February 2008 Archives

February 29, 2008

From A Glimpse To A Panorama

martin_clear_day_pam.jpg


If anyone's life's work could have at once so little and so much to show for it, it's Agnes Martin. From Brian Droitcour for Artforum:

This brisk tour of Agnes Martin's career--forty years in twenty drawings--is anchored by On a Clear Day, 1973, a series of prints offering thirty ways to regard the square.

...

In the 1970s, Martin pared down an already spare vocabulary. These prints are a glimpse of her shifting priorities, and the drawings around them protract that glimpse into a lifelong panorama.

From the gallery's press release for the show, a little background:
In the late 1950's Agnes Martin's landscapes and biomorphic surrealist works transformed into abstraction and what would eventually become her signature examination of rectangular grids within a square format. Her work ranges from early tight grids to the opening up of forms to wider rectangles. Disillusioned with New York, Martin moved to New Mexico in 1967 and abandoned painting. When she resumed her work around 1974, the earlier primarily black and white palette modified to include monochromatic washes of subtle pastel colors, perhaps influenced by the New Mexico landscape. While Martin's abstract repetitive forms have been associated with Minimalist style, she considered Minimalism impersonal and over-intellectual, preferring her work to be characterized as Abstract Expressionist due to its more personal and spiritual nature. Inspired by emerging concepts of Taoism and Zen Buddism in the 1950's, Martin, like many of the Abstract Expressionists, sought a style that transcended the material world and spoke more of the mind and the experience of the sublime.
On A Clear Day was instrumental in Martin's own retrospective re-evaluation of her work and was apparently a catalyst of sorts for her resumption of painting in 1974. For details, check out Lynne Cooke's essay accompanying the Dia's exhibition of pivotal paintings from 1974 - 1979.

Though it might be tempting, in the absence of any apparent content beyond the grids, to investigate and catalog the variations and details that were surely deliberate decisions on Martin's part, Cooke argues that this is not what Martin was after when she began painting again:

her endeavor would not be to mobilize the viewer in a process of "looking for" but to immerse the solitary, stationary spectator in an indeterminate, luminous space, in attentive contemplation, "looking at."
Brian Droitcour reviewing "Agnes Martin, Works On Paper" at Peter Blum Soho trough March 15 [artforum]
Peter Blum Gallery Soho [peterblumgallery]
"To The Islands, Agnes Martin Paintings, 1974-1979 [diacenter.org]
[image via portlandart.net]

February 29, 2008

Faster, Bulletin Kill Kill!

Alright, does anyone have a screenshot of the victim?

Apparently, the AP erroneously reported at 6:35EST that Bush resigned over, of all things, plagiarism. It's like getting Capone for tax evasion.

bulletin_kill_bush_resigns.jpg

whoa, it's 2 min, later, and it gets even more dire-sounding: "A kill is mandatory. Make certain the short headline is not published."

Do these folks know their mic is on?

bulletin_kill_whp.jpg

BULLETIN KILL [ap/nyt]

john_powers.us.jpg

As he was working on it the last few months, my friend John Powers kept hinting that his upcoming show would have a bit of the Deathstar and a bit of the disintegrating disco ball. He's not kidding. The Force is strong with this one.

Empire, 45-in diameter, styrofoam and anodized aluminum, at Virgil de Voldere Gallery, the Chelsea Arts Bldg on 26th st through Mar. 29 [virgilgallery.com]
John Powers' portfolio site [johnpowers.us]

February 28, 2008

The Moon Museum

kalpakjian_moonworks-3.jpgHoly ^%$&! Man Smuggles Art To The &%#$ing Moon!
In 2003, Craig Kalpakjian proposed a series of Earthworks-style drawings that would be executed on the surface of the moon, like the Nazca Lines or 60's bad boys Michael Heizer's and Dennis Oppenheim's desert drawings. He called them Moonworks.

Now I find out there was already an entire Moon Museum, with drawings by six leading contemporary artists of the day: Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, David Novros, Forrest "Frosty" Myers, Claes Oldenburg, and John Chamberlain. The Moon Museum was supposedly installed on the moon in 1969 as part of the Apollo 12 mission.

