August 2009 Archives

August 31, 2009

Stickin' It To The Man


Classic. Throw it on the compost pile; it is done. Burning Man's official delusional complicity in its own cynical corporate exploitation is now complete.

This year, the Man has been set atop a pyre [above] made of 2x4s swirled into a fantastical, organic architecture designed by Rod Garrett. The design is an explicit reference to Uchronia, aka the Belgian Waffle [below], from the 2006 Festival.

The Waffle was controversial for many reasons: it was built in the open playa, not in the city. It was burned the night after the Man burned. At the time, the Waffle's Belgian designer/marketer Arne Quinze claimed his 100-person crew were all volunteers, but it turned out they were all paid employees. Because it was later revealed that the entire Uchronia Project was an experiential branding campaign organized and executed by Quinze's agency for the launch of the newly redesigned Lexus L460 luxury sedan.

See, Burning Man turned out to be only the opening act, the precursor for several Lexus pop-up showrooms with mini-Waffle installations, including one in Beverly Hills and another in Miami Beach which was timed to coincide with Art Basel.

At the time, I got a lot of grief over my criticism of Quinze's spectacle, and burners, including the BM organization's official curator, were in angry denial about what had really happened. [My inbox got predictably quiet after the rest of Quinze's elaborate Lexus installations were unveiled.]

All that mattered was for burners to believe--even if just for a few days--that there was still a chance to escape the consumption-obsessed world, and to create, free from advertising and logos and clients and bullshit corporate sponsors and their moneygrubbing agendas.

And now, just three years later, the namesake of the festival is built on a replica of the biggest corporate punking and co-option ever. Congratulations.

Working for the Man; The State of the ART [top image via]
Relive the complete Uchronia=Lexus saga here.

August 31, 2009

More Small Metal Objects

aluminaire_kara-c.jpg reader Kara C. just sent along this new photo of A. Lawrence Rocher & Albert Frey's Aluminaire House, a fantastic early prefab design--and Frey's first building in the US--which is currently parked on the Islip, LI campus of the NY Institute of Technology.

When it was first exhibited in NYC in 1931, the speed with which it was built [10 days] led people to call it the "Zipper House." But NYIT architect Michael Schwarting, who was instrumental in saving the house from demolition in the late 1980s said, "It was made more like a refrigerator than a house."

And as that M-Class clearly demonstrates, the Aluminaire House is barely the size of a Sub-Zero in a Five Towns McMansion.

Kocher & Frey's Aluminaire House: a making of primer
another contemporary view from early August


See what happens when you just ask? My posts the last couple of days about [mis]remembering Walter de Maria's 1966 stainless steel sculpture, High Energy Bar/ High Energy Unit, is shaking loose some interesting bits of information on the work and the burst of popularity of "multiples" as a democratic, anti-elitist, market-thwarting strategy for artmaking in the 1960s. [I'm sure there are enough unsupported assumptions packed into that sentence to make a whole CAA-ful of art historians' eyes bleed, but whatever, close enough.]

First up, de Maria discussed High Energy Bar with Paul Cummings in 1972, in his interview for the Smithsonian Archive:

WDM: ...But I mean there's some relationship between being able to go smaller and smaller through the electron microscope and at the same time still not be able to see all the galaxies in outer space. But I do think that in ten or twenty years somebody will say, well, that's a minimal situation, or that's a minimal or that's minimal art. I think that that will stand. The point was that in the development of these boxes and rectangles it wasn't just making another piece of geometric sculpture, because there's been a lot of geometric sculpture in the last fifty years, but of the relationship between this angle and that angle or this box and that box or even David Smith's last sculptures, you know, the boxes and cubes which in a way was a sort of three-dimensional cubism some sixty or seventy years later, fifty years later, or whatever. But, it was the idea that you could take a perfect cube, perfect rectangle such as the high energy bar, the perfect rectangle and, well, I'll show you a high energy bar in a moment, and the notion that its ideas and its lines were so perfect and so perfectly composed and self-contained that it was perfectly satisfying to look at that one object as a sculpture without having it confused with a lot of needless relationships. It was perfectly focused on itself and implied a lot more than it was.

PC: You still make those, don't you?

WDM: The high energy bars, yeah. I'll make those all my life.

PC: It's an open-ended multiple.

WDM: That's right, and I didn't like the word "multiple."

PC: Did you think of them in those terms?

WDM; Well, I would say when I started making them in '65, '66, the ideas of multiples was just growing about that time and I thought that if a person accepted the idea of a multiple that it should be open-ended, because why, if you have mass-produced technology, why should you limit it at fifty or a hundred or two hundred, because the technology is inexpensive to make . . . .

PC: You have to want that limitation.

WDM: Yeah, and so I sort of thought if I ever did that that probably multiples should be completely continuous.

So yeah, "make those all my life," but I also like that part up top about these perfect, reference-free metal objects and the once-future convergence of science and minimalism. The latter, of course, feels like validation of what I already think, and the former seems completely undermined by his sculptures' formal similarities to objects like the Meter--though the PKU's conceptual conceit that a kilogram is equal to itself does kind of close the loop nice and tightly.

Anyway, onward and upward with the arts. From a reader far more learned than myself on these matters, Kathleen Campagnolo, who is just finishing her PhD on the 1960s sculptures of Walter de Maria, and who apparently has a Google alert set for all mentions of "High Energy Bar -triathlon," comes this:

the artist's statement from "3 → ∞ : new multiple art," a 1970 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, which included Virginia Dwan's example of High Energy Bar, No. 53:

High Energy Bar

Work on the High energy bar began in 1965. A summation of my minimal investigation in sculpture going back to 1961/62 - the nature of the rectangle.

First bar issued in 1966.

This is my answer to the multiple - not a multiple. I detest multiples (in art).

Differs from most multiples in several respects:

1st) Infinite edition - not limited. I shall make them all my life.

2nd) My personal connection with each bar. With each bar is issued a certificate.

I collect the following information:

Name of owner


Number of bar

And after no. 50 photograph of owner.

3rd) Bars are not transferable. The bar always belongs to the person who gets it first, i.e., if after a person dies the bar were 'given' to someone else - that new person would have the first person's bar - he would not have the bar for himself, i.e., it would not be his bar.
Records of the owners of the bars are kept in a Swiss bank. Needless to say the ownership of all bars is known only to myself and never divulged.

I love it, and not just because that last part, about the bars being non-transferable, makes me feel like I was kind of right all along. If anything, this just adds a new desirability factor to the High Energy Bar secondary market. They're like Friends of Walter trading cards. Now it's not just a question of how low the edition number is, but who the first only true owner is/was.

Also, Swiss bank!

You should be able to buy the catalogue for Three To Infinity: New Multiple Art more cheaply than these Amazon dealers [amazon]


After blogging about it the other day, I thought it was high time I get the real story on the mysterious Walter de Maria stainless steel edition I'd been watching for all these years, the one which has never come up for auction or resale because the artist engraved a restriction on the work itself that it could never be resold for more than $100.

So I called the collector, Charlie Cowles, and asked him about it. Which I probably should have done years ago, because I remembered the work completely wrong.

