October 2010 Archives

"...how, slowly and patiently, Mr. Lamson, wearing welder's goggles, moves his drawing machine along."

William Lamson's show at The Boiler, "A Line Describing The Sun," got a nice review from Ken Johnson in the Times today.

The 2-channel video of the making of is pretty awesome.


Though I had considered entering, and I'd sampled a few of the 125 videos on the shortlist, I had planned to not write about the YouTube Play Biennial at the Guggenheim. But then reps from a couple of the event's sponsors, HP and Intel, asked if I'd guest post about art, video art, and film in their Facebook group, 24|7 Creative, and they invited me to attend the big gig at the Gugg last week. Here is a brief recap of that experience, and how I see it.

[Holy smokes, this is long now, really, unbelievably long. And with a tragicomic surprise ending, too!]

October 26, 2010

999 Mylar Balloons

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Holy smokes, experiential science artist Nelly Ben Hayoun has re-created Japan's Super Kamiokande neutrino detection facility as a Disneyland ride.

Visitors in white Tyvek bunny suits are guided by an actual particle physicist through a boat ride tunnel where a thousand gold mylar balloons--birthday party size--stand in for the hand-blown glass photomultiplier tubes of the original.

It's all going down this very minute at the Manchester Science Festival. Tomorrow's the last day. And all but ten of us have already missed physicist/glassblower Jochen Holz's workshop over the weekend, where we would have made our own PMT! The photographer's name is Nick Ballon!

Holy crap, English people! Why are you keeping all this stuff secret? Need the info!

Super K Sonic Booooum [superksonic.com via popsci, thanks john]
Shockingly closely related: The Hamamatsu Photonics R1449 And R3600 Photomultiplier Tubes: the making of [greg.org]

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The close follower of the Warhol Brillo Box saga will surely find amusement in the details of Lot 137: a Pasadena Type box that once belonged to Warhol's early early LA dealer Irving Blum at Christie's upcoming Morning After sale.

You know, things like the date ["Executed in 1964-1969."] and the provenance ["Irving Blum, acquired from the artist"].

Which, like the so-called Oberlin Boxes John Coplans got from Warhol for curating his first museum show, was one of the 16 or so extras made when Warhol authorized Coplans to fabricate 100 for his Pasadena Art Museum show in 1970.

Nov. 11, Lot 137: Pasadena Type Brillo Box, est. $350-450,000 [christies.com[

October 25, 2010

Black & White

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Holy smokes, the auction's normal size, but the catalogue for Christie's upcoming contemporary evening sale is huge. And some interesting stuff.

This late Rothko, Black on Gray (1969-70), for example. In his biography of the artist, Jimmy Breslin referred to this painting while saying that the series sometimes resembled "a stark lunar landscape."

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Frankly, it reminds me of a favorite, stark lunar landscape photo, an early Liz Deschenes work made in Death Valley in 1999: 280 Feet Below Sea Level. A copy of which happens to be coming up at auction soon after. With my luck, the underbidders on the Rothko are going to swoop in and bid the price way up.

Nov. 10, Lot 28: Mark Rothko, Black on Gray, est. $10 million - 15 million [christies.com]
Nov. 13, Lot 661: Liz Deschenes, 80 Feet Below Sea Level, est. $2500-3500 [ragoarts.com]

adams_manzanar_landscape.jpg

Someday this will all look and sound really coherent, I swear. But for going on, wow, 20 years, some of the most powerfully influential photos for me have been the images Ansel Adams took at Manzanar, the desert prison camp where Japanese-American families were interned at the outset of WWII. Deeply outraged that the US government would imprison its own citizens en masse, Adams set off to document the situation in 1943. In late 1944, he published a book, Born Free and Equal, which contained his text and a selection of the photos.

I spent years chasing down a copy of the book. And collecting prints from the series. And working with the Museum. And yet it was somehow only last week that I found out that in November 1944, Adams' Manzanar photos were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.

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Given that Adams had been asked by Edward Steichen to join his elite Naval Aviation Photography Unit, and that Adams was close with the Modern's photography curator Beaumont Newhall and his wife, one might think that Adams' wartime photos would have received the same prominent promotion and large-scale exhibition printing that Steichen's Power in the Pacific show received a couple of months later.

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And one would be deeply and completely wrong. According to the most tepid press release in the Museum's history,

A series of sixty-one photographs showing the life and activities at a relocation center in California form an exhibition opening in the auditorium galleries of the Museum of Modren Art Friday, November 10, under the title Manzanar: Photographs by Ansel Adams of Loyal Japanese-American Relocation Center. Mr. Adams has also written the accompanying text. The exhibition, an unusual demonstration of the use of documentary photography, will be on view through December 3.
The exhibition is described as "an activity of the Museum's Photography Department," and its acting curator, Nancy Newhall. Pull every string he has at the Museum, and still the best Ansel Adams can do is a three-week show in the basement.