I say supposedly, because NASA has no official record of it; according to Frosty Myers, the artist who initiated the project, the Moon Museum was secretly installed on a hatch on a leg of the Intrepid landing module with the help of an unnamed engineer at the Grumman Corporation after attempts to move the project forward through NASA's official channels were unsuccessful.

Myers revealed the exhibition's existence to the New York Times, which published the story Nov. 22, 1969, two days after the Apollo 12 crew had left the moon--and the Intrepid--and two days before they arrived back on earth. Here's the photo from the story:

moon_museum_nyt.jpg


According to Myers, who was involved with E.A.T. on the Pepsi Pavilion project at the time, the six drawings were miniaturized and baked onto an iridium-plated ceramic wafer measuring just 3/4" x 1/2" x 1/40", with the assistance of engineers at Bell Labs.

According to the Times, the artworks are, clockwise from the top center: Rauschenberg's wavy line; Novros' black square bisected by thin white lines [in 1969, Novros also created the incredibly rich, minimalist fresco on the second floor of Judd's 101 Spring St]; a computer-generated drawing by Myers; a geometric mouse by Oldenburg, "the subject of a sculpture in his current show at the Museum of Modern Art" [a sculpture which is in MoMA's permanent collection, btw]; and a template pattern by Chamberlain, "similar to one he used to produce paintings done with automobile lacquer." Warhol's contribution, which is obscured by the thumb above, is described as "a calligraphic squiggle made up of the initials of his signature."

Actually, it's a drawing of a penis. Here are some other photos by Frosty Myers, published, I believe, with a 1985 Omni Magazine article by the arts writer Phoebe Hoban. That would be the Warhol Penis there in the upper right.

MoonMuseum.jpg

As the NASA spokesman told the Times when asked about the Museum infiltration, "I don't know about it. If we had been asked, it sounds like something we'd have very much interested in [sic]. If it is true that they've succeeded in doing it by some clandestine means, I hope that the work represents the best in contemporary American art."
[emphasis added for ironic amusement, though to Myers' credit, it turned out to be a pretty good grouping of artists to have involved.]

But is it conceivable that someone could have smuggled dirty pictures onto a mission to the moon? Actually, yes. Even if Warhol hadn't sent that penis to the moon, Apollo 12 would still have achieved the first known incident of lunar nudity.

The back-up crew for the A12 mission surreptitiously inserted reduced photos of Playboy centerfolds into the flight crew's fireproof plastic cuff checklists which were only discovered about 2.5 hours into their first moon walk. [if you're at work, that first link is to nasa.gov, and the second is to playboy.com. The same scans are available at both sites, though NASA has conveniently embedded theirs in a PDF.]

Apollo12_centerfold.jpg

In addition to the six drawings, the Moon Museum also acquired a large collection of photographs; astronaut Alan Bean accidentally left several rolls of undeveloped film behind on the lunar surface. The checklists came back with the astronauts.

Related: Frosty Myers, the SoHo pioneer, had a retrospective exhibition last November-December at Friedman Benda Gallery in Chelsea. [friedmanbenda.com]
Also, he had a sitdown with my favorite crazy at The Grey Lady, design/home writer Joyce Wadler. [nyt]

February 27, 2008

No Kidding, It's A Small World

After riding the It's a Small World ride half a dozen times on my first trip to Disneyland, I sent off for information on how to become an Imagineer. I was seven.

Yet somehow it's taken me until this week to realize that the treacly animatronic Mary Blair masterpiece was originally created by Walt Disney at the behest of the Pepsi-Cola Corporation, which wanted a popular pavilion for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Disney was apparently commissioned to design four corporate pavilions that fair.

According to Billy Kluver's long, rambling account/apologia published in the 1972 book, Pavilion, Pepsi was in talks with Disney to produce the 1970 pavilion in Osaka, too, but Disney's budgets were orders of magnitude too high. Disney's withdrawal in late 1968 left Pepsi with an empty pavilion to fill, and it created the opportunity for E.A.T. to get involved.

It's a small world after all.

Now I've been a fan of Joep van Lieshout's work for a long time, even if a lot of it's too irreverent or too bombastically oversexualized to evangelize about regularly. ["You see, mom, he builds these room-sized uteruses with built-in bars..."]

