August 2010 Archives

It's taking me a while to warm to Tom Houseago's sculptures, but that's fine. It took me a very long time to come around to Rachel Harrison's work, and boy, is it worth it, so I'm happy to give it time.

Meanwhile, this long, impassioned, fascinating, and quite awesome speech he gave at The New School in May as part of his Public Art Fund group exhibition, "Statuesque" [which is up right now, and which just got a too-condescending review in the Times, and which Andrew Russeth just posted a nice commentary about] is worth every one of its ninety-plus minutes.

Talking about him leaving his studio in Belgium? His heartfelt shoutout to the Rubells who, really, wow. Give them grief if you want, but they are some of the most dedicated, hardcore lookers and supporters of artists around, and they continue to be. Also, Leeds football hooligans and Star Wars and late Picasso and bongs for babies? Houseago makes a crazy/infectiously compelling case for his work, and for art itself.

Great stuff that should be seen by more than the 338 YouTube viewers and the 250 people in the New School auditorium who've seen it so far.

The Ed-werd Rew-Shay Memorial Art World Pronunciation Guide keeps on growing!

the latest additions include:
Richard Anuszkiewicz
Huma Bhabha
Thomas Houseago

And some great mispronunciations that needed addressing:
Chinati
Laocoon
Modigliani

Also, I just know the Aperture Foundation's video editors are totally taunting me by leaving the introduction off their 4-part interview between Okwui Enwezor and Zwelethu Mthethwa. [OAK-wee en-WAY-zore and Zweh-LAY-too m'TATE-wah, I know, but it's such a tantalizing two-fer.]

Have any suggestions, stumpers, or maybe some great mispronunciations you've heard? Send them in!

If you see something, say something!

this is pretty awesome:

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In the 1980s Daniel Libeskind was an increasingly prominent architectural theorist who--I was about to say "who had nevertheless not actually ever built anything," but the whole thing that's turning my head upside down is that he did, in fact, build something in the 80s: these machines.

They were exhibited at the 1985 Venice Architecture Biennale as "Three Lessons of Architecture." There's The Reading Machine, The Memory Machine, and The Writing Machine, all intended as metaphors concerning the then-hotly debated post-structuralist theory of architecture-as-text.

Because I haven't sprung for any Libeskind monographs where he discusses the project, for my understanding I rely heavily on Lebbeus Wood's thoughtful blog post, which also happens to be full of beautiful photos of these incredible machines:

the vogue for a linguistic interpretation of architecture has passed, and the avant-garde has moved on, or at least elsewhere. Libeskind's machines, inspired by reading and writing and implicitly interpreting texts, as well as memory (treated as text), would be of little interest today if the machines were only didactic illustrations of theory. But they are much more. As objects of design, they have powerful presence, as well as conveying a refined and highly rigorous aesthetic sensibility. As acts of the disciplined imagination of tectonic possibilities--how many parts might be assembled into a compelling whole--they are highly original, exemplary, and instructive. For example, in the diverse, even contrasting ways the same material, such as wood, can be used expressively in the same construction. Or, in the complexity of joints, from fixed to flexible, enabling the total assemblage. Of course, as hand-crafted constructions (a bit too 'Renaissance' for comfort, as was Tatlin's Flying Machine), they are at once nostalgic and visionary, the latter if we believe that technology is not the main issue at stake in architecture
The 'Renaissance' feeling is not off the mark, and by design. To make his argument for the end of humanist architectural history and for a reincarnation of sorts for [his] universe of architectural reference points, Libeskind went way back, both in terms of design and technology, using period technique to build important unrealized machines from history.

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The Reading Machine, for example, is a fabrication of the "Reading Wheel" published in 1588 by Agostino Ramelli in his enormously influential engineering and design folio, Le diverse et artificiose machine del capitano Agostino Ramelli. It was designed to let a scholar keep his place while moving from tome to tome, a giant, creaking set of browser tabs. In a paper on "Three Lessons" presented in 2007, Ersi Iannidou [pdf] describes the making of:

Libeskind, determined to retrieve the experience of constructing such a machine, chooses to recreate not only the object, but also the experience. He works as a craftsman, bearing total faith in the craft of making. He builds it with hand-tools, solely from wood, with glue-less joints, dawn to dusk, in complete silence. When finished, he makes eight books--he writes them, makes the paper, binds them; just one each--and places them on the wheel. Each book contains just one word or phrase repeated anagrammatically: idea, spirit, subject, power, will to power, energia, being, created being...[it represents] 'the triumph of the spirit over matter, of candlelight over darkness'. It teaches an 'almost forgotten process of building', namely, handicraft.
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The Memory Machine is Libeskind's interpretation of Giulio Camillo's "Memory Theatre," a 16th-century structure where, upon entering, a person's mind would be filled and inscribed with a knowledge of the universe. Some historians have argued that Camillo's idea influenced the construction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, which may or may not have been why Libeskind based his design on a period stage set apparatus.

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He makes a leap to modernity with The Reading Machine, which is an interpretation of Raymond Roussel's "Reading Machine." 49 square columns were rotated in impossible-to-follow ways by a series of handles, signaling the removal of the human architect from the industrialized city. Libeskind has since waxed, as he does, spiritually about the piece,

...which was designed to generate a new understanding of the ever-living city. This construction, a veritable spiritual experiment, involved reincarnating an experience of a medieval ascetic world, by constructing a machine in a monastic way, using no modern equipment, no electricity, but the discipline of craft, candlelight and the power of faith in the future text of architecture. The machine dealt with the organized chaos in which permutations of names of saints, both true and apocryphal, emblems, reflections and cities were symbolically and physically made mobile by turning the 'circle into square'. It took twenty eight simultaneous rotations to turn the machine's faces toward the unexpected image of a reawakened site.
babbage_engine_harvard.jpg

Mhmm. Ioannidou quotes Libeskind as calling The Writing Machine "a quadripartite computer operation," which begins to hint at at least one reference that I can't find anybody making: to the difference engines of Charles Babbage, which were the early 19th century, mechanical ancestors of computers. Keep that in mind while reading Libeskind-via-Ioannidou again on the making of:

The Writing Machine is an industrial apparatus; so the architect becomes an industrialist, architecture a nine-to-five job. For the construction of this last machine Libeskind sets up a business, buys a clock, and focuses on the bare minimum of technique. He works hard--nine to five at the start, later overtime--speaks 'small talk', smokes cigarettes, does not mingle work with other issues--especially having fun.
I think we are to understand here that Libeskind not only built these things, but that he built them in deeply meaningful, experiential ways. They're the not just by-products of his Method Architectural Theory, but its literalization. The Architectural Word Made Flesh. Or wood, as the case may be, but still.

As a guy contemplating the historically accurate bricolage-style refabrication of, among other things, a 1960 satelloon, I can appreciate all this seemingly conceptual performativity. Well, some of it. The part that isn't a Renn Faire version of the Woodwright's Shoppe. But the bigger problem for me is I'm not sure I like where this is heading.

Read Woods' description of the seemingly unintended architectural consequences of post-structuralism's decoupling of form and function and tell me that it doesn't ft Libeskind's disastrously clichéd building projects to a T:

What began as a radical concept affecting the very core of architecture, is compromised, we might say reduced, to commercially marketable and client-acceptable styles--a fate much the same as idealistic modernism suffered in its time.
So knowing what we know now, and faced with a worldwide blight of Crystalline Shard™ museum annexes and condos, can we see the warning signs of Libeskind's epic failure in these machines? Are there other lessons to be learned from "Three Lessons"? Should I not let myself like these fantastical contraptions quite so much?

I don't know yet. But it reminds me of the takeaway from 1939: The Lost World of the Fair, the book David Gelernter wrote while recovering from being attacked by the Unabomber, how we basically ended up with the future we were promised at the World Fair--including TV and car-based suburban sprawl--and it sucks.

On a more practical note, I've tried to find out more about the actual making of Libeskind's machines, and to figure out where they are now. But since Libeskind's studio only responds to "credentialed media," I'm left to assume that all three machines met the fate of The Writing Machine, which Libeskind says was destroyed in a fire at the Palais des Nations Palais Wilson in Geneva in 1987. Too bad, because at the rate he's going, they were the best things he ever built.