Ansel Adams donated his Manzanar photos to the Library of Congress [loc.gov]
Previously: I Mean, Just Look How Happy They Were! [greg.org]

October 24, 2010

Observations On/From Towers

Last May, while solving the problem of Gettysburg and reuniting the opposing forces of History--Civil War battlefield aficionados seeking to "restore" the "hallowed ground" of Cemetery Ridge and the modernists and historical preservationists who wish to stop them from demolishing Richard Neutra's Cyclorama building--I myself was smitten by the archival/architectural awesomeness of the steel observation tower [below], which was built by the War Department in 1895 on the [equally hallowed, I'm sure] Confederate line.
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[My idea, of course, is to adapt Neutra's ramp-centered structure into a disabled/wheelchair-accessible observation platform, an accommodation which is sorely lacking in the current Park Service program for the site, and then to integrate a museum/memorial to the tens of thousands of soldiers wounded--and disabled--in the battle. We're so quick to memorialize those who were lost, while forgetting or ignoring those who survived, and have to grapple for the rest of their lives with the effects of war.]

Anyway, two added pieces of information:

While I have not been able to find much in the way of history or documentation for the 1895 towers [there used to be five; now there are 2.5], I have discovered two accounts of a re-enactment of Pickett's Charge in July 1922, on the occasion of the 59th anniversary of the battle. On July 2 President Warren G. Harding and his wife observed a rehearsal re-enactment by 5,000 marines and veterans from an observation tower [since removed] on Cemetery Ridge itself.

[Bonus architectural note: The President and Mrs. Harding were quartered at the Marine camp in what the New York Times called, "a temporary White House of canvas and wood. The structure is equipped with elaborately fitted sleeping rooms, baths, electric lights and even has a front porch." A search for photos has already begun. update: and may be over. Is this it, from the LOC?]

harding_gettysburg_wht_loc.jpg

Another account, dated July 4th, after the Hardings had departed, comes from Mrs Helen Longstreet, the widow of the Commander of the Confederate forces at Gettysburg. It's not clear, but I like to imagine that she observed the re-enactment--"staged today with marvelous accuracy in every detail, exactly as I have heard General Longstreet describe it hundreds of times"--from the still-extant observation tower on the field:

As the twilight of this calm July day deepened into dusk I overtook one of "Longstreet's boys," a one-armed veteran, trudging wearily "up Emmitsburg Road."

"Where did you lose your arm?" I inquired. He answered: "In Pickett's charge; and it was powerful hard to lose my arm and be whipped, too; and what was the use of it?"

Someone standing near pointed to the Observation Tower and said: "Do you see the flag that floats up there? The stars on its blue field are all the brighter, its red stripe all the deeper, its white stripe all the purer, because you left an arm in front of Cemetery Hill in Pickett's charge. That was the use of it. That was the good of it."

And so the tread of marching armies and the roar of cannon over the Summer lands of Pennsylvania call the American people to express the value of the titanic struggles of the '60s in deeper love and pride of country.

And the other thing, holy moley, have you seen the observation tower built by the Graz/Munich-based landscape design firm Terrain in a nature preserve along the Mur River in Styria, Austria?? 27.5 meters high, double rectangular spiral of black steel and tension rods, plus aluminum staircases.

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Not that I thought anyone might be wavering on the architectural merits of observation towers or anything, just, wow.

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[images: just two of many at Abitare]

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My recent photomural binge has flushed out some interesting comments and suggestions, including one from Craig about the use of a photomural as a key interior design element in Woody Allen's 1980 film, Stardust Memories.

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Allen's character, filmmaker Sandy Bates, has wrapped the dining room of his Manhattan apartment with a photomural of Eddie Adams's iconic 1968 AP photo from the Tet Offensive of the shooting of captured VC Nguyen Van Lem by South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan. [above] It was commonly understood to be a universal symbol of man's cruelty, suffering, and inevitable mortality.

The shocking juxtaposition hadn't worn off for Richard Woodward, who used the fleeting scene a full nine years later as the opening anecdote for a critique of art's changing relationship with documentary photography. Titled, with the cloying question mark, "Serving up the Poor as Exotic Fare for Voyeurs?" Woodward seems to complain that the art world, which "favors big pictures and high prices" was messing it up for real [aka "documentary"] photography and serious subject matter:

Perhaps nothing in the film better conveys the twisted soul of the protagonist who, in his misguided need to project, magnify and expiate his guilt over the world's pain, has turned a moment of unforgettable horror into a decorative mural. It's a macabre joke about the heartless vanity that can underlie high-minded gestures; and it's a warning about photography, which can lose any claim as a moral force after countless reproductions on the wrong kind of wall.
But then he ended with this:
Many contemporary artists, like Alfredo Jaar, Sarah Charlesworth and Louise Lawler, are making work in which the use of an image - its presentation by the news media or a museum - becomes the grounds for critical scrutiny in a context of the artist's own devising. A persistent theme of art in the late 80's has been the struggle to patrol and examine the use of images. At the very least, many artists seem to be saying, it is time to stop averting our eyes.
Only this turns out to be exactly what Woody Allen was doing a full decade earlier.