But listening to his talk at Tate Modern last fall, it wasn't his successes so much as his failures that stuck in my mind. The arc of the interview with curator Marcus Verhagen was the failure of AVL-Ville, Atelier Van Lieshout's attempt to turn its Rotterdam waterfront studio complex into an independent, anarchic state, and how that flirtation with utopianism eventually led to the artist's current dystopian fascination. The artist then explained his concept for a hyper-capitalist, sustainable, totalitarian slave city with a population of 200,000 that produces EUR7 billion in profits each year. So far so good [sic].

When it got to the Q&A, though, someone asked van Lieshout if his zero-impact utopia, with its organic urban farming, &c., was so great, why not keep developing it? He dismissed the idea, since it would involve actually running the thing, then it'd take expertise, and attention, and involvement with the bureaucracy, and anyway, who knows if it really works? [Obviously, I'm paraphrasing here.]

The gist of his reply, though, was reality's too hard, so he's leaving it as art.

Then when someone lobbed a generous softball of a question by describing his structures and installations as "cinematic," van Lieshout punted again. Though he, too, conceives of his work as the sets upon which some unspecified drama unfolds, he never makes films, because he "doesn't know how."

I'd always thought of AVL-Ville as something of a conceit, but I had no idea how utterly dependent it was on the benign neglect of Dutch bureaucrats, and I certainly didn't know how quickly and utterly it folded when faced with the most rudimentary challenge. And similarly, when even a clueless yahoo like me can figure out how to make a movie, expertise and technology just are not credible obstacles anymore.

Sure, art is not, by definition, the real world, but I'd always somehow considered it to be superior in its distinctiveness. And yet here was van Lieshout's art being defined by its impractical, unproved inferiority in one case, and as the refuge for ignorance in another. We unconsciously give Art a presumption of cultural significance that, what do you know, it may not automatically deserve.

Too often, it gets considered only on its own terms, in a bubble, a world [sic] apart from the real world. It's why the mediocrity of an artist like Mariko Mori gets taken seriously when it's dwarfed technically and philosophically by CG and narratives of the best films and video games. Or why a piddly little spiral jetty is raised to masterpiece status while the US Army's vast earthworks at the nearby Dugway Proving Grounds are ignored and detested. There'll be a reckoning some day, a reality check, and a lot of art that was considered intrinsically valuable or important will end up as worthless oddities, like 19th century jewelry made from that most rare of metals at the time, aluminum.

Talking Art | Joep van Lieshout [tate.org.uk via imomus]

Wow. It feels like there's an entire novel just waiting to forth this, the most solipsistic headline Cory's ever put on boingboing.

Remixable German documentary about me and Internet freedom [bb]

Not to get all Kottke about it, but I really like the NY Times' infographic data visualization tool thing [is that an inexpert enough description for you?] that plots out the inflation-adjusted weekly domestic box office numbers of movies from 1986-a couple of weeks ago.

It's fun to play with and interesting to watch in the same way the highly addictive Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager interface is.

Still, I think Ebb & Flow's got some near misses in terms of usefulness. The tool's big takeaways--that studios are relying more and more on blockbusters, that there are more films released, for much shorter runs--are best seen over the years, so a zoomout would've been nice. Also, a zoom in, since so many recent films are reduced to single, stubby lines.

And while I'm sure it was a decision based on the underlying value of the box office data--as provided by NYTimes Company subsidiary StudioSystems and Box Office Mojo--the details I want to click for are not a synopsis and a link to the Times' review; it's the box office numbers and the duration of the theatrical run for that particular film.

Also, Idiocracy isn't in there. I wonder why, since despite Fox's best efforts, the movie was technically released last year. [Note to self: next time I see Mike Judge, give him $20 for downloading the movie in a way that provided absolutely no financial benefit to the studio who killed it.]

The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 - 2007 [nyt]

February 19, 2008

You Look Marvelous

tom_ford_as_terry_richardson.jpg

LACMA director Michael Govan and photographer Terry Richardson--who looks great, by the way, has he had work done?--at the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum last week.

Broad and Butter [artforum]

Anyone know who made this rather sweet linoleum block print [I'm guessing, at first I thought it was woodblock] of the first stanza of the Jabberwock?