The piece is actually titled High Energy Bar, and the only thing engraved on it is the title, the artist's name, and the date, 1966. And a copyright notice, because I guess that's how they used to do it back then. [Any questions, just ask Robert Indiana what he thinks about it.] But a $100 resale restriction? Charlie said he'd never heard it.

That's when I realized what had actually been engraved where. Turns out when I'd asked about the piece 15+ years ago, Charlie had explained that he'd gotten it in 1967 from de Maria's Los Angeles dealer, Nicholas Wilder for $100, and that because it was an unlimited edition, it'd never sell out. That price number and the idea of perpetual availability had lodged in my brain, and over the years, had gotten conflated with the object itself.


Once I figured out the mystery of High Energy Bar, I realized examples of it have been shown and sold all over the place throughout the years. [Though Betty Freeman had one, too, it wasn't included in the Christie's auction of her collection.]

The most recent instance pretty much pokes a hole in my market-proof $100 de Maria delusion. In May, a High Energy Bar belonging to the late gallerist Eva af Buren was sold in Stockholm. It went for 220,000 SEK, nearly USD31,000, and more than ten times the pre-sale estimate.

af Buren's de Maria, which she acquired in 1969, was no. 49 of what the certificate calls "an infinite series." Not only is the certificate required "in order to be operative and authentic," but the certificate--depicted below, and let me state for the record, that is one of the snazziest artist certificates I've ever seen--"will be incorporated as a part of the whole work of art, to be known as the High Energy Unit."


Interestingly, though there are hundreds of mentions of High Energy Bar, there were only two mentions of the "complete" piece, High Energy Unit. [It makes me start to wonder about the underappreciated existence our poor certificates must lead, even as they've become so important to the authenticity and integrity of the work. Is anyone else making sexy artist certificates--or art about certificates, even--that remain ignored or unknown by everyone but the work's purchaser? Will an artist make a work whose aesthetic or artistic payoff is actually the [secret] certificate itself? If you have or know of any awesome certificates languishing in any file cabinets out there, by all means, let me know.]

Next step is to check with de Maria and see if these High Energy Bars are still available, or if the series' infiniteness has become, like infinity itself, more of an abstract concept. It makes me wonder what number it's reached. And what it sells for.

It could be possible that even if the work is still available from the artist himself, collectors could put a premium on vintage examples with low numbers and historically interesting provenance. Like how On Kawara's older date paintings sell for significantly more than newer ones, or how Flavins with "vintage" light fixtures sell for more than those with replacements. Frankly, it seems like a valuation system that's explicitly at odds with the artist's concept of the work itself. And maybe it's something that the market will slowly process and correct for as conceptually driven work becomes better understood.

If I'm reading John Cage's first book Silence: Lectures and Writings correctly, this is a quote from "Where are we going? And what are we doing?" a lecture/text/performance piece he first performed at Pratt in 1960:

I was driving out to the country once with Carolyn and Earle Brown. We got to talking about Coomaraswamy's statement that the traditional function of the artist is to imitate nature in her manner of operation. This led me to the opinion that art changes because science changes--that is, changes in science give artists different understandings of how nature works.

A Phi Beta Kappa ran in the other day and said, "Your view is that art follows science, whereas Blake's view is that art is ahead of science."

Right here you have it: Is man in control of nature or is he, as part of it, going along with it? To be perfectly honest with you, let me say that I find nature far more interesting than any of man's controls of nature.

Cage reprised this piece in 1963 at The Pop Festival in Washington, DC, which was the performance/dance/Happenings portion of "The Popular Image," the Washington Gallery of Modern Art's first Pop Art exhibition.

I don't know what harder to get my head around: that Cage performed in DC; that he was considered a Pop Artist; or that DC had a Gallery of Modern Art.

August 28, 2009

Adolfo! Adolfo!

So I sneaked out last night to see Inglourious Basterds, which I found to be generally fantastic; Brad Pitt's craft has come a long way since Meet Joe Black.

Because, I confess, I'm still working through a stack of badly panned & scanned DVDs of lost grindhouse epics, I have fallen behind in my study of spaghetti westerns and the lesser-known works of Lee Marvin. And so I was worried that Tarantino's many subtle, referenzia cinematografistica which so many esteemed critics alluded to might slip by me unnoticed--and if that happens, what's the point, right?

I needn't have worried. From the twangy, scratchy get-go, where the opening track sounded like it was being played back on Hi-Fi to mimic the apparently primitive audio post-production facilities of Italy [1], Tarantino is not shy--hah, as if--about his stylistic references.

Oh, and contrary to some opinions, I thought Mike Myers was spot-on. I'd always joke-assumed Pitt won the Travolta/Forster/Carradine/Russell casting lottery this time as the actor whose forgotten talents and fizzling career would be nobly rescued by the director fanboi who Never Forgot. But I was wrong; it's Myers. You now have at least two years where we won't hold The Cat In The Hat against you, Mike. Use them well.

Anyway, the point, and the thing I either overlooked or never heard, was what a big, fat, sloppy kiss to the cinema this thing was. And not just the blatant, "Make me a Cannes juror for life!" applause line ["I'm French. We respect directors in this country."] either. I'm talking about how the whole plot is basically the basterd child of The Dirty Dozen and Cinema Paradiso.

Also, *SPOILER ALERT?* was there NOT a shoutout to the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark? Does this mean Tarantino's officially moved onto hommaging 80s pop film now? I see Michael Schoeffling as Robert Forster.

[1] Whenever he gets around to making it, I'm sure QT's Punjabi murder musical will sound like it was recorded in the bathtub.


Three people--a 59-year-old phony aristocrat and an art dealer couple in their 60's--were arrested in Stuttgart, Germany for fraud and copyright infringement [!] after police broke up an international Alberto Giacometti forgery operation. Over 1,000 fake Giacommetis were confiscated from storage space in Mainz, outside Frankfurt. The Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeittung photographed a few of them [above] at the police's invitation. Seriously, I don't see how the copyright infringement charges will stick, because those things look like crap.

If I understand the Google translation of FAZ correctly, the forgers created an elaborate backstory to support the existence of so much unknown Giacometti material.

The main suspect, who hasn't been named by police, called himself an "Imperial Count," and claimed to have been entrusted the works by his dear, dear friend in Paris, Diego, Alberto's sculptor brother, who died in 1985. According to the count, Diego accumulated a massive stash of Alberto's sculptures--both casts and plaster originals--from the foundry they shared. The works were kept hidden from Alberto's widow and heirs [Alberto died in 1966].

Why? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the 139-page book, Diego's Revenge, which explains the history of the brothers' rivalry and which supported the works' authenticity. Because, of course, it had been written and published by the scammers themselves.

In their press release [pdf auf deutch, google translation], the State Crime Prosecutor in Stuttgart had some valuable advice for Giacometti collectors and other art collectors alike:

Prevention tips for the purchase of works of art:

Before you buy:

  • Avoid impulse buys and so-called "bargains"

  • Evaluate the offer for sale carefully

  • Find out on the basis of literature (picture books, work folders) on the Purchase

  • Überlassen Sie in Zweifelsfällen die Bewertung sachkundigen Dritten (Sammler, • Do not leave in doubt the valuation expert third party (picking, Dealers, museums, etc.)