Whether it's Supergraphics or Stephen Shore's Architectural Paintings or a Bloomingdale's furniture showroom, there has to be some context or precedent I'm missing here, otherwise Woody Allen should be figuring directly into the history of the emergence of the Pictures Generation.

Because the heavily stylized, black & white Stardust Memories turns out to use photomurals and their relatives as crucial thematic and visual elements.

First off, Allen has said that most of the film actually takes place in his character's head. Even his apartment, which is nominally in the film's reality, "is really a state of mind for him. And so depending on what phase of life he's in, you can see it reflected in the mural."

Though Adams's photo is often mentioned, and the stills above are common, I couldn't find images of any of the other murals. So I just rewatched Stardust Memories [at high speed] and pulled out all the ones I could find. I'd hoped that I could find some discussion of the murals and the film's design from production designer Mel Bourne, but so far, nothing. Bourne did several films with Allen, including Annie Hall and Manhattan, But he also did the production design for Fatal Attraction and, awesomely, the pilot for Miami Vice. Anyway, they're all after the jump, because, maybe some people might want to skip them? Not me.

October 20, 2010

'No Monuments To Jesus'

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One of the most incredible works of visionary art in Washington DC is James Hampton's The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation's Millennium General Assembly. Hampton, an African American WWII veteran and janitor at the General Services Administration, built the 180+piece assemblage out of discarded furniture, cardboard, cellophane, blotter paper, and foil, in a rented DC garage. He spent at least 14 years working every night, in secret, and it was only discovered by his landlord after his death in 1964. After several uncertain years, it was donated to the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art in 1970.

Hampton told almost no one about his work, but notes attached to the various objects seem to indicate that he was receiving visitations by angels, who directed him to construct the Throne in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Most of the notes, though, and his voluminous writings, as well as the contents of a looseleaf notebook titled, The Atlas of The State of Eternity, are written in Hampton's own code, which is comprised of mixed and altered Hebrew, Greek, and Roman characters. As far as I can tell, these works have not been deciphered, nor have facsimiles been published.

update>I am happy to be corrected, especially during National Archive Month or whatever. The Archives of American Art has Hampton's writing available on microfilm. An independent researcher of enciphered documents, Dennis Stallings, has an extensive site about decoding what he calls "Hamptonese." And in 2004, San Jose State computer scientists Mark Stamp and Ethan Le published a statistical analysis of Hamptonese. Because it doesn't correspond to a typical substitution code, they defer to the previous hypothesis that Hamptonese is "the written equivalent of 'speaking in tongues.'" In other words, not their department, either.

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image from Naives [sic] and Visionaries, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1974, via stopping off place

Hampton obviously showed someone his work, because there is a photo of him standing in front of it [above], which Michael from stopping off place posted this summer. Interestingly, those crowns were separated from The Throne in some way, and were only donated to the AAM in 2001. Perhaps there is more work--and more story--still out there somewhere.

After it was conserved, in 1976, The Throne... went on a several cities tour. Curator Lynda Roscoe Hartigan wrote an essay laying out as much of the work's and its creator's history as could be known at the time. Hampton, who called himself Saint James in his writing, also mentioned a Baptist minister named A.J. Tyler:

Despite Hampton's Baptist background, he was not a member of a congregation in Washington. Believing that there is only one God, Hampton considered different religions unnecessary. An important encounter with the Reverend A. J. Taylor, a popular black minister who died in 1936, may have occurred in one of the neighborhood churches he occasionally visited. The Mount Airy Baptist Church, where Taylor served, was not far from Hampton's boarding house, and it is possible that the Reverend inspired Hampton during a revival meeting or Sunday sermon.

Tyler was noted for having said that in Washington, the city of monuments, there were no monuments to Jesus. During his ministry, he installed an electric sign, "Monument to Jesus," over the door of the Mount Airy Baptist Church.

Hampton may have been intrigued by the minister's idea for a monument to Jesus; the word "monument" is entered in one of his notebooks, and numerous references to A. J. Tyler appear in the assemblage. Many pieces bear labels reading "Tyler Baptist Church," although Tyler never preached in a church of that name. Hampton also indicated in his notebooks that Saint James was the pastor of "The Tyler Baptist Church." Tyler may thus have been a model and an inspiration for Hampton, whose commemoration of the Reverend seems to have mingled freely with his belief in the Second Coming.

Emphasis added because, hello, "the city of monuments."

As spectacular as Hampton's creation is, it's not at all clear that he himself considered it to be art. In fact, the texts he left behind almost certainly refute that categorization. These are devotional objects, grounded in his complex religious experience. With American Indian tribes, the Smithsonian has gone to great lengths to recognize and preserve the cultural and spiritual aspects of relics and artifacts; I wonder if there has ever been discussion of dealing with Hampton's work in the same context.

