistic practices and different visions to be on view.”

Having grown up playing piano, dancing, singing in the school chorus and writing poetry, Ms. McCray — who also oversees the city’s mental health initiative — said she keenly appreciates the value of culture. “I don’t think I’d be alive today if it weren’t for art,” she said. “Everyone needs a healthy way to channel their emotions.”

“Having art,” she added, “makes it possible to live without other things.”

Looking ahead, Ms. McCray has acknowledged that she may consider seeking public office. “It could be something in Albany, it could be Brooklyn, local, citywide,” she told The New York Times in 2018.

One thing her experience in Gracie Mansion has given Ms. McCray is the desire to live with more art when she returns to Brooklyn and to expand beyond paintings “by Dante and Chiara de Blasio” (their now-grown children).

“I can’t afford a Mickalene Thomas; I can’t afford Faith Ringgold,” she continued, “but I’ll do what I can.”

Preceding “She Persists” was the 2015 exhibition “Windows on the City: Looking Out at Gracie’s New York,” which featured 18th-century art, and “New York 1942,” in 2017, which concentrated on Fiorello La Guardia, the first mayor to live at Gracie Mansion.

While the shows are temporary, Ms. McCray said she hopes she has opened a discussion about what art and which artists belong in the mayoral residence. “Whoever lives here next, I challenge them to do more and do better,” she said.

“Our gift — or our legacy,” she added, “is that we showed what is possible.”

Catalyst: Art and Social Justice

Public tours begin Feb. 24 through Aug. 25. Gracie Mansion, East 88th Street and East End Avenue, Manhattan; To reserve an individual or school group tour of Gracie Mansion: 212-676-3060, nyc.gov/gracie tours.

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Forensic Architecture Founder Says United States Denied Him a Visa

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Over the last decade Eyal Weizman and his colleagues within the London-based investigative group Forensic Architecture have examined violent occurrences around the world, often using video and architectural rendering software in efforts to parse confusing and often murky events.

Last week Mr. Weizman confronted an unexpected mystery when he was denied a visa to enter the United States. An official at the U.S. Embassy in London told him, without elaboration, he said, that an algorithm had identified a security threat that was related to him.

Mr. Weizman, who holds British and Israeli passports, had gone to the embassy on Feb. 14 in the hope of obtaining a visa so he could attend an art exhibition at Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design at detailing Forensic Architecture’s work.

The State Department, which has described its screening processes as important to national security, said it could not comment on Mr. Weizman’s account. “Visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases,” the agency said in a statement.

Mr. Weizman said in an interview that he has visited the United States dozens of times, most recently in December. He said the embassy visit had been jarring, in part because an official asked him to provide information about his travel over the last 15 years including who had paid for it and questioned him specifically about whether he had been to Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia.

He was also asked, he said, to name anyone he knew who may have triggered the algorithm, so that Department of Homeland Security investigators could more quickly assess his case. Mr. Weizman declined to answer the questions, he said, and remained in London.

“You would be putting people at risk by reporting their names,” Mr. Weizman said. “This is something we should not be asked to do as human rights investigators.”

On Wednesday night, at the exhibition’s opening in Miami, his wife, Ines Weizman, presented a statement he had written that said in part: “I am alarmed that relations among our colleagues, stakeholders, and staff are being targeted by the U.S. government as security threats.”

The statement also said that immigration officials had questioned Ms. Weizman for more than two hours when she flew into New York last week. Responding to requests for comment from the Department of Homeland Security, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in an email that as part of security efforts, officers may refer people for additional screening based on factors that could include a combination of an individual’s activities, associations, and travel patterns.

Mr. Weizman said that the embassy official had told him that the threat that surfaced could be related to something he was involved in, people he had been in contact with, places he had visited, hotels at which he had stayed, or a pattern of relations among those.

Forensic Architecture, which Mr. Weizman founded in 2010, is based at Goldsmiths, University of London. The group has investigated the fatal shooting of a Palestinian teenager by an Israeli border guard, assembled evidence of a Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine and produced an interactive cartographic web platform showing U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.

Last year The New York Times worked with Forensic Architecture while producing an Emmy Award-winning project called “One Building, One Bomb,” which reconstructed a chemical attack by Syrian government forces on civilians.

Also last year a Forensic Architecture video, “Triple Chaser,” which examined the use of tear gas manufactured by an American company, Safariland Group, was included in the Whitney Biennial.

Laura Poitras, whose Praxis Films collaborated on that video, said she admired Forensic Architecture’s rigorous and multidisciplinary methodology, which often combines open source data, like video, with architectural models of buildings and landscapes.

“Forensic Architecture is doing completely innovative work,” she said. “It’s evidentiary and fact-based and oftentimes counters what a government is saying.”

For years, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, the United States has declined to issue visas to certain people.

In 2011, for instance, Kerim Yildiz, a human rights advocate for the Kurdish people, waited more than a year for a visa to enter the United States from London. Last year Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, also known as B.D.S., which encourages economic pressure on Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, was barred from entering the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union has long criticized “ideological exclusion,” which it says keeps Americans from meeting with foreign speakers whose opinions the government dislikes.

Mr. Weizman said that in addition to attending the opening in Miami he had planned to meet with people to discuss investigating a facility in Homestead, Fla., that is used to house detained migrant children.

Now, Mr. Weizman said, he may have another topic to examine.

“Associative algorithms, triangulating algorithms, that look at patterns that look at relations between actions and movement, between people and places,” he said. “We need to gear up to be able identify and monitor those.”

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