  • Compare the offer and the prices on the art market

When buying:

  • Buy your art only against an invoice or purchase contract (§ 433 BGB)

  • Write down in a private purchase, the identity of the seller, its Address and possibly also his license plates [especially important if you're buying a Giacometti out of the trunk of a car. -ed,]

  • Let the defining characteristics (originality, age, artists, etc.) be confirmed in writing.

So servicey!

Now that I think about it, there was a Giacometti Femme de Venise VI for sale last May at Santa Monica Auctions. It didn't look like any of the published Femmes de Venise, which were numbered differently over the years, but it still has a foundry mark, and they still had a $25-30,000 estimate on it, even though SMA described it as "After Alberto Giacometti." Never mind, I just spoke to the auctioneers, and that piece had been in a Los Angeles collection for over 40 years. Whatever it is, it's not a German fake.

Die Gangster von Mainz [ via artforum]

August 26, 2009

The SA-60 Spherical Airship


According to BoingBoing, the Sierra Nevada Corporation's been testing its SA-60 Spherical Airship at the Reno-Stead Airport. [SNC's the same company whose surveillance blimp was set to be mooned this month by 1,500 hundred angry Canadians in the quiet border downs of Sarnia/Port Huron. I think high winds scuttled the ballooning, and hence, the mooning.]

The SA-60 [above] was first demonstrated successfully in 2004 by a knot of gruff-sounding defense contractors--none of whose domain names work anymore. At the time, the manned, operational version--suitable for use "for both defense and homeland security purposes including surveillance of battlefields and domestic borders and ports."--was expected to have a diameter of 76 feet. An unmanned, solar-powered version would have a diameter of 200 feet.

Since I've got my hands full turning satelloons and other fantastic, spherical balloon airships into art, I hope someone else will pick up the slack and start celebrating the glorious poetry that is the military industrial complex press release. God Bless America!:

Press Release: July 1, 2004

SNC Enters Exclusive Partnership with Proxity Digital Networks Subsidiary
Cyber Aerospace and Techsphere Systems on Spherical Airship

Sparks, Nevada - (July 1, 2004) - Sierra Nevada Corporation announced today that it has entered into an exclusive partnership agreement with Proxity Digital Networks subsidiary Cyber Aerospace and Techsphere Systems to provide technology, payload and sensor integration for government and commercial end users of the SA-60 Spherical Airship.

Proxity Digital Networks, Inc. and Techsphere Systems International, Inc., recently announced through Cyber Aerospace Corp., an operating subsidiary of Proxity's On Alert Systems, that the SA-60 low altitude surveillance airship has flown at 10,000 feet altitude with a payload exceeding 500 pounds, thus satisfying all flight criteria required under existing contracts. The 10,000 ft. flight took place as Cyber Aerospace conducted contractor demonstration flights for the U.S. Navy at Captain Walter Francis Duke Regional Airport in Hollywood, St. Mary's County, MD.

And speaking of conceptually loaded minimalist objects of precision-crafted metal, here are a couple of early Walter de Maria works I was looking at a few months back:


Betty Freeman bought Melville [1967, above] in 1968. It's a polished, book-sized tablet of stainless steel engraved with the opening lines from Herman Melville's 1857 novel, The Confidence Man:

At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared, suddenly as Manco Capac at the lake Titicaca, a man in cream-colors, at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.

His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.

As Christie's noted when they sold Melville last May [$266,500, including premium], de Maria began producing industrially finished stainless steel sculptures in 1965, with the aid of collector Robert Scull. In 1966, he made Instrument for LaMonte Young , a 3 x 5 x 36 aluminum box with contact mics and an amplifier built in to pick up the sound of a metal ball rolling along inside the channel. Freeman picked that up in 1970. [And Christie's sold it for $80,500.]


The early de Maria metal sculpture I've been most interested in over the years, though, is a little, 1-ft metal bar, an edition, which is engraved with a restriction that it can never be sold for more than $100. I first saw one in a collector's loft in SoHo around 1992, and I've waited ever since for one to turn up for sale somewhere. So far, no. Go figure.

Turns out the IPK is on the cover of one of Andy's favorite books, The Best Book Designs 1997, designed by Simon Davies:


Also, from Metric Views, a blog of "commentary about the British measurement muddle," a PDF of "Standard Kilogram Weights - A Story of Precision Fabrication," an article by Johnson Mathey's F.J. Smith, published in the 1973 issue of Platinum Metals Review. Of the 1889 First General Conference of Weights and Measures where the IPK was officially adopted, he wrote with metallurgic confidence:

The kilogram was redefined arbitrarily in terms of the new International Prototype Kilogram so that our present standard of mass has a permanence dependent only upon the stability of the iridium-platinum alloy.
Since then, Johnson Matthey "has been called upon regularly to supply" national prototypes and working standards, objects of extraordinary craftsmanship and exquisite, minimalist form, which will soon be obsolete.

Just like this original platinum kilogram standard, a sister to the Kilogramme des Archives, fabricated in 1795 by Marc Etienne Janety, a former goldsmith to the court at Versailles:



Caught this on the CBC last night. I always assumed a kilogram is equal to the mass of a liter of water. But it turns out to be messy/tricky/complicated to measure water accurately enough, plus, some scientists decided to change the definition soon after it was decreed, so a kilogram is actually equal to the mass of the kilogram, the International Prototype Kilogram, or IPK, also known in France as Le Grand K. It's the only unit of measure, says Wikipedia, "that is still defined in relation to an artifact rather than to a fundamental physical property that can be reproduced in different laboratories."

The IPK is made of a platinum alloy known as "Pt‑10Ir", which is 90% platinum and 10% iridium (by mass) and is machined into a right-circular cylinder (height = diameter) of 39.17 mm to minimize its surface area. The addition of 10% iridium improved upon the all-platinum Kilogram of the Archives [originally made and adopted in 1799. -ed.] by greatly increasing hardness while still retaining platinum's many virtues: extreme resistance to oxidation, extremely high density, satisfactory electrical and thermal conductivities, and low magnetic susceptibility. The IPK and its six sister copies are stored at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in an environmentally monitored safe in the lower vault located in the basement of the BIPM's Chateau de Breteuil in Sèvres on the outskirts of Paris. Three independently controlled keys are required to open the vault. Official copies of the IPK were made available to other nations to serve as their national standards. These are compared to the IPK roughly every 50 years.
The IPK is stored under three bell jars, and its six sister copies are each stored under two.


The IPK and two other cylinders were manufactured in 1879 by Johnson Matthey, assayers and refiners for the Bank of England. [IPK is the third, KIII.] Johnson Matthey made 40 replicas in 1884, which were calibrated to IPK. 34 were distributed in 1889 to signatories of the Meter Convention for use as national standards. Two of this original batch, K4 and K20, are in the US. K20 was designated the US standard prototype in 1889.

The process and protocols for comparing these replicas to IPK, known as "periodic verification," have evolved over the years. The BIPM was apparently not so distracted between 1939 and 1946 that they couldn't develop "The BIPM Cleaning Method," which involves a chamois, ether, ethanol, and steam cleaning with bi-distilled water. [Considering the Metric system itself was implemented in the midst of the French Revolution, and proceeded even as key scientists were being guillotined, I guess it's not so surprising.] Models have developed to describe the rate of surface contamination.