James Hampton, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly, 1950-64 [americanart.si.edu]

While I've mentioned it on my Twitter feed--the 500 people who read this blog are the same 500 who follow me there, right? @CheapDrugs4U?--I should say here, too, that I have been invited by the folks at 24|7 Creative, a Facebook group sponsored by HP and Intel, to guestpost some of my favorite art, video, and video art picks on their wall.

This is in a run-up to the Big Event this Thursday, some live coverage of the [also HP and Intel-sponsored] YouTube Play blockbuster/extravaganza/show/event at the Guggenheim. So stay tuned, because while my mother did raise me to be a gracious guest, the 24|7 Creative folks are certainly not paying me enough to sway my opinions on anything.

If you haven't decided whether or not you'll be attending the YouTube Play gig, and your current lack of tickets is a factor in your decision, then hop on over to this comment contest, where you can win a free pair of tickets to this sure-to-be-landmark spectacle.

I tell you, though, it's not a slam dunk. Because holy smokes, Thursday at 6:30 is the only scheduled screening so far at the Film Society at Lincoln Center for Sasha Waters Freyer's new documentary, Chekhov for Children, which tells the incredible-sounding story of Phillip Lopate's 1979 quest to to a Broadway staging of "Uncle Vanya" with a cast made up entirely of New York City 5th and 6th-graders. Including the filmmaker herself. :

Using incredibly rare archival video and super 8mm student-made films and videos, Chekhov for Children explores the interplay between art and life for a group of students across 30 years--including the filmmaker. It is a rare document of its time that meditates upon the reckoning that comes with middle age through the very moving lens of universal themes: first love, mentoring, and parenting.
I'm getting a little verklempt just typing about it.

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Worlds Fairs turned out to be the perfect venue for photomurals--they were catchy, usually didactic, packed a visual punch, and got the point across to the shuffling masses. And at least in the 1930s, they looked like the future.

So to a government whose future was being immediately threatened, like the Spanish Republic under siege by Franco and his fascist army, a publicity- and sympathy-generating pavilion at the 1937 Paris Expo literally seemed like a matter of survival.

José Luis Sert and Luis Lacasa designed the small, simple pavilion, which didn't get completed in time for the opening, and which anyway, ended up being overshadowed by the bombastic, dueling pavilions of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.

So to get attention, a huge photomural/banner of Republican loyalists was hung over the entrance. [Intriguingly, in two of the three most widely circulated photos from the Expo, including the Le Monde photo announcing the opening, the mural is cropped out or coincidentally obscured by a tree branch.] As kk_redax's photo on flickr shows, the photomural was changed periodically:

Sert, Josep Lluis, and Lacasa, Spanish Pavilion at Paris Expo, Photo Panel with Parade formation

Like breakdancing was to gangs, world's fairs were designed as a non-violent means for competitive, conflicting nation states to jockey for supremacy. But the Spanish Civil War pushed the Republican government to a new, urgent level of pavilion-building. The war, which was fought on the ground through media, posters, photos and newspapers [and also guns and bombs], also gave birth to modern photojournalism. And the Paris Expo was the site of Spain's immediate experiement in architecture as military polemic. And then there's the art.

The Republican government sought to garner international support by assembling modern works by sympathetic artists that express powerful and overt political outrage, including a large painting of an upraised fist by Joan Miro . And unveiled on the ground floor was Picasso's Guernica.

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Painted in 24 days in his new Left Bank studio in the spring of 1937, Guernica's duotone palette reflects how Picasso and the rest of the world learned of the Nazis' devastating saturation bombing foray: via newspaper photos and newsreels. Photography had an even more direct impact on the making of Guernica: Picasso asked his companion Dora Maar to document the painting process, and there's a scholarly case that "the tonal variations Picasso observed in Dora's photographs appear to have influenced the development of those in the middle stages of the painting." Though it sets the bar pretty high for the rest, it's not much of a stretch to call Guernica the greatest photomural of the 20th century.

But wait, that's not all! In the Pavilion Guernica was installed next to Mercury Fountain, an abstract, kinetic sculptural tribute to the Almaden region of Spain, which at the time produced the lion's share of the world's mercury. Oh, the fountain was by Alexander Calder. While Guernica's world travels are well known, Mercury Fountain is a Calder whose relocation was both successful and imperative. It currently sits at the Fondacion Miro in Barcelona, sealed behind glass, in order to contain its toxic vapors.

Guernica, meanwhile, is now encased in glass for its own protection.

...The Spanish Pavilion [pbs.org]
A comprehensive post about El Pabellon Espanol, in Spanish [stepienybarno.es]
The Mexican Suitcase, rediscovered Spanish Civil War negatives by Capa, Chim, and Taro [icp.org]

October 19, 2010

Les Immiserables

It's hard to do bad interview with Errol Morris. But this exchange with Amanda Katz for the Boston Globe is particularly awesome:

We have this idea that reading leads to self-betterment. But reading can, properly considered, lead to self-immiserization!

Did you say immiserization?