August 27, 2010

The Trendmaking Eye

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One of the great stories surrounding MoMA's 1965 exhibition "The Responsive Eye" is how collector/garmento Larry Aldrich turned several Op paintings he owned into fabrics, and then into dresses, which fed into the Op Art Trend that was apparently swirling around New York. Of course, it's a great story if you're not named Bridget Riley.

It's a well-known story, partly because Aldrich had invited a Herald Tribune columnist and photographer to his showroom to meet Riley who, until that moment, had no idea about the project. And she. Was. Pissed. Riley reportedly tried to sue, and differing accounts say she was either successful or thwarted by US laws. The line was either a raging, lucrative success on the artist's back, or a failure, because a million other Op Art designs instantly saturated the market.

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But that's jumping ahead. Let's let Aldrich set it up with his rambling, entertaining, and humiliating side of the story, as told to Paul Cummings in a 1972 Archives of American Art interview:

LA: I showed Bill all of those paintings that I thought were a new form of geometries, and I believe that he picked out two of them for the Observant [sic] Eye show that he did not know about. One was an Avedisian and the other one whose name we can't remember at the moment -- It was at the Martha Jackson Gallery. But when we were in our cutting room, he said, "You know, Larry, really I think it would be a terrific idea if you were to convert some of these to fabric." I had a less expensive firm as well as the Larry Aldrich clothes called Young Elegants, and I got Julian Tomchin who was a fabric designer. I had the Vasareley and the Bridget Riley and Anuszkiewicz and this other young man who I can't remember [Julian Stanczak] were fine with it. But then, and I said I would like to convert these into prints. I said I don't want them to be copies of these paintings, but I want the prints to be inspired by these paintings. Of course this is something that you're going to have to do exclusively for me. And so he presented quite a number of sketches for this line. And then he made up the fabric. I stress again that he was to make these exclusively for me, but he was a very clever little boy, for while he made those exclusively for me he made variations on those and put them on an inexpensive fabric that was shown and sold to inexpensive blouse people and what not.

PC: So they were everywhere?

LA: They were everywhere all of a sudden. Anyhow, the Bridget Riley one was not necessarily the most successful, but because it was interpreted in black and white and in grey and white, it was quite effective. And Bill said, "I think it would be wonderful if you gave Irma [his wife] a cut of the fabric, and she could have a dress made out it to wear to the opening of the Observant Eye show." And a turban. I sent her a big swatch of it. In the meantime, we had designed some dresses, and I showed them to Life magazine. And Life went for them and had a feature that came out shortly after the Museum of Modern Art show opening. Anyhow, Anuszkiewicz, whom I had gotten to know quite well by then, was just thrilled with the idea of what I had done. This other chap at Martha Jackson's Gallery [Stanczak] was very, very happy about it. The one that lived in Paris I didn't hear from.

PC: You mean Vasarely?

LA: Vasarely, yes. Bridget Riley was coming for the show, and I met her at the opening dinner. In fact, this was such a big event that NBC or CBS were filming, and they asked that I be filmed with her in front of the Bridget Riley, which I had loaned for the show and [they had me] tell how I happened to buy it, you know, the whole story of seeing it in the Tate and so forth. And she was very attractive, and so I said, "Would you come down to my showroom? I have something that I'd like to give you as a gift."


depalma_eye_aldrich.jpg

And that's where the Herald Tribune picks up the story. Sure, we can be shocked, shocked that Aldrich just went ahead and did all this without asking the artists first. But then shouldn't we also be amazed that Aldrich says the idea to turn the paintings into fabrics in the first place came from MoMA curator William Seitz?

That LIFE Magazine spread, by the way, is right here. Shot in the Modern's show. I have to agree with Aldrich, the Riley print on the upper right is not that great.

aldrich_riley_lifemag65.jpg

And while Aldrich is not doubt remembering Mike Wallace's "Eye on New York" show about "The Responsive Eye," that's not who interviewed him at the opening. It was a 25-year-old film student from Sarah Lawrence named Brian de Palma, and his be-boa'ed 26-year-old producer Midge Mackenzie, who made a 20-minute documentary short called The Responsive Eye.

depalma_eye_credits.jpg

The filmmakers interviewed Seitz during installation, and then they had free access to film in the show's black-tie opening. Since it's dePalma, I did a split screen combining the opening titles because, really, make me think their film was commissioned by the Modern itself. There's no mention of it in the Museum's press archive, but in 1963, de Palma was presented with an under-25 award at the Museum by the Society of Cinematologists for his undergrad short Woton's Wake. Somebody want to ask de Palma what the deal was?

In 1965 Riley complained that the "explosion of commercialism, band-wagoning and hysterical sensationalism" was obscuring the "serious qualities" of "The Responsive Eye." And her collectors, the curators, and the Museum were right in the middle of it. As Bill Seitz said to Mike Wallace, "it's really the absorption of modern art into modern life. And that's something we all wanted, but, uh, it may change the character of the art a bit, too."

afro_icelandic_boeskov.jpg

Danish artist Jacob Boeskov flew to Lagos, Nigeria to make and star in a short action film he wrote titled, Dr. Cruel and the Afro-Icelandic Liberation Front with the noted Nollywood director Teco Benson. The film was produced by Creative Time Global, a new series of international initiatives launched this year by the NY public art organization.

Nollywood is known for its vibrant, near-zero-budget film industry, which should probably be called a video feature industry, since HD, DV, and even phonecams are the norm, and everything goes straight to the street on DVD. Dr. Cruel premiered in May in New York, but Creative Time recently posted Boeskov's production diary online:

It has been a long day and Teco has surely delivered. He really is the finest action director in Nollywood. We have filmed chases and fights. I have destroyed a pair of my pants in one of my amazing stunt moves. He has been great to work with. He has an ability to make actors and crew feel good, even when he shouts at them. But it is late now and everybody is tired.

Just as we're wrapping up a scene, I hear the sound of a generator dying and the room goes black. The production manager runs down to the street to look for black market fuel. There is a fuel crisis in Nigeria because of the absence of the president and... well, it's a long story.

I go to the window and light a cigarette. The room is dark, lit only by the cell phones from the actors and the crew. The mood in the room is intense, but okay, I guess. People talk low, or are silent. The production manager is back, looking triumphant. He has managed to buy some fuel in the street, and the generator is running again. The lights are turned on. Back to work.

It all sounds a little crazy, but interesting. Here's the trailer:

Dr. Cruel and the Afro-Icelandic Liberation Front [creativetime.org via @annepasternak]

kaprow_gas_southampton.jpg

Holy smokes, Gordon Hyatt, I didn't know what you did 44 summers ago.

Among the episodes of CBS's news program "Eye on New York" which were acquired by The Museum of Modern Art in 1967 for their Television Archive of the Arts is "What I Did On My Vacation," which, wow. It was a series of Happenings. In the Hamptons. Conceived and produced for television, by television.

According to Jeff Kelley's Childsplay: The Art of Allan Kaprow, the producer of "Eye on New York," Gordon Hyatt, approached Kaprow in the summer of 1966 with the idea of staging a series of Happenings across the Hamptons over the course of an August weekend:

The general idea for Gas, which was largely conceived by Hyatt (and supported in part by Virginia Dwan of the Dwan Gallery), was to interject a series of Happenings into the leisure activities of summer vacationers and locals, who would presumably be caught unawares as they disembarked at the railroad station, took the ferry, swam at the beach, and so forth.
Kelley's exhaustive recounting of Kaprow's Happenings is invaluable for getting a sense of what actually happened, but it's also full of uncritical assertions, revisions and spin. It's almost as if Kaprow was trying to distance himself after-the-fact from a TV spectacle he readily agreed to, but which he later came to regret. Interesting.