What has become clear after the third periodic verification performed between 1988 and 1992 is that masses of the entire worldwide ensemble of prototypes have been slowly but inexorably diverging from each other. It is also clear that the mass of the IPK lost perhaps 50 µg over the last century, and possibly significantly more, in comparison to its official copies.
Given this variation and divergence, much of which cannot be explained, the CIPM [Committee &c.] in 2005 recommended redefining the kilogram as a constant of nature. So far, a suitably stable, reproducible constant has eluded metrologists.

One method is to define the number of carbon-12 atoms in a 1kg cube. Another, part of the Avogadro Project, is to create a single-crystal sphere of silicon, then measure the sphere radius and its internal crystal lattice with interferometry, and then polish it with single atomic level-accuracy to reach 1 kg. A sample is presented here with rather dramatic flair by a master optician at the Australian Centre for Precision Optics:


Its appearance might look familiar to regular readers of this website.

The human attempt to account for the world through exacting science results in a minimalist object that transcends other Minimalist objects, all while inhabiting a conceptual framework that transcends Conceptualist frameworks.

And I want some. And when I get my kilogram[s], I'll put them on the shelf next to my satelloons and my photos of the entire universe from the Palomar Sky Survey.

Kilogram, Grave [wikipedia]
photos of the International Prototype Kilogram []
"The kilogram and measurements of mass and force," Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Jan-Feb, 2001 [, PDF original at]


My step-father bought this crazy Pedro Friedeberg painting in 1966 in Mexico City. It's ink and paint on board, and the title is Hairless Hearts Of Some Hairy Nuns.

Here's a large detail of the central rooster, who is saying "Pseudo-Cybernetics."


Friedeberg is an esoteric, dada-esque, surrealist probably best known for his large, hand-shaped chairs. He seems like quite a character, sort of a Mexican Dali making spritist Vasarelys.

Hairless Hearts... was included in an exhibition at the Antonio Souza Gallery organized as a cultural sidebar to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Here is a list of the other paintings in the show:

  • "A Machine Made to Frighten Tailors (Also Can Be Used To Slice Water)"

  • "Luis XIV's Discotheque"

  • "Tehuana Orphanage"

  • "Confessions of An Iconoclastic Sea-Urchin"

  • "Madame De Pompadour's Electric Chair"

  • "The Aristocrats' Lighthouse"

  • "The Head of "Chez Twiggy," An Old Peoples' Home, In Her Pseudo-Cybernetics Style Uniform, ORders The Immediate Expulsion Of All False Optimists, In Inverse Alphabetical Order"

  • "Good Morning, Miss Watermelon"

  • "The Pockmarked Czarina Becomes Indignant Over The Statistics Presented By The Minister of Oceans And Clouds During A Round-Table Discussion On Eskimo Astrology At The Congress of Natural and Applied Pornography"

  • Left Hand of the Viceroy Gumersidno Sirloin and The Hand of His Niece The Disreputable Marchioness Brujulilla De Bourbon"

  • "Paganini's Bath"

  • "What We Found In Aristotle's Pyjamas"

  • "Orphanage for Squint-Eyed Children Sponsored By Baron Von Pipian"

  • "Socrates' Garbage Pail"

  • "An Hermaphrodite Baby Elephant Learning Russian"

  • "Afternoon Outing Of Little Beige Riding Hood"

Maybe it's just me who figured at the time, everyone was caught up in the giddy, optimistic hype of the World's Fair. I guess I hadn't counted on E.B. White. His nonplussed review of the 1939 New York World's Fair is included in Essays of E.B. White. Here's the best part [of the fair, that is. The whole essay's a short, pleasant read]:

Another gay spot, to my surprise, was the American Telephone & Telegraph Exhibit. It took the old Telephone Company to put on the best show of all. To anyone who draws a lucky number, the company grants the privilege of making a long-distance call. This call can be to any point in the United States, and the bystanders have the exquisite privilege of listening in through earphones and of laughing unashamed. To understand the full wonder of this, you must reflect that there are millions of people who have never either made or received a long-distance call, and that when Eddie Pancha, a waiter in a restaurant in El Paso, Texas, hears the magic words "New York is calling...go ahead, please," he is transfixed in holy dread and excitement. I listened for two hours and ten minutes to this show, and I'd be there this minute if I were capable of standing up. I had the good luck to be listening at the earphone when a little boy named David Wagstaff won the toss and put in a call to his father in Springfield, Mass., what a good time he was having at the World's Fair. David walked resolutely to the glass booth before the assembled kibitzers and in a tiny, timid voice gave the operator his call, his little new cloth hat set all nicely on his head. But his father wasn't there, and david was suddenly confronted with the necessity of telling his story to a man named Mr. Henry, who happened to answer the phone and who, pn hearing little David Wagstaff's voice calling from New York, must surely have thought that David's mother had been run down in the BMT and that David was doing the manly thing.

"Yes, David," he said, tensely.

"Tell my father this, began Dvid, slowly, carefully, determined to go through with the halcyon experience of winning a lucky call at the largest fair the world had yet produced.

"Yes, David."

"We got on the train, and...and...had a nice trip, and at New Haven, when they were taking off the car and putting another car on, it was awfully funny because the car gave a great--big--BUMP!"

Then followed David's three minute appreciation of the World of Tomorrow and the Citadel of Light, phrased in the crumbling remnants of speech that little boys are left with when a lot of people are watching, and when their thoughts begin to run down, and when Perispheres begin to swim mistily in time. Mr. Henry--the invisible and infinitely surprised Mr. Henry--maintained a respectful and indulgent silence. I don't know what he was thinking, but I would swap the Helicline for a copy of his attempted transcription of David's message to his father.

"The World of Tomorrow" was originally published in May 1939 in The New Yorker.

I've never thought much of Ai Weiwei's work; despite some of its undeniable power, he'd been compared to Warhol a few too many times for me to take him seriously. Well, it's time for me to rethink that.

First and second, there was Ai's refreshing seriousness and political boldness as a counterpoint to the apparent insufferable Japanese superciliousness [Hiroshi Sugimoto, I've been a fan for 15 years, but I'm looking squarely at you here] at the opening of his exhibition at the Mori Art Museum at Roppongi Hills. From Philip Tinari's report for Artforum:

Artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, like Ai a self-taught architect, closed the day's events with a lengthy encomium to his own recent projects, including a museum he designed and the first show--"naturally of my own work"--to be staged there. "Will there be a second show?" Ai rejoined.

Not surprisingly, the conversation often came back to Ai's recent brush with the law that led to the closure of his much-loved blog in early June. He jovially recounted a tale of calling the Caochangdi village police station to report the secret agents who were staking out his home and studio and who refused to show him their badges. (One of the plainclothes turned out to be the brother of the local patrolman--so much for that plan.) Many speculate that the troubles owed ultimately to the "citizen's investigation"--staffed by volunteers and mobilized via his blog--that canvassed the Sichuan disaster zone throughout the spring, collecting names and vital statistics on fifty-one hundred of the earthquake's youngest victims. For Ai, the unresolved carnage--60 percent of parents have not been able to reclaim their children's remains--owes much to shoddy school construction, and thus to party corruption. Under this pressure, the government released a figure of 5,335 dead schoolchildren just before the one-year anniversary of the May 12 quake. Asked point-blank by architect Shigeru Ban why he bothered to pursue this seemingly self-destructive personal campaign, Ai looked around at the hundreds of eyes fixed on him and replied bluntly, "If I don't use my social privilege to do this, I feel ashamed."