I did indeed!

Like self-immolation, but into misery instead of fire.

Yeah, self-immolation is slightly different. That's for Brunhilde. Anyway, I picked up the Dreiser story...

related: a Morris-length rumination on immiseration by geopolicratus.

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image: vintage silver gelatin print, signed, Ezra Stoller, 1939, via morehousegallery

Do turning back another chapter or two in the history of enlarged pictures, photomurals, and photomontages, where do they turn up the most [besides/before the Museum of Modern Art]? Expos and World's Fairs. Even more than dioramas, and like the grand cyclorama paintings of earlier eras, giant photos were used by architects--in the service of governments and companies--as modernist, machine age, marketing, mass communication, and propaganda. They were basically highly credible-looking billboards.

None of which is necessarily a bad thing in itself, of course. It's interesting to note, though, who was creating and using them, because for the most part, it was not artists.

Alvar Aalto's Finnish Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair in New York turns out to have been a stunning and especially instructive example of enlarged photos integrated with modernist architecture. That's it up top in a photo by --let's just say I could just as easily title this whole series, "Everything I Know About Photomurals, I Learned From Ezra Stoller."

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In a plain, rectangular building, Aalto wrapped a second floor exhibition space with an undulating wood-slatted wall, inset with three rows of giant photos [Aalto's section plan above, via domus, I think] to create a dramatic, infotaining, 52-foot high atrium. A mezzanine restaurant [below] allowed for closer viewing of the photos, which showed, from top down, "Country," "People," and "Work," which culminated, naturally, in the bazaar of real Finnish products underneath.

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And what's that box up there hanging dramatically off the wall, besides the key to the photomurals' media context and appeal? It's a projection booth. Films, presumably on the subject of Finland's awesomeness, were projected onto the atrium wall above the exit. I can't help but see the effectiveness and popularity of large-scale photos as inextricably driven by architects' attempt to harness the modern media magic of the cinematic experience. And as antecedents for the now-ubiquitous, immersive projection and installation art works. Like steampunk Pipilotti Rist.

1939 Finnish Pavilion info [designboom]

I'm on a bit of a photomural binge at the moment. In email, Dr. Olivier Lugon, he of the awesome article about Stephen Shore's Signs of Life photomurals, points out two things about Edward Steichen [and, let's give the man credit, since he's all over and in that show, Wayne Miller, though with these brackets, where do I put the apostrophe s?] 's 1955 show, The Family of Man.

First the good news: The sole [?] remaining copy of the traveling version of The Family of Man was donated to Luxembourg, the country of Steichen's birth, and it is on permanent display at Chateau Clerveaux. Except that it just closed two weeks ago for two years, for renovation and conservation. So, book your post-Maastricht2012 roadtrips to Luxembourg now!

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Now the bad news, which is also good news: The installation photo I linked to purporting to be from The Family Of Man is, in fact, not. It is from a 1945 exhibition Steichen did at MoMA titled Power In The Pacific, which was designed by George Kidder Smith.

I say good news, though, because it pushes the photomural story back a decade, and it helps flesh out the context and function of enlarged photography as a mass communications, i.e., propaganda tool. Power In The Pacific was comprised of photographs taken by the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, which was under the command of Capt. Edward Steichen, and which included Lt. Wayne Miller. Ansel Adams would have been in there, too, but he wanted to delay enlisting for a couple of months, and Steichen wouldn't have it. Adams went on to photograph the Manzanar Japanese-American internment camp, photos of which were exhibited at MoMA in 1944. [Now those are some photomurals I'd love to see. Except, well, let's put that in another post.]

Power in the Pacific opened in January, while Steichen was still on active duty, and traveled around the country. [I did not realize this until just now, but Steichen reported to the head of the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics, Rear Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. Small world.] Many of the Naval Unit photographers' work was included in Family of Man.

Which, I just couldn't resist scanning in a couple of Ezra Stoller's magnificent photos of Paul Rudolph's installation from the original Family of Man catalogue.

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photos by Homer Page, Brassai, George Silk (on ceiling)

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photo by Pat English used as wallpaper framing an unknown landscape.

As seen in Stoller's photos, Rudolph's show is an apotheosis of the enlarged photo and mural as an architectural element, a maker of spatial experience. It's easy to say that photomurals and photomontages are architecture, or marketing, or propaganda, and not art, and it'd be true. But it's also true that photography itself was not art at the time, either. As for photomurals and giant, painting-sized photos, they were merely the things exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art.

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that sidewalk, that exit sign, that door. installation image of Stephen Shore's images, 1976

So yes, I've got a million other things to do, but thanks to this Mies thing being auctioned, and Michael Lobel's article on photography and scale--and by implication, photography and painting, pace Chevrier's forme tableau--I'm become slightly obsessed with the history of photomurals.

From what I can tell so far, I have the field largely [sic] to myself, but there is definitely some interesting work out there--and some interesting writing about it. And who should turn up as one of the innovators of these scale-blasting photomurals, but the master of the snapshot himself, Stephen Shore?