Gas began on Friday August 5th. A parade of oil drums, weather balloons, and homemade hovercraft met the city crowd as the LIRR pulled into Southampton. [photos are documentation by burton berinsky, not stills from the show] On Saturday, Kaprow brought bands, smoke bombs, and skydivers to Coast Guard Beach [now Atlantic Avenue Beach] in Amagansett, where Frazier inflated a giant black phallus of a skyscraper-shaped balloon. Or as the flyer put it, "Procedure: Children and adults may help release helium balloons, frug on the beach, help to start plastic skyscraper, swim." [Note: If you think you might retell this story sometime, frug is pronounced froog. It is the ultimate White Guy Shuffle.]

From Amagansett, the Happening crew hustled out to Montauk Point, where the fire department was waiting to pump gallons of flame-retardant foam over the cliffs and onto the beachgoing audience.

kaprow_gas_springs.jpg

On Sunday, after arranging for three bedsful of nurses to meet the Shelter Island ferry, Kaprow staged two decidedly North-of-the-Highway Happenings in Springs for the kids: a car painting picnic at the auto junkyard, and a foam-filled relay race at the town dump. Alastair Gordon, who was 13 at the time, wrote about participating in the dump event in his awesome book, Spaced Out: Radical Environments of the Psychedelic Sixties, which was excerpted in the Easthampton Star in 2008:

gas_happening_agordon.jpgSomeone was barking through a megaphone: "Keep moving . . . not too fast . . . don't look at the cameras. . . ." We were told to move deeper into the sandy pit, slowly, toward a group of people wearing black plastic capes at the bottom of the slope. We wore pink buttons that read "GAS -- I'm a Happener" and blew whistles as we marched downward. Stacks of multicolored oil drums were pushed from a ledge, and we were told to roll them back up the slope through the sea of firefighting foam.

I guess I was too young to pick up on the sexual allusion at the time, but the foam felt weirdly comforting as it oozed around my ankles and bubbled up to my waist. Mud stuck to the drums and made them difficult to roll, but we kept pushing because there were men with cameras, and we were going to be on TV.

Though they should have been obvious going in, Kaprow's problems with Gas seem evident in Gordon's account: the Happening didn't just 'happen,' it was staged and performed for cameras:
Though nearly everyone, including Hyatt, deemed Gas a success, Kaprow saw it as a reversion to theater. It was a string of "spectacular" Happenings intended more to be seen than enacted, both during the events and on television.
The feedback loop Kaprow loved had been replaced, he found, with
the false feedback of narcissism on a mass-media scale, in which the culture, through the mirror of television, watches itself having a gas.

In the end, the experiment failed because Gas participated in the popular cliches of what Happenings were.

And the avant-garde was inextricably linked with the leisure entertainments of affluent youth. All of which, well, guess what? Whatever Kaprow's later regrets about it, Gas seems like a peculiar, even unique experiment in corporate-avant-garde collaboration. And the involvement of Hyatt, a member of MoMA's Junior Council and Dwan in the transform "What I Did On My Vacation' from arts journalism into public art.

At the very least, it's a vast improvement over the cliche-ridden, made-for-TV art happenings they're throwing up these days. [OR. Does good Art-for-TV really just equal failed Art-for-TV + time?]

"What I Did On My Vacation" was shown at Hauser & Wirth's Kaprow restaging last year, but I can't find it online. No problem, though, because the National Film Network has a DVD for just $22.

"What I Did On My Vacation" aired on WCBS on Sunday, September 11, 1966.

Vintage coverage from TIME: Gas: Happenings in the Hamptons [time.com]

After watching the first segment at maryandmatt's blog, I was hooked. Mike Wallace, shooting a 1965 episode of WCBS news show Eye on New York in and about The Museum of Modern Art's blockbuster exhibition of Op Art, "The Responsive Eye." [Part 2 and Part 3]

The music, by Specs Powell, a jazz pianist and percussionist who was on staff at CBS, is as stunning as it is jarring. I kept waiting for irony, or Mondo Cane-style sensationalism, or--worse and more likely--the snide philistinism of Wallace's future 60 Minutes colleague Morley Safer, who infamously sandbagged contemporary art in 1993, resulting in, among other things, Glenn Lowry's awesome shutout of Safer from covering the Museum's 1998 Jackson Pollock retrospective. But there was absolutely none. The entire show was serious and straight-up. Part 3, particularly, focuses on arts coverage in the media, and media's culpability in hyping, distorting, or even fabricating trends for their own purposes. I can almost imagine the pitch meeting for "Eye on New York" as a rebuttal of Time magazine's dismissive coverage of "Op Art." "Responsive Eye" curator William Seitz nails it when he kind of laments to Wallace about the impact of superficial arts coverage:

And this, in a sense, does worry me, because it is really, an impact of a--

Well, it's really the absorption of modern art into modern life. And that's something we all wanted, but, uh, it may change the character of the art a bit, too.

But should this be at all surprising? CBS's founder Bill Paley was the Modern's president at the time. Already a long-time trustee, Paley was tapped by David Rockefeller for the position in 1962, and to succeed him as the first non-family chairman in 1968.

cbs_logo.gifA couple of folks on Twitter have suggested, rightly, that MoMA should screen this awesome program. As it turns out, they already have been, since 1967. That's when the Museum's Junior Council announced the creation of a Television Archive of the Arts, a three year effort which had actually begun identifying, reviewing, and acquiring film and television media about art and artists in 1964. The Archive began when museum officials learned that some of the films and tapes--they don't say which--were in danger of being destroyed or lost.

The Archive was to be housed and made available in the new International Study Center, which was under construction. [It's now demolished, but it stood on the west side of the sculpture garden, about where Taniguchi extended the glass corner of Cesar Pelli's tower. It's funny to remember a building and space so clearly, only to realize that not only is it gone, it's just as likely no one knows what you're even talking about.]

The PDF archive of MoMA's press releases is absolutely incredible, by the way. Here are the announcement of the Archive, and the initial checklist. The first 64 programs from ABC, CBS, NBC, National Educational Television, and NYC's Channel 13 included dozens of artist interviews and documentaries.

One thing that stands out, though, is that only CBS, and only programs like "Eye on New York," donated their own archive of complete interviews and extra footage. Maybe this was because Gordon Hyatt, the producer, was also on the Junior Council's committee which put the archive together.

I'm probably long overdue to point this out, but this is really why I'm writing this post: for almost ten years, I was the co-chairman of MoMA's Junior Associates, which is the successor group to the Junior Council, and I joined the Film Department's committee after stepping down. And yet so much of this history is completely new to me. So much of the Museum's activities and programs are professionalized now, but I can still recognize the deeply ingrained culture of, for lack of a better word, "amateur" involvement. It's really rather remarkable, and it has been for a very long time.

[maryandmatt.net, thanks andy]

August 24, 2010

CityLAB's Duck & Cover

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And in other Venice Biennale of Architecture exhibition news: cityLAB, Dana Cuff and Roger Sherman's architecture think tank at UCLA, is also in the US Pavilion show, Workshopping. One of the projects they're apparently showing is called Duck & Cover, which appears to be a community garden in the form of a giant Google logo visible from Google Earth.

Looks awesome, but wait, are those mirrors up there? Magnifying glasses? Spiral escalators to nowhere? Also, isn't the G a little self-referential for Google? I'd think they could get 'er done quicker if they sell the structure's shape to the highest bidder. Or make it a Q for Quimby.

cityLAB [workshopping.us]
previously: heads up: roof as nth facade

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MOS, of the PS1's woolly mammoth carcass MOSes, is one of seven architecture firms and collaboratives included in "Workshopping: an American Model for Architectural Practice," at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibit is curated by Michael Rooks of the High Museum and Jonathan Solomon of 306090.