Wow, Shigeru Ban, I hope that wasn't as bad as it sounds.

Now the AP reports that Ai and several other activists for earthquake victims were detained and "roughed up" by police in the Chinese city of Chengdu, in order to prevent them from attending and testifying at a trial of another earthquake protestor, Tan Zuoren. Tan, Ai, and others pushed for nearly a year to force the government to release the names of over 5,000 schoolchildren killed in last year's quake.

I can't think of another artist of Ai's prominence--he was credited with the idea for Herzog & deMeuron's Bird Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics--who has put himself and his reputation on the line politically to such an extent. It's remarkable, but it also makes me wonder just what the comparable artist and political issue would be here.

Eye for an Ai [artforum]
Chinese police detain supporters of quake critic [ap/google via artforum]

Hah, Michael Govan's kickback public engagement in LACMA's decision to suspend its film program surprised me, but not as much as seeing the museum basically organizing its own netroots opposition.

Now, barely ten days into the LACMA Film Program Deathwatch, The LA Times hears from a vacationing Govan that "potential donors have stepped up, interested in helping underwrite the series." the whole crisis starts to feel like a manufactured fundraising stunt.

The Times has all the pieces of the story, but can't seem to put them together.

Govan had the film program on a three-year sink-or-swim timeline, which runs out now. The museum president said continued funding of the film department has been "an issue" in budget discussions for seven years, which means the board has been interested enough to keep the department around, but that the status quo hasn't been sexy enough to attract dedicated funding.

By floating the idea of killing--sorry, "suspending"--the program, the museum is able to gauge the public's interest. On the off chance that no one cared, the tough budget decision would be that much easier to justify. Meanwhile, an outcry--the louder the better--would bring attention to the program, and would transform a mundane $5 million ask for operating funds into an exciting chance to save and expand a vital, beloved film program. The naming rights of which can be had for--how much would you like, Michael? "I'd love to see $10 million."

LACMA's Govan says donors step forward for film program [latimes]
Previously: On LACMA killing its film program to save it

It's now known as "Theater Piece No. 1," and it is considered to be the first multimedia happening. It included simultaneous solos of dance, poetry readings and a lecture, along with slides, film, painting, and phonographic recordings.

But if John Cage called it anything at all, or if anyone referred to it as anything at all--and it's not clear that anyone did at the time--it was just 1952 Untitled Event at Black Mountain College. And no one can quite agree how long it lasted, or even when it actually took place, but the best guess is probably early August, maybe on the 16th, in 1952.

The most complete synthesis of documentation and recollections of the event is probably William Fetterman's 1996 book, John Cage's Theatre Pieces, which says that only around 35-50 people--including faculty, students, and locals--attended.

There was reportedly? probably? no score at the time, but that wasn't a big shock to longtime Cage collaborators like David Tudor: "He distributes a plan that you can use or not, but it's just a piece of papers with some numbers on it. This kind of thing doesn't get documented, and it gets lost." Cage created the first of two complex scores for "Theater Piece No. 1" in 1960.

Here's how Cage himself remembered it in 19:

At one end of the rectangular hall, the long end, was a movie, and at the other were slides. I was on a ladder delivering a lecture which included silences, and there was another ladder which M.C. Richards and Charles Olson went up at different times... Robert Rauschenberg was playing an old-fashioned phonograph that had a horn, and David Tudor was playing piano, and Merce Cunningham and other dancers were moving through the audience. Rauschenberg's pictures [the White Paintings] were suspended above the audience...They were suspended at various angles, a canopy of paintings above the audience. I don't recall anything else except the ritual of the coffee cup. (Kirby and Scheckner 1965, pp. 52-3)
The movie, black and white silent footage of a work in progress by Nicholas Cernovitch, was apparently projected on the ceiling, and then it moved down the wall. Scenes included the setting sun, and the cooks at BMC, a couple named Cornelia and George. Who, I would assume, lived in the house Lawrence Kocher designed for the kitchen staff.

There is at least one recollection that the event also included a black & white painting by Franz Kline. I'm on the road, so I don't have my copy of Hopps's Rauschenberg in the 1950s catalogue handy, but I remember a dispute over whether Rauschenberg's all-white paintings were considered or used as projection screens for the event's multimedia components. Cage credited the White Paintings with prodding him to compose 4'33".


Cernovitch summed up the various audience reactions rather succinctly: "Nobody knew we were creating history."

And they weren't, at least until Cage began teaching the event at his legendary New School classes several years later to students who would be among the first performance artists, including Allan Kaprow, George Brecht, and Al Hansen.

Buy Fetterman's John Cage's Theatre Pieces [amazon]
Or preview most of the account of 1952 Untitled Event, beginning on page 97 [google books]
[image: Bob at Stable Gallery in 1953, by Allan White for LIFE]

August 8, 2009

Dim Bulbs

I'd ignored Artforum's recap of the recent Süddeutsche Zeitung report that the EU's looming ban might pose a problem for museums and artists whose work incorporates. incandescent lightbulbs. I mean, it seems like such a piddly little question, right?

Sure, artists from Moholy-Nagy to Dan Flavin to Robert Rauschenberg to Felix Gonzalez-Torres used light bulbs, I thought [and don't try and factcheck me on Flavin; I'm talking about his early wall-mounted constructs.] But the hefty fines are only for selling light bulbs. Just buy the things out of the EU, or have someone give them to you, problem solved, right?

Wrong. According to the followup story, the light bulb ban includes importation, too. So depending on the wattage, conservators and collectors have a narrowing window in which to stockpile a crapload of light bulbs, the way they do Beuysian chocolate, fat, and felt. [For Felix's light strings, most of which use 25w bulbs, the ban doesn't kick in until 2012. You could fill a warehouse with light bulbs by then, no sweat.] What'll be interesting to see is whether loaning or selling a light-bulb equipped work constitutes importation, and is thus banned.

Actually, what's interesting to see is the complete and utter histrionic ignorance of the EU Energy Commission spokesman Ferran Tarradellas [Espuny] when asked about the issue:

Tarradellas questioned the argument that lightbulbs are as common to the artist's materials as canvas, paint, and marble. "A visit to any museum for contemporary art demonstrates the contrary," said Tarradellas.


"It's utterly ludicrous to ask the commission for the sake of art to leave a product on the market that could be dangerous for the environment, health, and the consumer," said Tarradellas. "Otherwise exceptions could be asked for when an artist wants to use antiperson landmines, enriched plutonium, or CFC."

Ah, well since you put it that way...

The original article, which Artforum never bothers to link to: Glühbirnen in Museen | Dealer gesucht []
The followup does not appear to be online [yet?]

aluminaire_rosa_book.jpgHaha, It only took ten days the first time. When Wallace K Harrison reassembled Kocher and Frey's Aluminaire House on his property in Huntington, LI, after buying it for $1000 and taking it apart in a matter of hours, it took a lot longer and cost a lot more. That was due, "in part because the components for the house were left outdoors and a strong rain washed away the identifying chalk markings, leaving a jigsaw puzzle to be put back together." Ultimately, the structural integrity was compromised, and anyway, Harrison soon added onto and moved and later even partially buried what he called the "tin house."