Just this past May, Swiss art historian Olivier Lugon published an article in Études photographiques titled, "Before the Tableau Form: Large Photographic Formats in the Exhibition Signs of Life, 1976."

Signs of Life: Symbols In the American City
was a groundbreaking and somewhat controversial show held at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery as part of the US Bicentennial celebrations. Conceived in 1974 on the heels of the publication of Learning From Las Vegas by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, it was, depending on who you asked, an exultation, an examination, or an elitist excoriation of commercial and populist vernacular architecture and design. They filled the gallery with iconic roadside signs, and they created dioramas of archetypal American living rooms to give all Our Stuff the museological treatment.

And to photograph it all--and to create giant, deadpan photomurals of the American residential streetscape--Izenour selected a young photographer whose seemingly unstudied roadtrip snapshots had just been shown at the Met, Stephen Shore.

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Lugon quotes Venturi & Scott Brown's explanation of the show [I'm translating back here from French, so it's probably off a bit]:

"The idea was to cross the model of the billboard, this image made for distant, fugitive, distracted perception of the driver, with that of the newspaper, which is a density swarming with information." The art museum is thus invaded by two different but interdependent media regimes: the advertising billboard's principle of rapid distraction, and the extreme informational concentration of the newspaper, two opposing models for aesthetic contemplation, where the distance of the viewer from the image is either too far or too close.
Despite working at like 100x his previous [and, for the most part, subsequent] scale, Shore's illusionistic photo backdrops manage to capture the banality he loves. Banality in a good way, of course. I think this street is my favorite:

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Maybe because he wasn't a fetishy print guy--Shore rather famously sent all his film to Kodak to be developed, just like civilians--he readily embraced the print quality of the photomurals. Which--I love this--turned out to be paintings.

Lugon explains that the Signs Of Life photomurals were made with an expensive, state-of-the-1976-art, 4-color airbrush-like printing system from the Nippon Enlarging Color Company, which had been licensed for the US by 3M. Who marketed it to trade fairs and restaurants as Architectural Painting. With the public and art world attention from Signs of Life, 3M brought Izenour on to promote the new medium for use by artists and museums.

In 1977, Popular Science ran an article explaining how Architectural Painting technology worked. A specially prepared color negative was scanned and split into CMYK, and the quick-drying paint was applied in overlapping strips, inkjet-style, by a computer controlled, scanning sprayer. 3M technicians then touched up the finished print by hand. All in, it cost $10-25/sf.

Expensive enough to be the second largest line item on Signs of Life's budget, and sexy enough that Venturi et al. used it again almost immediately. For their controversial [i.e., steaming hot mess, according to Robert Hughes, who I'll happily believe just this once] exhibition design for the Whitney's Bicentennial blockbuster, 200 Years of American Sculpture, the architects installed a 27-foot-tall cutout photo by Shore of Hiram Powers' iconic marble, Greek Slave, on the canopy of the museum. Ezra Stoller says it was "inspired by Caesar's Palace," which I'm sure was a compliment:

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Once again, I start programming a bonus DVD for "The Original Copy," Roxana Marcoci's current show at MoMA on photography and sculpture. But I think the real story here is painting and photography.

Jean Francois Chevrier gets credit for the term forme tableau, which he used to describe the large-format photographs which began to assert a place on the wall and in the discourse that had previously been reserved for painting in the 1980s [and since]. Then Lugon mentions how Sherman, Prince, Kruger, etc. had appropriated the photography of commercialism--advertising and movies [Untitled Film Stills began in 1977]. And now here's Shore, right there in the thick of things, making giant photos with his new-fangled, trade show backdrop printing techniques--which turn out in the end to actually be paintings. [And sculpture. And architecture.]

The kicker, though, is one of the complicating factors for why I'm finding photomurals so interesting right now. And I write this as a guy who has two of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' Parkett billboard/photomurals because, once you install one, it's up, it's done, it's gone: they managed to thwart the market. Here's Lugon:

The photomural reveals itself to be extremely vulnerable. Its own installation, its dependence on conditions of fixation and lamination make it enormously fragil: with rare exceptions, it does not survive its exposition. It's one of the fundamental points that distinguishes it from painting: its incapacity to become an object of collection.

When it was developed in the 19th century, photography constituted precisely a pure image for collecting: one acquired it to conserve, because it was capable of bringing all objects in the world together into a system of thesaurisation and generalized comparison, but it's difficult to show. Small and grey, taking poorly to the wall, and with a surface that deteriorates in the light the more one views it. The grand format photos of the interwar years reversed this logic: photography became the image of exposition, but it renders it improper for collecting.

Only the forme tableau would succeed in crossing these two qualities, to make of photography an image at once for exhibiting and collecting--two criteria indispensable for accessing fine art's economic system.

I guess I've gotta call Stephen Shore now and see if that's really true, about his photomurals, I mean.