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The idea is to creat a canopy of spherical Mylar weather balloons in the courtyard of the US Pavilion. From MOS's project text:

if you've seen the structure, i'm sure you're wondering, 'why is it made out of helium balloons, why does it make a canopy, why is there seating, etc... is it referencing other projects? is it analogical? is it utopian? is it micro-? is it urban? is it domestic, what is it? is this even architecture?' (unfortunately, we can't answer that last question. this type of project is like diet-architecture, a copy without the calories. it's got a sort of bitter aftertaste that you might grow accustomed to, or you might not. that's ok. we like fake architecture.)

we've been wondering, what kind of architecture would haruki murakami make? well, when we finally write our text we would definitely tell you that it does, indeed, mean something and it does reference things, but why would you really want to know all of that anyway? do you really think it would make it better? I mean, what about just enjoying this weird artifice, this fake social space? hey, it wiggles. look at this strange alternate environment made of reflections and repetitions. enjoy the visual noise. have you ever seen N.A.S.A.'s echo project? google it. what can we say, we just love the aesthetics of radar reflectors and inflated satellites. they are of another reality. seriously, even if we wanted to fully explain it to you at this very moment, we couldn't. even though we're trying not to be, we're only human. also, they need this text before we've finished the design. did we mention that we are working with the son of andy warhol's 'silver clouds' fabricator? we're very excited about this. he lives in duluth. [emphasis added because, well]

So just Google, aesthetics, and a flip three degrees of Andy Warhol reference and voila, instant pavilion! I can't wait to see what their actual text is. The exhibition opens Thursday.

MOS, Instant Untitled [designboom, thanks john]
Workshopping.us [workshopping.us]

"11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

- Joseph Smith, The Articles of Faith, "Thirteen statements describing the fundamental beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

neel_selfportrait.jpgI watched the documentary Alice Neel last night, made in 2007 by the late artist's grandson Andrew Neel. It's pretty good, definitely worth a watch. Documentaries by family members come with a whole set of conflicts and challenges baked in, but Neel succeeds, I think, at identifying the craters and unexploded mines as he maps out the family's emotional landscape.

Neel's story is intense--John Perreault, variously a critic, colleague, friend, and sprawling nude subject of the artist, thinks it's long overdue for a Hollywood adaptation--and it's hard to imagine that the definitive significance of the paintings left behind is somehow "worth" the suffering and abuse and privations endured by Neel's kids (and grandkids). But then, that's not a fair tradeoff. Neel's rightwing son Richard is right to recognize that if it weren't this set of problems, it would've been something else. Neel had to make her art; it was an obsession, really. And being able to make it, Perreault argues, made Neel a "better mother (and person) than if she had lived a horrid life of creative frustration. And took it out on her sons."

But that's not the point. I mean, it is, but what I was wanting to post was the hilarious interview with Alex Katz, who Andrew effectively cast as "Figurative Painter #4," When Katz finally manages to stop talking about his own work and how actually, he was doing whatever it was Neel was doing, only earlier, all he can say about Neel is that she was "an angry housewife." You stay classy, Alex.

While Googling the quote, I found thanks to Time Out London, that Neel and Katz are having a portrait facedown at the moment. Though it's hardly a fair fight. The Whitechapel Gallery's having an Alice Neel retrospective, while Katz is showing new work at the National Portrait Gallery, including this lovely work, his portrait of Anna Wintour.

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August 22, 2010

Paint Stick? Painting Crop?

Dear painting experts,

Please tell me that the brush-steadying stick with the sock on the end which is so vital to the painting process that it must be included in Serious & Important Photographic Portraits of such artists as Arnold Friberg and Winston Churchill has a venerable and esoteric name. And then please tell me what that name is. Thank you.

friberg_paintstick.jpg

church_paintstick_life.jpg

And awesome. Mahl stick. Here's a lyrical history. Thanks, Jason!

images: Deseret News via NYT; life mag via acontinuouslean]
Related: Norman Rockwell, Triple Self-Portrait

Awesome. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library contains several elaborate sets where visiting elementary school students re-enact the invasion of Grenada. "[I]n keeping with Mr. Reagan's first career as an actor," the Wall Street Journal writes, presumably without irony, "the Reagan Library appears to have the most elaborate stage sets [of any presidential library.]" The sets include an Oval Office, the White House press room, and Air Force One:

The replicas are built to three-quarters the size of the originals, and decorated as they were in 1983. The mock Oval Office has pictures of Mr. Reagan and Nancy Reagan on their wedding day, replicas of Mr. Reagan's favorite horse sculptures and jars of jelly beans.
Also:
Making a 27-year-old invasion relevant for today's children isn't always easy. Kids have to be told what communists are, and why Grenada becoming a communist country would have been a big deal.

The reenactments are part history lesson, part interactive game. The kids decide whether or not to invade, how to carry out an invasion, even how to deal with media leaks.

Apparently, the re-enactment only works with elementary and middle school students. Too many high school students reject the invade-or-negotiate-with-communist-dictators script, which was written by a 25-year-old screenwriter.

At Reagan's Presidential Library, the Kids Are in Control [wsj via @demilit]

August 21, 2010

In The Medium Of Google

I know that what's really needed around here is a redesign, and probably the addition of a few thousand tags. But right now that's an 8th burner project, and I've only got a 4-burner stove.

But in the mean time, I've noticed--and perhaps you have too?--that many projects and ideas around here relate in some way to Google, and to the way Google shapes our perceptions and interactions with the art, architecture, information, people, and the world.

So I rolled it all up into one, big Google category. Besides my own projects, it ranges from this morning's post on Michael Wolf's photos; to the whole sculpture and roof facades on Google Maps thing; to my 2005 attempt to re-create Ed Ruscha's Every Building on The Sunset Strip using the failed Street View predecessor, Amazon's A9; and all the way back to my early 2002 experiments with Google AdWords poetry, and to my Jan.. 2002 request for permission to use the word "Google" as a verb in my first short film. Weird, interesting stuff.

greg.org/google/

michael_wolf_manh1.jpg

I'm glad and not surprised to see I'm the only person using Google Street View as an artistic source. Since at least last year, photographer Michael Wolf has been making a series of Street View-based works that explore urban life as it's experienced, seen, and transmitted.

Wolf roams Google Street View in classic street photographer tradition, searching for the hidden, the unexpected, the sublime, the beautiful, the overlooked, images which reveal something about the character of a city and its residents. So far, he's done Street View Manhattan and Street View Paris.

michael_wolf_manh2.jpg

According to his Amsterdam dealer, Galerie Wouter van Leeuwen, where he showed this Spring, Wolf has spent over 400 hours searching Street View, which sounds like a direct translation of street technique to the virtual world. His careful cropping and composition, too, resonate with street photography's quest for stolen, fleeting, magic images.

michael_wolf_paris1.jpg

Some of his images carry Street View's trademark aesthetics: blurred out faces [but not as many as I'd expect], navigation overlays and cursors, and occasionally the fractures and distortions of the pano image knitting algorithms. From the prominence of the screen pixels, it looks like he actually reshoots images on his screen, or as one press release put it, "pictures of pictures."

His series Street View A Series of Unfortunate Events looks like archetypal on-the-scene photojournalism, only stripped by any news or context other than place. Though Wolf himself eliminates any place specifics or links, leaving each image to stand on its own.

michael_wolf_paris2.jpg

In March, the photography museum FOAM and the Virtueel Museum Zuidas staged an exhibition of Wolf's Paris Street View photos on the street. Giant prints were placed around Gustav Mahlerplein, a plaza in a modern culture and office complex on the ring road south of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, no images of the exhibition have made their way back into Google Maps.

michael_wolf_foam_ams.jpg

While Wolf's quote of Robert Doisneau's Hotel de Ville kiss is the most obvious, my favorite throwback images are like the ones here, where he finds in Google layers of reflections and perspectives that'd do Lee Friedlander and Harry Callahan proud. Really beautiful stuff.

Michael Wolf photography [photographymichaelwolf via things magazine]

August 20, 2010

Casting Long Shadows

This has been sitting on my desktop since last month, when Google Maps announced the addition of 45-degree Aerial View imagery for new locations, including Dortmund, Germany.

dortmund_gmap_geodesic.jpg

So I clicked over to Dortmund, and zoomed in there to the central platz [Friedensplatz, actually], just getting more and more psyched to see that sweet-looking geodesic soccer ball pavilion up close, and then poof, at the last minute, the final zoom, the Aerial View showed up, and it was from much later. The soccer ball was gone.