Those hands are awesome.

expo70_domes_columbia.jpg

Here's a description of the American Pavilion at the Osaka '70 Expo from an online exhibit at Columbia called, "Housing The Spectacle: The Emergence of America's Domed Stadiums":

Trying to best R. Buckminister Fuller's Geodesic Dome built for the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, the architects of the Expo 70 Pavilion first envisioned it as a huge floating sphere, inspired by NASA's Apollo 11 mission that put the first man on the moon. This spherical scheme was the winning entry (submitted by Davis - Brody Architects and deHarak, Chermayeff & Geismar, Designers) in a competition sponsored by its future owner, the United States Information Agency (USIA). The competition scheme would have included exhibition space inside the sphere, and used its inner surface as a giant projection screen for continuously played film clips. The Pavilion ultimately erected at Osaka marked the birth of a new structural building type -- the longspan, cable stiffened pneumatic dome -- which would for a time become the predominant roof system over America's emerging sports palaces. Remarkably, the U.S. Pavilion's pneumatically supported 465 foot by 265 foot clear span dome was developed largely in response to Congress' 50% reduction in the project's budget. The completed Pavilion cost $450,000, which was about half the cost of the Montreal dome.
Those budget cuts meant The Great Balloon was replaced by a flat, quilted dome derided as "the world's largest bunion pad."

"Space balloons" were a prominent element in another of designs invited by the US Information Agency. According to an exasperated-sounding 1968 Architectural Forum review of ten of the eleven invitees, Isamu Noguchi proposed an underground exhibition space topped by a "vividly colored" and contoured playground landscape, comfortably shaded by a giant balloon. A space balloon.

noguchi_expo70_cu.jpg

Davis Brody's winning plan for the Great Balloon originally included a spiral exhibition-filled ramp leading up to a panoramic platform where films would be projected on the entire upper half of the dome.

great_balloon_expo70.jpg

When that didn't work out, the quest for giant, space exploration-evoking spheres, though, seems to have been moved inside. I can't make much sense of the exhibition design or its purpose from photographs [the clearest picture I've seen so far is a tourist's snapshot], but there were certainly some Project Echo-esque Mylar spheres floating in there.

expo70_echo_balls.jpg

Also, the entire surface of the earth berm walls were covered in silver Mylar.

expo70_us_speheres.jpg

Especially with the dot-covered spheres, you see how short a trip it is from the Triumph of the Cold War and the Space Race to the Age of Disco.

There are more and larger images at the Columbia site. [columbia.edu]
The US at Osaka, Arch Forum, Oct. 1968 [hosted at columbia.edu]

Previously considered unrelated. Now? Helmut Lang's self-portrait, a scavenged, battered disco ball

February 15, 2008

Q: Was The Pepsi Pavilion Art?

Of course, I'd only need to recreate The Pepsi Pavilion from Osaka 70 if it didn't exist anymore. Does it? No. As relations between Pepsi and Billy Kluver, the engineer founder of E.A.T., deteriorated over issues of budget and esoteric programming [Pepsi had originally envisioned their dome-shaped pavilion as a site of a string of rock concerts to entertain The Pepsi Generation coming to the Expo], Kluver argued that the entire Pavilion was a work of art and thus, a success, and thus, worthy of continued expenditure and preservation. Pepsi, literally, wasn't buying:

As an artistic experiment, though, it can be considered a success, and according to Klüver deserved to be treated as an art work.

In the case of the Pavilion, he therefore suggested to Pepsi-Cola to officially recognize the total work as an art work, in order to give it a legal structure. In a letter to Donald Kendall, President of Pepsi-Cola, Inc., he wrote "Our legal relationship to Pepsi Cola has developed so that the artists are put in the category of commercial artists designing a commercial product. One consequence of this is that we must obtain rights from all artists and engineers and others involved, particularly with regard to use of the Pavilion after Expo '70. Of course, there is no question of Pepsi's ownership and right to use and exhibit the Pavilion. Our dilemma is whether the artists have created a work of art or a work of commercial art to which there are rights which must be guaranteed... A decision to recognize the Pepsi Pavilion as a work of art and to treat it as such will set a much needed precedent in this area." Pepsi-Cola never took this step and eventually the Pavilion was left in a state of gradual desolation and decay. This was certainly due to the fact that the relationship between E.A.T. and Pepsi-Cola had considerably cooled down, to the point that the company, the sole sponsor of the project, withdrew its support when E.A.T. presented a maintenance contract for $405,000, instead of the proposed sum of $185,000.