Hah, it didn't occur to me until I started looking into the history of photomurals, and--thanks to Michael Lobel's great exploration of contemporary photography and scale in the new Artforum--I sucked it up and started reading Michael Fried's new book about the new forme tableau photographic hotness, but this thing looks like that thing:

mies_mural_ellwood_lama.jpg
Lot 360 Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona Pavilion 1929 photomural, printed 1966, 2m x 3.5m [greg.org via lamodern]

jeff_wall_cleaning_mies.jpg
Jeff Wall, Morning Cleaning, Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona, 1999, 1.8m x 3.5m [image via tate.org.uk]

The photomural, printed by architect/curator Craig Ellwood for LACMA's 1966 Mies van der Rohe retrospective, is, of course, of the original pavilion. Wall's 1999 image is of the re-creation.

Christian Viveros-Faune's ruthless smackdown of the Luxembourg & Dayan show of Jeff Koons' porny 1990 Made In Heaven series is an acid, but necessary reminder of how economically and critically disastrous the early 1990s were for the artist. [Though I'm sure there's a schadenfreude set who hug those Dinkins-era memories close.]

It also reminds me of a 1999 panel discussion Koons did with Rob Storr at MoMA. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of Artists Space. When asked why he had not mentioned Made in Heaven during his otherwise comprehensive conversation, Koons had said that he had repudiated the work, and that he would henceforth no longer associate himself with it. That's always stuck with me.

He also mentioned being in a difficult and highly distressing custody battle at the time with his Italian ex-wife. So maybe the repudiation had a strategic element to it, and now that his son has moved and grown up, it's time for takebacks.

If anyone goes to MoMA and tracks down that recording [which is not currently online], I hope they'll tell me if I'm remembering it wrong.

UPDATE: And I may be. greg.org reader Dan emails to say that he listened to the tape yesterday at MoMA's archive, and unless it was in part of the audience Q&A he missed, then this exchange wasn't in it. I've had a distinct memory of hearing it, though, so I'll have to figure out where that might have been. I've spoken with Koons several times--we used to live across the street from each other--but this series of work was not a topic I brought up with him.

So I think I had a breakthrough in figuring out the details of Jeff Koons' Wall Street Era.

I just wrote a post about it. It is so long. So I put it below.

October 13, 2010

What I Didn't See

The other weekend, I pigeonholed former Washington Post art critic Paul Richard after his talk, titled "What I Saw," at the National Gallery of Art. I said that I'd been interested to hear his take on public art over his 40-year career, and he answered back, "What public art?" "I guess that was my real question," I said.

Richard then made a quick and familiar explanation that public art is outdoor art, outdoor art is sculpture, museums in town focus on painting, and so sculpture generally and outdoor sculpture specifically is marginal[ized].

I had this exchange in my mind when I watched the Post's current art critic Blake Gopnik effuse over his "favorite new discovery," a massive Alexander Calder sculpture that has been sitting on one of downtown Washington's busiest intersections for almost 30 years.

Gopnik said that in a series of Post web videos called, "The Wonders Around Us." He opens another, featuring the chair-shaped granite sculptures of the late Scott Burton, thus: "I'm at the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery, looking at works I don't often look at--the ones they keep outside."

In another video, discussing Richard Lippold's 100-foot-tall steel starburst sculpture Ad Astra, in front of the National Air and Space Museum, he ends on what he imagines is a poignant and/or ironic note:

Amazing how you look at this thing, and you realize that almost no one but you is looking at it. Not a single head turned up to look at poor Richard Lippold's magnum opus.
[Let's ignore the fact that if Lippold has a magnum opus, it's probably Orpheus and Apollo, which glitters across the atrium lobby of Avery Fisher Hall. Gopnik was going for pathos, and couldn't very well call Ad Astra a "masterpiece" so soon after calling it a TV antenna.]

Days later, Gopnik was writing about Hirshhorn director Richard Koshalek's proposal to renovate the museum's sculpture garden on the Mall and add indoor exhibition space to/under it, since the current sculpture setup is "dormant," rather than "lively," and [anecdotally, at least] is always empty.

Which may be true, but that's not [quite] the point. And [for once or twice] I don't want to pick on Gopnik; in this case, I think his forthright ignoring of outdoor sculpture is probably in sync with the general population of DC. The city is stratified and carved up into ghettos for tourists and locals alike. Commuters, whether in cars or trains, on bike or on foot, rarely venture off their routes.

Outdoors, art, or sculpture in a drive-by situation quickly becomes invisible, receding into the landscape passing outside the window. But is that actually just a DC thing? I don't think so. Is it even just a city thing? Is it even just an art thing? How quickly does something become invisible, and why? What happens to art in such a context? Has someone written about this with intelligence or insight?

Is it even just outside? We like to think that art rewards close or considered looking. But how long do most people look at most artworks in most museums? [answer: for less time than it takes to read the label next to it.] Do professional art lookers sit through every blackbox video installation they enter, or do they only watch long enough to "get it"?