But then I forgot all about Google's 45-degree View when I saw the sun doing it for me. These attenuated morning shadows are just awesome. Like 19th century silhouette portraits as reimagined by Giacometti--and shot from outer space.

dortmund_gmap_shadows3.jpg

Which reminds me of the statue of a horse and rider in front of the Noordeinde Paleis in The Hague, the first building I saw on Google Maps which had been obscured by the Netherlands' unique polygonal camo pattern:

noordeinde_gmap_shadow.jpg

[An update on those Dutch Camo Landscape paintings I was talking about making: I'm still going to do it. One thing I'm very glad for is taking all the screenshots I need for the images I want. I first noticed the changes last winter, but now every the camo on site I've mentioned on greg.org has been replaced with typical square-pixel obscuring. Functionally, the camo still works, but aesthetically, it's a real loss.]

Now about that ball: It is probably better known to the millions of soccer fans in Germany as the WM-Globus. It was conceived in 2003 by artist/musician/actor André Heller, who ran the cultural and arts program for the Deutscher Fußball Cultural Foundation. Described by Heller as a "consulate of anticipation," the Globus was sent on a 1000-day, 12-city tour in advance of Germany's hosting of the 2006 World Cup. It's 18 meters high, weighs 50 tons. Two interior floors contained football memorabilia and multimedia installations, while the pressurized scrim exterior contained an LED map and nightly light shows. Lighting effects designer Anthony Quodt has several articles on the making of the WM Globus and its specs on his site, lightlife.de. Too bad it predates the YouTube era, because the stills look like a hot, glowing mess.

globus_quodt_lights.jpg

After the World Cup, a Hamburg entrepreneur named Dr. Alexander Extra purchased the Globe from the DFB for EUR300,000, with plans to transform it into a permanent museum of sports culture, the Sporteum. Alas, no money was forthcoming, and the Sporteum failed to materialize. So Dr. Extra put the Globus on eBay last summer. Which turns out to have been a bad time for the geodesic soccer ball-shaped pavilion market, because bidding stopped reached just EUR50,000. The unidentified buyer was reportedly also from Hamburg, so I expect it's still sitting in the warehouse, but I'll look into it.

August 20, 2010

Wary Mari

wary_meyers_progettazione.jpg

And thus we see the painful difference between meaning to buy Wary Meyers' awesome-looking design project book Tossed and Found and actually buying it. I would have been inspired by their Enzo Mari autoprogettazione-esque mantle many months ago. What progettazione have I not thought of in that time? I'll never know.

Progettazione 1x2 [warymeyers]

newman_vof_ngc.jpgWhen it was publicly announced in March 1990 that the National Gallery of Canada had purchased Barnett Newman's 1967 painting, Voice of Fire for $1.8 million (Canadian), there was an immediate press and political uproar that so much public money would be spent on what seemed like so little. A conservative MP, who was also a pig farmer, challenged that anyone with "a couple of cans of paint, a roller, and ten minutes" could make Newman's 18-ft tall bands of red and blue.

Greenhouse owner and house painter John Czupryniak's wife Joan, upon seeing the news reports, told him, "Hey, anyone could paint this, even a painter." And so he did.

Mr. Czupryniak studied reproductions of Voice of Fire and because he was unfamiliar with canvas painting techniques, he built up a 16x8 panel of plywood, and made a full-scale replica of Newman's work. He struggled with the title before arriving at Voice of the Taxpayer.

Thumbnail image for voice_of_taxpayer_ott_cit.jpg

Then he offered it for sale. The government price was $1.8 million. For you, though, or any Pierre off the street, it was just $400, the cost of time and materials. Almost immediately, Voice of the Taxpayer became part of the art controversy. The picture of the Czupryniaks posing with the [for sale] painting was published in The Ottawa Citizen.

In the art world's critical self-examination of the Voice of Fire controversy, noted art historian Thierry du Duve published an essay, "Vox Ignis, Vox Populi," in the Montreal art journal Parachute which focused on Mr. Czupryniak's response. It is awesome:

Like many avant-garde painters, Czupryniak paints against. A transgressive gesture along the lines of Dadaism, Voice of the Taxpayer assumes its full significance only in diametrical opposition to the tradition it attacks. A postmodern parody of modernism's celebrated flatness, Voice of the Taxpayer is a quote, a pastich that appropriates the work of another, empties it of its meaning, and presents itself as a critique of 'the originality of the avant-garde and other modernist myths.' Better still, in its abstract guise Voice of the Taxpayer is a real allegory of the art world as institution, neither more nor less than Courbet's L'Atelier du peintre. Is it a bad painting? No it is bad painting, if you get the difference.

It is actually a subtle and refined conceptual piece whose feigned innocence makes the emperor's new clothes visible to all. The "indispensable vulgarity' (Duchamp) of its title provokes the return of the repressed of the sole 'convention' that modernism forgot to deconstruct, the money of the people on whose back the elite builds its culture. In short, Czupryniak has got it all: he is more provocative than Rodchenko, more sarcastic than Manzoni, more strategic than Buren, more political than Haacke, more nationalist than Broodthaers, more demagogical than Koons, more neo-geo than Taaffe, all this with Duchamp's caustic humour, and sincere to boot!

It is an epic of art criticism. Or maybe Parachute was punked by the theorist's smartalecky brother, Jerry du Duve, I can't quite tell. Whichever du Duve, he, too, expressed his doubts:
The critical interpretation of his Voice of the Taxpayer which I gave above is perfectly plausible, and that's what worries me. A perverse and cynical art historian, I would have appropriated Czupryniak just as he appropriated Voice fo Fire. I would have taken a painter and made him into an artist, an 'artist in general." But I am not interested in defining an artist in this way.
Oh wait, never mind! Du Duve suddenly flips ["I only played at being cynical to show you how absurd it is."] and makes an argument for Voice of the Taxpayer based not in cynicism, but in sincerity. Czupryniak "emulated Newman by simulating him just as Newman had emulated Mondrian by painting against him." In fact, Voice of the Taxpayer embodies what du Duve calls "the fundamental ethical meaning of the 'reductive' aesthetic governing Voice of Fire, as well as all great modern painting" [italics in the original, bold added because, holy smokes!]: painting that demonstrates its true universality precisely because "anyone can paint this, even a painter."

expo67_flag_lifemag.jpgDu Duve then considers at great length how Mr. Czupryniak's pricing scheme deftly maps out the incongruities between artist and painter, value and worth, elites and the public, boss and laborer, exploiter and exploited. Every dollar between $401 and $1.8 million, he writes, accrues to Newman's status as an artist as perceived by the cultural elites--and as extracted by them for their own aesthetic pleasure from the unappreciative public [the Taxpayers] who got stuck with the tab.

I'm surprised du Duve doesn't mention it, because I can't stop marveling at how Mr. Czupryniak's project maps so closely with Newman's and the creation of Voice of Fire.

Newman, a celebrated artist was invited by his government, to make a work almost to spec, for which he received $423.60 to cover the cost of materials. But not his labor. Instead, his contract with the USIA guaranteed him full control over the painting's "equity," which his wife went on to monetize rather successfully. I guess we should add Voice of the Shareholder to the chorus.

What is the fate of Mr. Czupryniak's historically important masterpiece? Did he sell it? Did he keep it? Does it still exist, perhaps turned into a red and blue storage cabinet in the nursery? In 20 years, no one seems to have asked, so I have put in a call to find out. Stay tuned.

Thierry du Duve's "Vox Ignis, Vox Populi" was reprinted in the 1996 anthology, Voices of Fire: art, rage, power, and the state. Buy it from Amazon, or try to read the essay in Google Books' preview mode.

[image right of Ivan Chermayeff's Newmanesque flag panels in Buckminster Fuller's US Pavilion at Expo67: Mark Kauffmann for LIFE]

August 17, 2010

Flame Canada

newman_voice_of_fire.jpgSpeaking of National Gallery of Canada upheavals, Walrus Magazine, late-career post-minimalist kitsch, and Blake Gopnik:

In March 2010, Walrus celebrated the 20th anniversary of longtime NGC contemporary curator Brydon Smith's purchase of Barnett Newman's towering 1967 painting, Voice of Fire for $1.8 million, which was apparently a lot of money, even in Canadian. The announcement [of the price] set off a political firestorm of conservative, populist wrangling and hearings. It was Canada's own homegrown version of the American Right's culture war on the NEA, the NGC's most famous controversy.