Too bad the strategy didn't work; art seemed to be the only ticket to surviving the end of Expo 70. Today, almost all that's left of Expo '70 are Taro Okamoto's massive sculpture, Tower of The Sun, and Kiyoshi Kawasaki's International Art Pavilion, which until four years ago, housed the National Museum of Art, Osaka. Whoops, never mind: "The old museum was demolished and turned into a car park."

From Ch. 2, "The Nine Evenings," of M.J.M Bijvoets' Art As Inquiry [stichting-mai.de]
No museums, but m-louis's Expo70 photos do have sweet pavilions and the Tower of The Sun [flickr]

Let's get one thing out of the way first: I'm a Diet Coke guy. The very fact that The Pepsi Generation existed in 1970 should blow a hole in their brand's supposed youthy credibility big enough to drive a 90-foot mirrored dome though. Oh, and what do we have here?

pepsi_pavilion_mist.jpg

Holy freakin' crap, why has no one told me The Pepsi Pavilion at the 1970 World Expo in Osaka was an origami rendition of a geodesic dome; obscured in a giant mist cloud produced by an all-encompassing capillary net; surrounded by Robert Breer's motorized, minimalist pod sculptures; entered through an audio-responsive, 4-color laser show--yes, using actual, frickin' lasers-- and culminating in a 90-foot mirrored mylar dome, which hosted concerts, happenings, and some 2 million slightly disoriented Japanese visitors?

pepsi_pavilion_inside.jpg

And that large chunks of it were conceived, developed, and programmed by E.A.T., Experiments in Art and Technology, the pioneering art/engineering collaborate founded by [among others] Robert Rauschenberg and Bell Labs' Billy Kluver? And that the four artists working with Kluver--Breer, Frosty Myers, Robert Whitman, and David Tudor--had planned months of even freakier happenings for the Pavilion, but the Pepsi gave them the boot for being too freaky--and for going significantly over budget? Still.

pepsi_pavilion_test.jpg

The least you could've done is tell me that Raven Industries made a full-size replica of the Pavilion out of Mylar and test-inflated it in a disused blimp hangar in Santa Ana, CA? Apparently, all it took was a 1/1,000th of an atmosphere difference in air pressure to keep the mirror inflated within the outer structure.

Because, of course, you know that Kluver was the guy at Bell Labs who helped Warhol with his seminal "Silver Flotations" exhibit in 1966 [seen here in Willard Maas's film poem on Ubu]. And Bell Labs was involved in Project Echo, which launched and tracked two gigantic mylar spheres, satelloons, a couple of years earlier. Which makes the Pavilion's similarities to the satellite below purely non-coincidental.

Which means that after recreating these two, earliest NASA missions as art projects, I'll have to recreate the Pepsi Pavilion, too.

I've ordered by copy of Kluver et al's dense-sounding 1972 catalogue, Pavilion and expect to be revisiting this topic in some depth within 5-7 business days. Meanwhile, if there are any other giant, mylar spheres of tremendous-yet-overlooked artistic and historical importance lurking out there, now's your chance to come clean.

E.A.T. - Experiments in Art and Technology «Pepsi Pavilion for the Expo '70» [mediaartnet.org]

Previously: Must. Find. The Satelloons Of Project Echo
D'oh, or else I must make the satelloons of Project Echo, which would mean I'm an artist, freak, or both

echo_satelloon_color.JPG

Saw this poster on the DC Metro recently, the unwarranted, grandiose arrogance of which has always bugged me.

Also, I have never seen a subway rat the size of a house cat in all my years. The size of a ferret, maybe. Or a chihuahua lying down. But not a cat.

February 14, 2008

Victoria's Secrets Laid Bare

Cintra Wilson's takedown of Victoria's Secret in the NYT's Critical Shopper column is more fun than a runwayful of pouty supermodels:

“Dream Angels,” according to Victoria’s propaganda, is America’s No. 1 fragrance, which makes sense in an obese nation with no self-control: it smells like an alcoholic Twinkie. In any case, shiny his and her gift boxes are an eyebrow-raising $69.
The lists of the beauty product names read like the erotic poetry of the loneliest admin in the office, a size-doesn't-matter Ikea of sex fantasy--minus the meatballs.