That's all according to the 1999 revised edition of Joseph Rosa's Albert Frey, Architect, which is on Google Books.

Rosa also gives some hint as to the house's structure and materials, none of which sound like they'd pass muster with a building department today:

  • the whole thing rested on six five-in. aluminum columns attached to aluminum and steel channel girders.

  • the "battle deck-pressed steel flooring" was sandwiched with insulation board and linoleum.

  • the non-loadbearing walls are "narrow-ribbed aluminum," insulation board, and building paper, "joined by washers and screws."

  • the dining room and living room were separated by a glass&steel china cabinet, a retractable rubber-top dining table, and the risers for the shower cantilevered from the bed/bath overhead.

  • the balcony was lined with concrete-asbestos brick.

Fantastic, but seriously crazy. The only way you could logically cantilever a shower over a living room is if it has glass walls. Which sounds like something Paul Rudolph would do, or probably did.

So sweet. Check out this awesome aluminum-clad house, which curator/architectural historian Erik Neil spotted yesterday on the campus of the NY Institute of Technology:


I looked it up on the Internet, and found this post, which I wrote last weekend. It's Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey's Aluminaire House as it exists today, or yesterday, anyway, which is pretty damn close.

This house is completely fantastic. Who'd have thought that looking like a 1930's industrial refrigerator would result in such wonderful architecture? Put some quilting on those aluminum panels, and it'd be like living at Florent.

Neil visited the house because he's including it "Arcadia to Suburbia: Architecture on Long Island 1930-2010," an exhibition on the history of modernism on Long Island set to open in January at the Hecksher Museum in Huntington.

He also pointed out that Joe Rosa, who was a key player in saving the Aluminaire House from demolition in the 1980s, included it in his 1990 monograph, Albert Frey, Architect, which I have somewhere in storage, but which I might sell just on principle because--hello--it's like $115-$581 on Amazon right now. Crazy days.

LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne delivered a mordantly hilarious stream of live Twitter updates from a Sci-Arc panel discussion last night. I'll be damned if I can comment on it, and I'm not sure I can even link to it all, but it is awesome.

The show started with Anthony Vidler talking old-school Freudian smack--complete with accent--about Schindler/Neutra, Neutra/Schindler, or vice versa. And then he moderated a "architects in LA"-type discussion among Hitoshi Abe, Peter Cook, Eric Owen Moss, Thom Mayne, Peter Noever, and Wolf Prix.

My favorite is right toward the end *SPOILER ALERT*: "The philosophical--not to mention gen.--homogeneity of panel is astounding. Guess that was predictable, but still. Hoping Hitoshi Abe can......rescue us from Boomer avant-gardism."

Help me, Hitoshi Abe, you're LA's only hope. I hope Sci-Arc puts this thing on YouTube...

Schindler / Neutra, Neutra / Schindler; L.A. / Wien: On the Couch []

When you watch this 1950s newsreel footage of an [the?] Italian police motorcycle drill team, turn off the music [it's not original anyway] and instead, just make motorcycle noises, and occasional exclamations of "Mama mia!" and "Magnifico!" maybe slip in a little reflexive, "Il Duce!" or two for old time's sake. [via anonymous works]

August 5, 2009

In Memory Of

Harry Patch had a bustling career as one of the last living British WWI veterans. He was the last soldier to fight in the trenches. He died on July 25 at 111, just a couple of weeks after fellow veteran and oldest man in the world for a month Henry Allingham passed away at 113.

There are three known WWI veterans still alive: one British seaman living in Australia one American, and one Canadian.

But Patch's archetypal trench warfare experience, combined with his lucid memory and firm convictions about the horrible wrongness of war, made him the most celebrated. When the BBC tracked him down for an interview in 1998, it turns out Patch hadn't talked to anyone about his war experience at all. In 80 years. The BBC made a documentary about Patch called The Last Tommy in 2005, and then another documentary of Patch meeting with a 107-year-old German veteran in 2007.

In 2008, Patch's autobiography, The Last Fighting Tommy, as told to Richard Van Emden, came out. Here's a video of Van Emden promoting the book:

Then England's poet laureate wrote a poem about Patch which the, what, composer laureate? set to music. All but a handful of the 79 Harry Patch YouTube videos right now are posthumous tributes. And now Radiohead has released a song, "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)."

In his interview Van Emden acknowledges the quirks of fate that made The Last Tommy a lucid, powerful rememberer, not someone else, a senile symbol. But he still said that while Patch was alive; now he's gone, and his memories with him. All we're left with are stories, which are not the same thing.

I didn't know or even try to know whether there were still people with a firsthand memory of the brutal trench warfare of WWI when I began making Souvenir (November 2001), about the Battle of the Somme. [Patch fought at Passchendaele, not the Somme.] There were few enough veterans for my purpose, which was to see a site of horrific death and destruction after all the people who remembered it had disappeared.

I've left these threads alone for a while, but lately, as I've been plugging ahead on other installments of the Souvenir Series, I've had the urge to follow them again. As it turns out, a collection of essays was published in January on this very subject. War Memory and Popular Culture: Essays on Modes of Remembrance and Commemoration includes "The Ninetieth Anniversary of The Battle of The Somme," by Dan Todman, a military historian at the University of London whose blog is named Trench Fever.

It's the absence of firsthand rememberers that frames Todman's whole survey of the contours of "memory":

Here, then, are four problematic areas: how to define "memory: how it works for individuals and groups; the relationship between history, memor, family, and trauma in the production of ideas about the unlived past; and possible explanations for the "memory boom."


The 2006 anniversary is a particularly useful one for considerations of what memory and "memory" mean, in both popular and academic terms. Ceremonies in Britain and in France and the media reporting of them made frequent references to the need to "remember the battle and those who had died during it. But the number of those who could actually do so was now extremely limited. The commemorations in 2006 were the first major anniversary at which no veteran of the 1916 battle was present.

Buy War Memory and Popular Culture: Essays on Modes of Remembrance and Commemoration at Amazon; I just did. [amazon]

Wow, Jennie Livingston's incredible documentary Paris is Burning, about vogueing gangs and balls, is on YouTube. This was a formative New York City film for me. I've given talks about it in church, even. I found it one of the purest most universal expressions of the common motivations that drive all our lives, whether we're gay, black, homeless, cross-dressing street hustlers or not--love, family, belonging, comfort, security, survival, normalcy, respect--all things I take my entitlement to utterly for granted.

It's one of the biggest film world mystery/disappointments that Livingston hasn't made more movies. Guess I need to circle back and watch Who's on Top?, her Busby Berkeley-style musical lesbian sex comedy. Don't know how I'll work that one into the sunday school lesson.

Paris is Burning 1/11 [youtube via and kottke]

William Assman was a balloon racer from St. Louis who attempted several times to win the John Gordon Bennett Trophy, a flying endurance competition to spur development of gas balloon technology, which was founded in 1906 by the sporty owner of the New York Herald.

Miss Sofia was one of Assman's earlier balloons, probably from 1910-11. In the 1910 International Balloon Race, Assman rode as aide on the German balloon Harburg II and sustained multiple injuries when it crashed into a Canadian lake. [That's how the race was run; the balloons would just go as far as they could, then land, and report their position. Farthest/last one flying won.]