Well, famous in Canada, anyway. As Greg Buium noted in his article, "Firestorm":

Internationally, the affair caused barely a ripple. Art in America published a short news story. Blake Gopnik, chief art critic at the Washington Post, was then a doctoral student at Oxford and only heard about it from his family back home in Montreal.
And here I am agreeing with Gopnik again! Awkward! Newman painted Voice of Fire for "American Painting Now," Alan Solomon's exhibition in the Buckminster Fuller dome at Expo 67. Which I wrote about and dug into rather deeply last October. I even quoted from Voices of fire: art, rage, power and the state, a 1996 anthology of the controversy, and yet I'd forgotten it until reading Buium's piece. [Maybe it's just me.]

According to Smith's account of the making of, Newman's painting, 8x18' high instead of 8x18' wide, Voice of Fire was designed to Solomon's request for "very large," vertically oriented paintings able to "hold their own" in a "soaring airy structure" and amidst a lot of visual "competition," and which, because of the steady movement of crowds through the pavilion, "visitors would not be able to spend long periods looking at."

Smith also wrote about having spontaneous discussions with Annalee Newman about her husband's "concern at that time about the undeclared war in Vietnam," a concern which hovered over the entire pavilion project. Co-editor John O'Brian quoted Solomon as saying, "Given world conditions at the moment, [the plan is] to soft sell America rather than show our muscle."

Yeah, capitalism, but I've always thought Voice of Fire was the best painting of Newman's weakest period, the hard-edge acrylics, which filled the last big gallery of Ann Temkin's Philadelphia Museum retrospective. [Hold on, I'm trying to forget that triangle-shaped canvas all over again.]

A late-period acrylic, made to order by an ambivalent artist for a drive-by spectacle designed to distract from the war. With stripped-down, hard-edge abstraction that provides the perfect symbol for anti-intellectualist critics of the art world's shenanigans. It all sounds like a prime candidate for Blake Gopnik's Kitsch You Didn't Think Of! list.

And yet he left it off. With such political savvy I predict a bright future in Canadian art politics for Dr. Gopnik.

August 17, 2010

O Brother Where Art Thou?

It takes a big man to acknowledge when he agrees with Blake Gopnik.

Paddy Johnson's post about controversy at the National Gallery of Canada led me to "Pop Life: Art in the Material World," Jack Bankowsky et al's solipsistic exhibition at Tate Modern.

"Pop Life" used Warhol's collapsing of fine art and commerce and his cultivation of an artistic persona as a hook for showing whatever by a bunch of usual market suspects, celebrants of the conflation of art and consumptionist life: Hirst, Murakami, Koons, Kippenberger, Prince, it brings on a three-years-ago haze even typing them. Anyway, what joy, this trophy show opened in Ottawa this summer.

Sold Out? The legacy of Pop Art: Is it avant-garde or is it kitsch?


And I'll be damned if Blake Gopnik didn't steal the show and win the "debate" co-sponsored by the NGC and Walrus Magazine. Not that the question, "Sold Out? The legacy of Pop Art: Is it avant-garde or kitsch?" ["Yes, yes and yes, so?"] was any more enlightening in 2010 than it was in 1962 when the Met asked it. Or that Gopnik's sparring partner arts editor Robert Enright ever stood a chance against Gopnik's Washington-honed, knee-jerk counterintuitiveness. Maybe if there'd been any kind of level-setting at the get-go about what kitsch was, and why it was good, bad, good-bad, or bad-good--but no, this whole thing was DOA.

Gopnik began with a counterintuitive [!] ploy, declaring late works by non-Pop artists--Bourgeois' spider, Serra's torqued ellipse, Christo's Gates--to be the kitsch, manufacturers of the popular, comfortable "Art" experience, and the Koons, Hirst and Murakami to be the expectations-confounding avant-garde.

Which is interesting as far as it goes, but he didn't really take it anywhere. Instead, Gopnik went on to argue with breathtaking cynicism that it's not Hirst's diamond skull, but his auction; not Warhol's paintings, but his entourage; not Koons's vanilla porn photos, but his career that are the real Art. It's not the playa, and not even the ball, but the game itself.

It's an incredible position for a critic to argue, that Avant-garde Art is not just a luxury good, but a luxury lifestyle! But if a life spent selling eight-figure sculptures to a handful of billionaires while simultaneously marketing any number of bridge collections to the lesser Basel masses is the pinnacle of artistic achievement, then why isn't Koons', Murakami's, and Prince's dealer Larry Gagosian in the show? Or Bankowsky's husband Matthew Marks?

After the wrap-up, the post-debate handshake, the houselights coming up, Gopnik actually went back to his mic and invoked the name of his brother who, with the late Kirk Varnedoe, had actually curated a major exhibition exploring Pop's disruption of cultural boundaries, "Hi-Lo" at MoMA: "If anyone here came thinking they were seeing Adam Gopnik and Michael Enright tonight, you can get your money back at the front door."


Sold Out? [walrusmagazine.com]

August 15, 2010

Art Is Where You See It

Dealer-turned-public art empresaria Emi Fontana talking in Artforum about West of Rome:

...people believe that public art needs to occupy planned and assigned spaces. What we're doing is much more fine-tuned: You have to find the space that resonates with the work and with the artist's practice in general. This is fascinating to me. It's something you can do well in a city you love, and I really love Los Angeles. I came here for romance, but when the romance was over I realized I still had a huge romance with the city. It is a constant source of inspiration for me.
Baby Ikki bugs, but Emi rocks. But I always thought that West of Rome was selling in some way, too, not just putting on shows outside the gallery/museum/institutional/white box paradigm.

Aha, West of Rome converted to a non-profit and became West of Rome Public Art in 2009.

Also, 500 Words is really such a consistently interesting feature. So seemingly simple, yet so rich. It's the chocolate mousse of Artforum.com.

500 Words | Emi Fontana [artforum.com]

keeler_slide_nasm.jpg

While wandering through the National Air and Space Museum [family's in town], I stumbled across James Keeler's lantern slides of spiral nebulae, taken at the Lick Observatory outside San Jose beginning in 1888.

Keeler was a pioneering astronomer at what was the largest reflector telescope at the first permanent mountaintop observatory in the world. He wasn't the first astrophotographer [moon photos don't count; everyone from Daguerre forward shot the moon], but he was a great one, and his deep sky photo survey is one of the earliest and most ambitious I've found. Keeler photographed hundreds of spiral nebulae and boldly estimated that at the rate he was finding them, there were at least 100,000 of them out there.

Three of his slides are on display at the museum. In the midst of what it called the "photographic fad" of 1890, The New York Times covered a lantern slide presentation Keeler made in December of that year at the New York Camera Club on Fifth Avenue. [Alfred Stieglitz joined the Camera Club soon after in 1891.]

Keeler's slides, which he acknowledged were executed by a staff member at the observatory, were nevertheless described as "excellent in their make" and "some of the best specimens of star photography." He went into great depth on the technical challenges of making telescopic photographs of the stars:

The usual method of keeping the star on the plate in photographing was by moving the telescope, but owing to the size of the instrument at the Lick Observatory this was impossible, as the telescope weighed seven tons. The plan adopted, therefore was to make the plate movable by means of turning screws.

...

...it happens that a different focus is obtained in the big telescope. The dry plate is therefore placed in the tube nine feet from the eye piece, a hole having been cut in it for that purpose...When the plate is developed the operator has to go it in a blind sort of fashion, as the smaller star images will not appear till the developing work is done.

...

Photographing stars, especially the small ones, is tedious work, as in some cases teh exposure must last for several hours. During all that time the plate or telescope must be moved so that the image of the star will continue in one place.