Chug-a-Lugging Aphrodisiacs [nyt]

Now I'm probably biased because we've been longtime fans and collectors of Ruth Root's work, but damned if this isn't the most incredible press release for a gallery exhibition that you will see this year, last year, or next year:

RR08-Press_FINAL.jpg

Click through to Kreps' for the full size version.

Ruth Root, Feb 7 - Mar. 16 at Andrew Kreps Gallery [andrewkreps.com]


純粋階段, originally uploaded by nor1.

Atelier Bow Wow is my favorite Japanese architecture firm. Rather than by building or proposing some kind of Roarkian vision, they first made a name for themselves [besides the catchy name they made for themselves, I mean] by observing and reporting architecture as it was inadvertently happening in Tokyo.



They put out exhaustively researched but in no way comprehensive books: Pet Architecture documented the ways structure took shape in the impossibly narrow spaces of a city where no scrap of land goes unused. Made in Toyko was about ridiculous hybrids: a department store with a driving school on the roof; a cement factory integrated with the workers' dorms. They called these ridiculous, pragmatic spatial phenomena dame [dah-may] architecture, using the Japanese term for "no good."



Such ad hoc, aggressively undesigned accidents stick in my mind as I read about Tomason [also spelled Thomason and Thomasson in English]. If dame architecture is the awkward result of relentless functionality, Tomason are the useless, abandoned leftovers. Stairs to nowhere are a favorite. Bricked up windows are a close second. Tomason are the flashings and detritus of the incessant churn of building, destruction, and redevelopment that characterizes the Japanese city. No clean slates here, no way.



The term comes from the art & architecture collective formed in 1986 known as Rojo Kansatsu [Roadside Observation], which counted the author/artist Akasegawa Genpei as a founding member. Rojo's inspiration was Gary Thomasson, who was given the biggest contract ever in Japanese baseball in 1981-2, only it turned out he couldn't hit; then he blew out his knee. He was a giant, useless lump on the bench.



Rojo exhibited at the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2006 [i.e., the architecture biennale, not the real one. heh], but I found out about Tomason from an essay on neojaponisme. Like everything there, it's too long by design. The image below from neojaponisme, of a store shutter without a storefront, is from one of Akasegawa's original books. It reminds me of some of the Powerless Structures sculptures by Elmgreen & Dragset.



tomason_shutter.jpg



There's also a rather nice photopool on flickr. here's the japanese tomason tag and here's the thomason group.



Roadside Observation [neojaponisme.com]


Augor Revok msk
Originally uploaded by RIBBON CONTROLLER
Augur & Revok tagged a Takashi Murakami billboard in December. LA Weekly now reports that Murakami took the billboard down for his own collection.

[image via the woostercollective photo pool on flickr]

spiral_jetty-other_jetty.jpg

Score one for the bloggers. In the face of an instant, last-minute, blog-fueled burst of attention, the Utah Department of Oil, Gas & Mines has extended the public comment period until Feb. 13 for Application to Permit Drilling #08-8853, which seeks to conduct test drilling for oil in the West Rozel Field, an underwater oil deposit in Great Salt Lake.

The proposed drill sites are a couple of miles away from Rozel Point, the site of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty. After a heads up from the Friends of The Great Salt Lake, Smithson's widow and the executor of his estate, Nancy Holt, fired off email alerts to the art and media worlds, urging them to act "to save the beautiful, natural Utah environment around the Spiral Jetty from oil drilling."

I dutifully fired off my letter, expressing my grave concern for the fate of "the single most important work of art in the state." Apparently, at least a thousand other people around the world did, too, and in one day.

But something seems odd to me. What's the actual threat, where does it come from, what's the logical--and realistic--solution, and what do we know about what the artist himself would think about oil production nearby his masterpiece? Holt's calling for protection of the Jetty's "beautiful, natural" surroundings doesn't exactly reflect the reality of the work. Likewise, Lynne deFreitag, the FOGSL chairwoman who raises the specter of "offshore equipment [that] could cause noise and visual impairment in a relatively pristine area."

Now the National Trust of Historical Preservation has weighed in, calling the Spiral Jetty "a significant cultural site from the recent past, merging art, the environment, and the landscape."