He was flying the Miss Sofia in 1911, though.

But not in 1912, when the NY Times reported his balloon, the St Louis IV, was eliminated from the qualifying round with technical problems. By 1913, he was flying the Miss Sophia II [sic], which had a valve torn out by strong wind. Said the Times: "When he found he could not start, he took his pocketknife and cut his $1,800 balloon to pieces."

You'd think that even though he never won the Bennett Trophy, a daring balloonist named Assman would be more famous than he currently appears to be. [via andy]

0300801.jpgThe newly redesigned Design Observer would've been awesome even without hosting the archive of Places: Forum of Design For the Public Realm, a print journal published by the architecture faculties at MIT and UC Berkeley from 1983 until Spring 2009.

One of the first pieces to be republished is an interview from 1983 with James Turrell conducted by Kathy Halbreich, Lois Craig, and William Porter. Much of the discussion is about Turrell's "most ambitious current project," Roden Crater, which is only now nearing completion, 25 years later. A couple of interesting parts, the first of which is only interesting insomuch as it kind of puts paid to Michael Kimmelman's recent [sic] lament over dwindling museumgoer attention spans and how people only stand in front of the Mona Lisa long enough to take a picture. Turns out a) duh, b) duh, and c) Turrell's been looking at looking for decades now:

Places: You're really challenging the 15-minute museum experience. There's a requirement, there's a demand in this to be somewhere.

Turrell: Well, if you don't do that, then, it's just the emperor's clothes. Either you do the work or you forget it. There is a price of admission and most people don't pay it.

Now for something I didn't know, even after decades of looking:
For instance, there's one light event that's every important to me: the rise of the earth's shadow. When the sun goes down in the West and you look to the East on a clear day you'll see this pink line, with white silvery-blue below. Actually, you're looking at the earth's shadow advancing up in the sky in the East as the sun goes down in the West, so you see the earth's shadow projected in the atmosphere. What you see underneath is night rising. Night doesn't fall. It rises.
Really? Really. With formulas and diagrams and everything. The anti-twilight arch, or as the Victorians called it, the "Belt of Venus," is also new to me. If there's anything more banally sublime than the Mona Lisa, it's a beautiful sunset. And yet there you go.

Sounds like it's time to break down and read The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air, Marcel Minnaert's almost quixotically exhaustive and hugely influential attempt to pin down and explain all the phenomena of light in the world. Turrell mentioned it last Spring.

The photo above of a 2001 space shuttle launch at sunset shows part of the exhaust plume in the earth's shadow, and part of it illuminated by the sun. Apparently, the shadow of the plume itself, which only appears to connect with the moon, is called the Bugeron Effect, [or Burgeron Effect?] which is apparently different from the Bergeron Effect . So that's like three or four things I didn't know, and one I still don't. here's a normal picture of the earth shadow rise. [via]
Posted [sic] 07.15.83 An Interview With James Turrell []

August 4, 2009

Frosty Myers Winners

latimes, wigwam of searchlights

Before I realized that if I wanted to see an exhibit of a 100-ft silver balloon, I'd have to make it myself, I was still just ruminating on art I hoped/wished someone would make. One of those projects I want/need to see is a re-staging of the Los Angeles Times photo of the panicked air raid searchlights that criss-crossed the sky on the night of Feb. 25, 1942. Six civilians died in that apparent, still unexplained false alarm, and the Times' caption on the photo above described how the "searchlights built a wigwam" over the city. Wouldn't that be fantastic?

Well, now I wonder if there is someone to get to do it.

16 Miles pointed to an awesome 2001 Art in America article by Suzaan Boettger on Sculpture in Environment, a pioneering New York City-wide show of public sculpture organized by Sam Green, the director of the ICA in Philadelphia, which took place in October 1967.

The main focus of Boettger's article is an intriguing and prescient unmonumental work by Claes Oldenberg, and Robert Smithson's seminal roadtrip article/work, "The Monuments of Passaic," which [not] coincidentally, he made the day before. And the hook for 16 Miles' post is the death of Tony Rosenthal, whose Alamo cube still spins where it was shown, in Astor Place. But there are other great details: Oldenberg had first proposed creating a traffic jam; Robert Morris's jets of steam proposal was considered "too ephemeral." Isamu Noguchi was still pitching his playground idea ["too expensive."] Alexander Calder liked to help the Negros. &c. &c.


But anyway, Boettger mentions this "a nocturnal event by Forrest Myers, who projected four carbon arc searchlights from Tompkins Square Park." It's not clear what they were called, but this description from a 2006 Art in America profile of Frosty Myers explains what these sculptures were:

"Searchlight Sculptures," nighttime installations of carbon-arc searchlights that were sited at the four corners of Tompkins Square Park in the East Village in 1966, in Union Square in 1969, in a park in Fort Worth in 1979, and elsewhere. The beams tent upward to join at an apex in the manner of a vast pyramid.
Elsewhere included Artpark in Lewiston, NY, where Myers created a Searchlights pyramid in 1975 [see above]. You must admit, it does look very wigwammish.

You may know Myers from such previous appearances as: being instrumental in E.A.T. and the art/tech collaborative's ambitious artfest-in-a-mirrored-dome, the Pepsi Pavilion at the Osaka '70 Expo. And maybe being one of six artists whose work was secretly smuggled onto the moon on the Apollo 12 lunar module.

Remembering Tony Rosenthal, Remembering "Sculpture in Environment" []
A Found Weekend, 1967: Public Sculpture and Anti-Monuments, Art in America, Jan. 2001 [art in america via findarticles]
[Searchlights imagevia]

The funny thing is, I think my problem is I couldn't have made something like this up:

Hi Greg,

Here's a trend and story idea for the growing number of architecture company cars piling up from economic downsizing: The majority of small businesses and firms lease cars for tax purposes. However, owners must still make payments on those cars if the leases are stuck in park from staff cutbacks. But a new program is now helping small firms get unused car leases off the books giving finances a new lease on life.

--Small business owners have had to downsize staff, leaving many of these car leases sitting idle in the parking lot (but still requiring monthly payments).

--Owners can't sell the lease and if they turn them back in to the bank they will get slapped with early contract termination fees upwards of $10,000 per car.

--A new Small Business Car Release program helps architecture firm owners ditch the lease by transferring the contract to someone else (most popular service being

--The car lease company is involved in the program, it takes about 2-3 weeks for the transfer and removes the small business owner from obligations to make the monthly payments.

--Paying for unused car leases is salt on the wound considering rising health care costs and less credit available from banks.

Sources To Quote:

--Sergio Stiberman, CEO and founder of, to discuss the new Small Business Car Release program.

--Also speak with the executive director of Auto Fleet Leasing on industry trends and number of small businesses leasing vehicles.

Additional Story Titles:

Company Helps Small Business Unload Excess Car Leases
Small Business Help Allows For Immediate Release of Company Cars
Small Business Relief When Company Car Can't Start Up
Program Helps Small Business Move Company Cars Stuck in Park
Program Offers Small Business Relief for Unused Car Leases
Unemployment Leaves Small Business on Company Lease Collision Course
Unused Company Car Leases Eat Into Already Thin Margins

So many wonderful titles to choose from, I need an intern to help me decide!