Keeler was the director at Lisk when he died suddenly in 1900, and his colleagues undertook to publish his sky survey and photos.

keeler_nebula_clark.jpg

Photographs of NEBULAE AND CLUSTERS. Made with the Crossley Reflector was published in 1908 by the University of California. It contains 70 full page, hand-printed heliogravures [which is French for photogravures, which is actually French for any kind of photo-based printing technique, not just the copper plate-based intaglio-style prints associated with photogravure in English].

keeler_nebula_clark2.jpg

The Clark Art Institute has helpfully digitized all 70 of Keeler's posthumously published plates. So far, I have not found information on the extent or state of his negatives, slides, or other prints. I imagine I'll be digging into the Lisk and UC archives soon.

richter_color_grid74_2.jpg

Well, a color chart print, anyway.

In 1974, at the height [and end] of Gerhard Richter's production of painted grids of colored squares and rectangles, he also published Colour Fields. 6 Arrangements of 1260 Colours, a portfolio of six prints [the auction house Lempertz said silkscreen, but the artist's own website says offset] on white board. There was an edition of 32, plus a few proofs and extras.

One of those loosies [top, looks like it was an arrangement b] was later signed and given to Carl Vogel, the head of the Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts, along with, hello, Richter's sketch for the piece, which contains numbers corresponding to the various colors.

richter_1260_colours_sketch.jpg

It's practically a Richter paint-by-numbers kit! I'm sure whoever bought the set in June from the auction of the late Prof. Vogel's collection has already started coloring it in, even though paint was apparently not included in the sale.

Lot 1169, June 2010: Gerhard Richter, Untitled (Colour fields 1260 colours in 6 arrangement), sold for EUR57,000 [lempertz-online.de]
Colour Fields. 6 Arrangements of 1260 Colours, 1974 [gerhard-richter.com]
Previously: How To Make A Gerhard Richter (Squeegee) Painting

cage_one11_docu2.jpg

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Henning Lohner's film essay/documentary about working with John Cage to make One11 and 103, Cage's only feature film project, completed just before he passed away in 1992.

It's on YouTube, chopped up in several parts, and mostly in German [One11 and 103 was made for German TV], but now Ubu has posted the English version, so you non-Germans can actually figure out what's going on. [ One11 and 103 is online, too, though it has the 3sat logo burned into the upper corner, which turns the whole thing into a 90-minute promotional bumper for the station.]

For One11, Cage and his collaborator Andrew Culver used a computer program to generate a series of chance operations, instructions for light placement and movement within an empty soundstage; for camera movement and positioning; shot length; and for editing.

Narrative- and nearly content-free, the 17-segment film was accompanied by 103, a 17-segment orchestral composition that was also based on chance operations. The film's title follows Cage's numbering system: the eleventh composition for one performer, in this case, the camera man. So while Cage explains the film as being "about the effect of light in a room," it's also very much about the perception, movement, and recording of the cinematographer, Van Carlson.

cage_one11_docu.jpg

Cage made the point to Lohner early on that his idea wouldn't "waste" any film. And sure enough, it turns out the final shooting ratio was an astonishing 1.4:1, with less than 600 meters of extra footage--which, we are told, was used in the opening and closing credits. It's almost like Cage went to film school during the Depression.

The obvious appeal of an abstract light show aside, watching all this self-conscious randomness [I've been going through and replacing "random" with "chance," since that's the specific term Cage uses. I think there's a meaningful difference.] really puts the conscious decisions of location and content into high relief. It also makes me want to remake One11 in another environment and see what happens. I'd also wonder how many more decisions could be randomized, and to what effect? Eventually, if you put a decision factor into play, the randomness of it will generate a distinctive effect, if not an actual style. It's one of the conundrums of Cage's work that I like picking through.

One11 and 103: the making of [ubu.com]
You know, at $27, it wouldn't kill you to buy Mode Records' DVD version of John Cage: One11 with 103, either, from The Complete John Cage [amazon]

NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT UPDATE: You know, posting this really seems like a departure for Ubu. I mean, Ubu began posting vintage, impossible-to-buy-or-even-find works, but with One11 and 103, they basically ripped a commercial DVD published in 2006 by a small, well-known, high-quality independent publisher of modern music. Am I missing something here?

UPDATE UPDATE: Yeah, Ubu's versions of both One11 and Making of One11 first appeared on The Sound of Eye, an equally amazing art film and experimental music blog, albeit one with a different approach to posting works that are readily available in the commercial market. Ubu announced a collaboration with Sound of Eye a little while ago.

In anticipation of Creative Time Summit II--it's October 9-10, just a few weeks away!--I've been watching some of the talks from last fall's Summit, organized by Nato Thompson held at the NY Public Library. [For an overview, check out Frieze's write-up of the quick-fire speechifying marathon.] Like the Oscars, speeches are cut off right on time by pleasant music. It can be kind of harsh [sorry, Thomas Hirschhorn and guy from Chicago's Temporary Services making his big, final pitch for help] but rules are rules.

So far, I've found the longer [20m vs 7m] keynote speeches to be the most fascinating. From the super-low viewer numbers to date, the fan club is pretty small. Anyway, watch these and pass them around:

Teddy Cruz, the Tijuana/San Diego architectural investigation guy has the single most intense 6:30 min talk I think I've ever seen. Almost makes up for not being able to see his slides.

Art historian Morris Dickstein's keynote about Evans, Steinbeck, Astaire, and art of the Depression was interesting and timely, easily the most wrongly underappreciated, too:

Okwui Enwezor's talk was smart and incisive, unsurprisingly, and made me wish he'd talked longer--and about more than a single documentary photo used by Alfredo Jaar.

But by far the best, the most moving, the one that got my head nodding and made me want to write things down for later, was Sharon Hayes' reminiscence of moving to New York in 1991, smack into the middle of a teeming downtown art/activist community dealing with the AIDS crisis. It was gripping, and made me remember how important, vital, art can be, not for the the objects it generates, but for the effect it has on people, singularly and together, at a moment and in a place.

Creative Time New York YouTube Channel [youtube]


noyes_westinghouse_sfmoma.jpg

I love Eliot Noyes as much for his own designs as for his role as catalyst, instigator and patron for some of the greatest modernist objects and buildings of the postwar era.

And yet somehow I hadn't made the connection to his unrealized design for the Westinghouse Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair, which consisted of eight 45-foot diameter silver spheres floating off of a central domed foyer. Giant silver spheres in 1961? Wherever would the idea for such a form come from?

echo_satelloon_color.JPG


Thanks to dealer-turned-design curator Henry Urbach, SFMOMA acquired the Westinghouse maquette in 2006, but the museum's description doesn't make any reference to Project Echo or any design references at all.


noyes_westinghouse_gbruce.jpg

Next, I turned to Phaidon's sleek-yet-frustrating Eliot Noyes monograph, written by Noyes's longtime collaborator Gordon Bruce. Though it's chock-full of info and photos [including the one above, of Noyes posing with his maquette], it turns out to be more bio snapshot than design history. There's a little about the bureaucratic wrangling that nixed the pavilion [and replaced it with a second company time capsule, to match the 1939 one], but nothing about the design.

noyes_westinghouse_64_wf.jpg

Oddly, there's no mention at all of the scaled-down pavilion which was eventually built [image via], even though it has the maquette's signage, and it looks awfully similar to the round gas station canopies Noyes would design for Mobil a couple of years later. [image via agilitynut.com's great collection of gas station design photos]

mobil_agilitynut.jpg

update: indeed, Noyes & Assoc. are credited in the World's Fair Time Capsule Pavilion Brochure, which turns out to be the uncredited source for Wikipedia's image. That's the torpedo-shaped time capsule right there, btw, suspended 50-ft above the ground by the three masts.

Eliot Noyes, Westinghouse Pavilion, 1961 [sfmoma.org]

telH78_ebay1.jpgI've been trying for months to figure out the designer of what I think is one of the slickest phone booths around, the Deutschen Bundespost Typ TelH78 Telefonzelle.

You know it when you see it. It's bright yellow, a fiberglass and safety glass box with beautiful rounded corners. It has just the stability, utilitarianism, officialism, and future-forward design you'd expect from a European, state-run telecommunications monopoly in 1980, which is when I think they started deploying them. [Near as I can tell, the type number refers to the year it was designed.] It's the Helvetica of phone booths.