Rozel Point may be beautiful, but it is not pristine, and it's not natural. And oil drilling is no stranger to the area, either. By ignoring the specific industrial history of the Spiral Jetty and its site, these defenses, however well-meaning or much-needed, are incomplete and inaccurate at best, and misleading at worst.

According to Smithson's own accounts of the project, oil and oil production are inextricably linked to the Spiral Jettyand the reasons Smithson chose to build it at Rozel Point. A choice based on, among other resources, his consultation of his copy of the 1963 Utah Geological & Mineral Survey map titled, "Oil Seeps of Rozel Point." [image: via Ron Graziani's 2004 book, Robert Smithson and the American Landscape]

oil_seep_rozel_pt_map.jpg

As he explained in a 1972 interview with Paul Cummings:

You might say my early preoccupation with the early civilizations of the West was a kind of a fascination with the coming and going of things.... And I became interested in kind of low profile landscapes, the quarry or the mining area which we call an entropic landscape, a kind of backwater or fringe area...
He continued, rather romantically, explaining the landscape of debris from decades of failed oil expeditions:
An expanse of salt flats bordered the lake, and caught in its sediment were countless bits of wreckage. The mere sight of the trapped fragments of junk and waste transported one into a world of modern pre-history...

Two dilapidated shacks looked over a tired group of oil rigs. A series of seeps of heavy black oil more like asphalt occur just south or Rozel Point. For forty or more years people have tried to get oil out of this natural tar pool. Pumps coated with black stickiness ruted in the corrosive salt air. A hut mounted on pilings could have been the habitation of "the missing link." A great pleasure arose from seeing all those incoherent structures. This site gave evidence of a succession of man-made systems mired in abandoned hopes.

About one mile north of the oil seeps I selected my site.

[In 2005, the state decided to clear out all these ruins and debris using money from the Division of Oil, Gas & Mining's "orphan well" fund. "Within 16 days," brags the Utah Geological Survey website, "a total of eighteen 40- cubic-yard dumpsters full of junk were hauled away! Only some old wood pilings and historic stone building foundations were left behind...So, if you have ventured to the area before, either to see Rozel Point or Spiral Jetty, you may not recognize it when you return!" [emphasis added]

Interesting that to the state, wood pilings and stone foundations are "historic," but the metal/industrial elements were "junk." It's a diametrically opposite view from the artist's own.

Even though the "Diluvian" ruins of failed oil drilling were central to the choice of Rozel Point, and even though he built his own Jetty right next to an abandoned oil drilling jetty, the industrial nature of the site was largely omitted from critical discussion of the Spiral Jetty for decades while it lay submerged and unvisited.

During the 2004 retrospective at the Whitney, Todd Gibson noticed how Smithson largely excluded the surroundings from the Spiral Jetty film:

This is interesting because Smithson could just as easily have chosen to place Spiral Jetty within the context of the industrial landscape in which he built it. At two points during the film, viewers get a passing, background glimpse of the oil-drilling jetty situated less than half a mile to the east. You have to be watching for it to see it, the shots are so quick. (See the satellite photo at right for an indication of how close these two jetties are--and by how much the industrial jetty dwarfs Smithson's work.)

I was surprised by these two shots in the film because they both show not just the oil drilling jetty that remains at the site today, but they also clearly show a giant drilling derrick at the end of the jetty that is no longer there. The site was even more clearly a working industrial landscape at the time Smithson built his piece than it is today, but Smithson chose not to highlight that fact in the film--even though his Non-site works had explored the concept of the industrial, entropic landscape a few years before.

It's only been in the last few years, since Spiral Jetty reemerged from the water and people started visiting the site again, that discussion of this aspect of the work has arisen.

It's too late, and this is too long already, so I'll have to look into the questions of the current oil drilling situation in another post. Meanwhile, don't forget to write your letter of support for the Jetty! Demand that the state restore the 18 trailerloads of pumps and junk immediately!

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

find me on twitter: @gregorg

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Posts from February 2008, in reverse chronological order

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recent projects, &c.


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Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
buy, $28

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Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
show | beginnings

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Chop Shop
at SPRING/BREAK Art Show
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

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eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
about | proposte monocrome, rose

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It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
about | link

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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
about

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Standard Operating Procedure
about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

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"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
about, brochure | installation shots


HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
panel &c.


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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
background | making of
"Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

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Canal Zone Richard
Prince YES RASTA:
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99

archives