I stumbled across Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey's Aluminaire House last night while trying to figure out who built this house at Black Mountain College. It's from the Charles Olson Research Collection at UConn, and was posted at An Ambitious Project Collapsing [get some permalinks there, buddy!]

Olson ran BMC from 1951 until its closing in 1956. But though it's in the Olson BMC portfolio, the photo is credited to Frank Ballard, and is dated 1977, and is taken at a place called Camp Rochmont. So what gives?

Well, Camp Rochmont is actually Camp Rockmont, a non-denominational Christian boys camp, and it is Black Mountain College. When the school closed, 550 acres around Lake Eden was sold and turned into the camp. Another 60 acres full of BMC buildings is now Lake Eden Events, which hosts concerts and gatherings large and small.

As editor of The Architectural Record, A. Lawrence Kocher had recommended to BMC in the late 1930s that they collaborate with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, fresh from the Bauhaus, to design a new modernist campus at Lake Eden, a failed, half-built resort complex. When fundraising fell through, Kocher himself began designing a building and planning out the rest of the site beginning in 1940. He was apparently in residence from 1940-43, teaching architecture and leading BMC's trademark student building projects.

Of all the architects associated with BMC, Kocher seems the most likely architect for structure above. He designed two houses in 1940-41: one for the music teacher, the Viennese composer and early Schoenberg student Heinrich Jalowetz [now called the Sequoia Cottage, and available for $250/night, but not this year], and a 2-story house "for the kitchen staff and other black workers." [It was still the segregated South, after all.

In The Arts at Black Mountain College, Mary Emma Harris described the Jalowetz house design as "based on four-by-eight-foot plywood panels," a favorite material of Kocher's. As the picture clearly shows, the house above is also designed around plywood sheet dimensions. And don't the raised base and ribbon windows kind of give off an Aluminaire vibe?


The only house on this map of the Lake Eden Campus I can map it to is #9, the Service House, which is indeed on the Rockmont side of the lake.


For all its seemingly awesome, modest simplicity, something called a Service House, built for staff in a far corner of BMC sounds unlikely to have much more documentation--and probably doesn't appear too often in the typical photographic record of the day. I'm not too optimistic about finding out much more, but I'd love to be wrong.


Let me get this straight: the first modernist prefab in the US; one of two US houses included in Phillip Johnson's 1932 International Style exhibition at MoMA [the other: Neutra's Lovell House]; built in 10 days from off-the-shelf industrial materials, with no formal plans or blueprints; Albert Frey's first US project; bought and disassembled in hours, then saved and bastardized by Wallace K. Harrison; quoted nearly perfectly--concept, materials, and form--by Kieran Timberlake in their Cellophane House; and yet somehow Aluminaire House itself was not included in "Home Delivery," MoMA's 2007 show on the history of the modern prefab Please tell me I just missed it or blocked it from my memory.

But I'm hardly the only one.

Lawrence Kocher was editor of Architectural Record and later involved with Black Mountain College. The 27-year old Albert Frey was fresh off the boat from Le Corbusier's studio. They whipped up Aluminaire House from donated parts and materials for a 1931 building show and Architectural League exhibition at Grand Central Palace, an expo hall that filled the block between 46th and 47th streets and Park and Lex.


Kocher's concept was a light-filled, modernist prefab house made of innovative, industrial, mass-produceable materials: aluminum, steel and glass. The 3-story, 5-room, 28x22-ft, 1,200 sf building was barely more than a mockup, an exhibition pavilion. Frey later compared it more to a refrigerator than a building in its construction; it was light steel bolted together with nuts and washers and skinned in ribbon windows and corrugated aluminum, a material Frey would use extensively in California. The floor was ship decking covered in linoleum. Interior walls were rayon fabric. It was supported on five aluminum pilotis.

The main living space [LR/DR, Kit, MBR, BA] was on the second floor. The living room was double height, open to a partially enclosed library/2nd bedroom on the third floor, which also had a terrace. A second bathroom with shower was cantilevered over the living room, which frankly sounds like a joke.


Harrison bought the Aluminaire House for a thousand dollars after the expo ended, and reassembled it at his house on Long Island. In '32, Johnson showed the house in the International Style exhibition, but didn't include it in the catalogue. Harrison proceeded to enclose the ground and third floors and add on some circular structures, rendering the house nearly unrecognizable.

Which is why it was almost demolished in 1987-8 when Harrison's estate was chopped up and developed. The architecture department of the New York Institute of Technology took the Aluminaire House on as a school project. They studied and dismantled it, then eventually reassembled and restored it on a new pad on their Central Islip campus. Which looks to be about 10 minutes south of Exit 55 on the LIE, within easy pilgrimage visiting by every design snob in the Hamptons.

And yet, no one really seems to care or know about it. In a brief blurb about a 1998 Arch. League show on restoring Aluminaire House, Herbert Muschamp got the location and story of the house wrong. No one who writes about it sounds like they've actually seen it. There aren't any contemporary photos of it online, only one shot from Harrison's yard.


It's on Google Maps, of course, and that's Microsoft's Bird's Eye view on the right. But no mention of it on NYIT's site. [The architecture department was moved from Islip to a campus in Old Westbury, so if it served any academic purpose before, the Aluminaire House seems kind of orphaned now. A 2007 messageboard post said that it was to be relocated as part of a redevelopment/selloff of part of the campus. If it hasn't happened yet, I'm sure it won't happen for a while.

But it sounds to me like there's an unloved, unappreciated pile of historic modern awesomeness in the middle of Long Island that needs to be liberated and returned to loving domestic use. At the very least, will someone take half an hour on the way to the beach and go shoot some freakin' photos?

The only lengthy discussion of Aluminaire House I can find online: docomomo's 1998 Modern Movement Heritage by Allen Cunningham [google books]

August 1, 2009

Tim Burton X Donald Judd


Tim Burton was at MoMA yesterday, talking to media folk about a film dept. retrospective of his work, which includes an exhibition this fall of sketches, storyboards, props, puppets, etc. from his wacked out output.

I wasn't in town for the q&a [here's a movieline writeup via MoMA's Twitter] , but the confluence of Burton and MoMA reminded me of one of my favorite art geek moments: spotting Donald Judd chairs in the background of a 2-second shot in the director's 1993 stop action animated film, Nightmare Before Christmas.

That's them in the corner there, in a montage where Jack ruins Christmas all over town. Here's a close-up. They're pink!


I had really just begun getting interested in Judd's furniture a year or so before this, so I was pretty attuned. In fact, several months after seeing the movie, I met Rainer Judd to talk about buying some pieces, about differences or changes with the handling of furniture that might follow her father's untimely death.

As we chatted, I mentioned the chairs Tim Burton had put in the movie, and she was pretty surprised. She knew Burton, it turned out, and knew he was a fan of the work. And yet, she'd never heard about the chairs--or chairs inspired by the chairs--making a cameo.

Never did hear anything else about it. Hope I didn't get him into trouble.

Since 2001 here at, 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 that time.

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

find me on twitter: @gregorg

about this archive

Posts from August 2009, in reverse chronological order

Older: July 2009

Newer September 2009

recent projects, &c.

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

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

Chop Shop
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

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

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

TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

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

"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.

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

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