And it's disappearing, if not completely gone. I haven't roamed the German byways to see how far T-Mobile's awful magenta & glass booths have taken over, but these days, phone booths themselves seem barely more than excuses for street advertisements. A few Telefonzellen, including TelH78s--oh, wow, look at that olive drab one--are being converted into tiny, neighborhood lending libraries.

And now one's on eBay.de. In beautiful condition, a mere EUR71. For local pickup in Fritzlar, just outside of Kassel. Weighs around 100kg. So beautiful, so tempting.

Telefonzelle der Deutschen Bundespost, ends Aug. 19 [ebay.de]
Telefonzelle (Deutschland) [wikipedia]

August 10, 2010

أنا ♥ نيويورك

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John Emerson saw an "I [HEART] NY" flyer in Arabic posted in the East Village a few days after September 11, 2001. He posted a large, printable graphic version on his blog a year later.

A few months after that, I noted that Maurizio Cattelan had created a

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t-shirt in an edition of 100, which was sold via Printed Matter. The Printed Matter folks now have no idea what the story was, and I'm waiting to hear back from Maurizio, but I think it's way past time for another edition.

moholy_raum_gegenwart1.jpgIn addition to being the subject of his film and photographic work, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Light Space Modulator modulated light and space as a sculptural installation, and it served as a Light Prop for an Electric Stage. But in 1930, the artist had also planned on installing it at the Hannover Provincial Museum.

Alexander Dorner, the director of the Landesmuseum, had invited Moholy-Nagy to design the final room in the chronological reinstallation of the museum's collection, the Raum der Gegenwart, The Room of the Present Day. The room was to have interactive exhibition elements devoted to film, architecture, and design. And at its center: the definitive art work of Moholy-Nagy's future, the Light Space Modulator, performing inside its light-lined cabinet. Was to have, because Moholy Nagy's plans were never realized in Hannover.

Frankly, it sounds more like the Room of the Multimedia Future. In the press release for Licht Kunst Spiele, an exhibition of Light and the Bauhaus last year at the Kunsthalle Erfurt, the Room of the Present Day was said to have anticipated "an art which does completely without the hand-painted, auratic picture." [Anticipated is right; Walter Benjamin didn't write "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" until 1935. I guess aura was in the air.]

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And speaking of reproduction, the curators for that show, Drs. Kai Uwe Hemken and Ulrike Gärtner teamed up with designer Jakob Gebert to finally realize Raum der Gegenwart according to Moholy-Nagy's designs and intentions. From the photos, the Raum looks like a life-size Light Space Modulator, the Light Prop transfigured into a Light Stage. Or Light Theatre.

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The Raum traveled to Frankfurt for the Schirn Kunsthalle's Moholy-Nagy retrospective, and it has now settled into the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, where it is part of Museum Modules, a show about, I guess, famous museum exhibition re-enactments. [images via crossroads mag and vanabbemuseum.nl]

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Whether that is the Van Abbemuseum's 1970 Light Space Modulator in there, or yet another replica, I don't know, but I'll assume it's the former. Perhaps the answer lies in "The Raum der Gegenwart (Re)constructed," a thorough and fascinating-sounding article by Columbia's Noam M. Elcott‌, which was recently published in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians.

update: Yes and no. Elcott's article is fascinating, though, and he praises the "historical acumen and curatorial courage" of putting the Light Prop in the lighted box it was arguably conceived for. He goes further, arguing persuasively that Light Prop, as an embodiment and producer of cinematic abstraction, is the conceptual center of the Raum der Gegenwart. Very interesting stuff.

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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Licht Raum Modulator, 1970 reconstruction, image: bauhaus.de

Did I say a few minutes?

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy spent around eight years [from 1922-30] building his Light Space Modulator, and then he carted it around Europe, and to America, reworking it and repairing it until his death in 1946. His widow Sybil donated it to the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard in 1956.

Anyway, while the kinetic and light art movements it prefigured were kicking into high gear, the original LSM was in quite a state of disrepair. It sounds far, far away from Moholy Nagy's own early description of it, which included not only the motorized glass, cellophane, aluminum, and steel construction we know, but a stage-like box lined with synchronized, colored lights. [I was going to quote some of the description from Medienkunstnetz, but it doesn't clear anything up; just read the whole thing.]

Yet Moholy-Nagy's posthumous influence was growing, and the LSM was exhibited widely throughout the 1960s in its second[ary] mode as a room-filling projection. After some malfunctions and damage during a big KunstLichtKunst exhibition at the VanAbbemuseum in Eindhoven, though, something had to be done.

In 1969-70, the Harvard art historian-in-training Nan Piene was studying Moholy-Nagy's work and wanted to include the Light Space Modulator in an exhibition at Howard Wise Gallery in New York. [Nan's then-husband, Otto Piene, also showed kinetic and light works at Howard Wise. He was a fellow at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, which he took over in 1974.]

So with Mrs. Moholy-Nagy's permission, Mrs. Piene had the LSM refabricated. Twice. One copy went on view at Howard Wise in 1970. One went to the Venice Biennale. One was flagged for the Bauhaus Archiv in Darmstadt, and the other ended up back at the Van Abbemuseum.

In his NYT review of the show, Hilton Kramer wrote at length about the implications of this "entirely new kind of art object--costly and painstakingly made facsimile reproductions of certain classic works of modern art." Moholy-Nagy's intent, according to Piene according to Kramer, was the Constructivist fusion of object and space, light and motion, perception and experience. But.

As usual with Moholy, what we have here is not a completely successful work of art but a brilliant statement about a new possibility for art. In an age of conceptual art, when ideas need only be stated to be taken for realizations, the distinction I am making may seem a little archaic. But for those of us who remain firm in our belief that what is important in art is not what the artist says he is doing or intends to do or is said to have done, but what he actually achieves in the work itself, the distinction is crucial.
Just as I didn't research the Eames Solar Do-Nothing Machine with the intention of tracking the history of Moholy-Nagy, I didn't dig into the refabrication of the LSM with the intention of agreeing with Hilton Kramer about conceptual art. But here we are. With his Telephone Pictures, Moholy-Nagy was famously ahead of the curve on outsourced production, so it might be natural to see his work as fitting easily with the era's emerging conceptualist norms.

Here's a video of the Eindhoven Light Space Modulator in action:

I have to say, it's fantastical and beautiful, but it's also precious and underwhelming. Like Kramer, I am glad it exists, but I don't quite know what to think of it. Maybe that it works best as film and photo, i.e., as a prop, shot, cropped and edited by Moholy-Nagy's own eye.

In 2006, Tate Modern and the Busch Reisinger arranged with the Moholy-Nagy estate, now controlled by the artist's daughter Hattula, to make yet another, yet more definitive replica of the Light Space Modulator, which by now is going by an earlier, more correct title, Light Prop for an Electric Stage. After the Tate showed it, Peter Nesbit, the [Daimler Benz] Curator at the Busch-Reisinger showed their new, functioning replica alongside the static original in Light Display Machines: Two Works by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy." Except that one condition of the replica authorization agreement was that the 2006 version, at least, "not be considered a work of art."

That is the word according to a paper/discussion presented at Tate in October 2007 by Henry Lie, the director of the Harvard Art Museums' Straus Center for Conservation Studies. [Lie discussed the details of the history of the LSM LPfaES at a workshop titled, "Inherent Vice: The Replica and its Implications in Modern Sculpture," which is just about the most awesome collection of art reading material this side of the Packing, Art Handling & Crating Information Network.]

The 2006 replica was made by a German engineer named Juergen Steger, and Lie's presentation goes into exquisite detail on his build. Steger referenced not only the original and all the photo and film evidence, but also the 1970 replicas, which were built, I should have mentioned, by Woodie Flowers, an MIT graduate student who went on to become a rather legendary robotics professor at the school.

When I first stumbled across this whole Light Space Modulator replication business a couple of months ago, I decided to email Prof. Flowers to see what was up. He called me right back, and we had a quick, intense, funny, and fascinating chat about the project, how he got involved, and how it went down. I will go into more details of Woodie's account in...in a few minutes.

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

about this archive

Posts from August 2010, in reverse chronological order

Older: July 2010

Newer September 2010

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

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