When I started, I thought I was writing this about DC, its critics, its particular context, sculpture, outdoor art. See how the circle keeps expanding to include everything? Now I'm a little bummed out.

Here are some things I find I have kept open for several days or weeks, which I guess is one measure of how they are sticking with me:

Andrew Russeth's look into the market and objects of Marcel Duchamp is pretty great. I've been keeping Duchamp's practice on a low burn for several months now. One thing Andrew reminded me of, is looking through the chronology in the MoMA/PMA Duchamp retrospective catalogue. For a guy who supposedly stopped making art in like 1915 or whatever, Duchamp sure spent a lot of time over the years making, picking & packing Boites en Valises.

Oh, another thing Andrew reminds me of: how great dealer Francis Naumann's book about Duchamp's objects, Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is.

Dan Hill's been really busy of late, and so the time lapse has grown between the classically long, thoughtful posts on City of Sound. Which makes it even more imperative to read his recent contemplation of the ever-so-slightly undulating grid of Carrara marble on the facade of Alvar Aalto's Finlandia concert hall in Helsinki. That guy knows how to see and think. Hil, that is. Aalto's no slouch, either, but you know what I mean.

Perhaps in unconscious preparation for a long-overdue Terry O'Shea retrospective, Grace took a photo of the biggest La Brea tar pit from the second floor of LACMA in 2007.

Here is how the books in three galleries in a row looked Saturday. This one happens to be from Pruitt's show Maccarone:

pruitt_book_gregorg.jpg

Which, by the way, I know I love the Monsters, but I was not ready for the Ikea paintings. They were rather engrossing. He paints over the Ikea knockoffs-on-canvas using a phenomenal amount of paint. The first one in the doorway, on the left, is full of flesh tones, and has this incredible surface, caused in part by Pruitt's use of Saranwrap or something to smooth down the thick, undulating surface. Of course, when he removed the plastic, the paint came up in spots, forming little peaks. In other places, gaps in the paint exposed the Ikea image below, and in still others, the creases of the plastic remained. If I'm the first, I should not be the last to consider Pruitt's Ikea paintings alongside the overpainted photographs of Gerhard Richter. Yes, that's right. At the very least, it's an interesting and unexpected reference.

Distinctively unawesome: UbuWeb has been knocked offline. [via eyeteeth]

October 11, 2010

Consider The Artist

Karen Green has a show of her most recent art work at the Space Art Gallery in South Pasadena. Thematically, it is similar to her show last year:

The work of making the pieces in "Latent Learning Experiments," Ms. Green said, held her together in the year after her husband's death. "I kept making art because I didn't know what else to do, and that's what I've always done," she said.
Coping with an unfinished life [nyt]

castelli_brillo_corbis.jpg
Bob Adelman, Castelli's house, 1965, fairly ganked and shrunk via corbis]

Now that they're selling for a million dollars or whatever, it's hard to imagine how Warhol's Brillo Box sculptures were perceived at the time they were made.

When they were lowly $300 sculptures, mechanically produced in seemingly endless supply, they were treated like furniture, traded and given away like party favors or the curatorial equivalent of hostess gifts. They were a medium of social, not economic currency. [At least not direct economic currency. Even from his early days as an illustrator, Warhol was already familiar with the art gift's ingratiating self-promotion.]

boy's bedroom

The most common exhibition strategy for a Brillo Box was as a table. Two of the three Boxes I've seen in private collections were encased in Lucite and placed next to chairs. One had a lamp on it. The photo above [from janee's flickr] shows what looks like a Stable Gallery box being used as a kid's table in a San Francisco decorator showhouse. In 1988, Leo Castelli told New York Magazine he used two encased Brillo Boxes as side tables, but in 1965 when Factory photographer Bob Adelman snapped this picture at Castelli's house, it was just the box and the phone. [See the full-size image at Corbis.]

irving_sandler_brillo.jpg
Irving Sandler's original Brillo Box, signed by its designer, Jim Harvey, image via]

The Warhol Authentication Board's report on the Pontus Hulten affair captures both the gift and furniture aspects of the dozen or so Boxes made in 1968:

Of the six Stockholm type boxes known to exist, three were given to [curator and later museum director Ollie] Granath as "souvenirs" for having helped Hulten with the Moderna Museet exhibition. Hulten kept the other three for his own use; two served as bedside tables for his children. [pp.9-10]

...

Of the three that Hulten kept, one was later given to the silkscreener who made the Malmo type boxes. [p. 10]

[Hmm, I wonder if Castelli's 1988 sale of his end table "to European collector" for $50,000 motivated Hulten to trade one of his own Stockholm type table/"souvenirs" in order to, uh, complete his edition?]

oberlin_brillo_boxes.jpgThe report also mentions the 100 Pasadena type boxes, plus "as many as 16" additional Boxes identified in the CR that were "given as gifts or sold." Two of those 16 are the Oberlin Brillo Boxes, [right] which Warhol gave to Pasadena Art Museum curator John Coplans, who later donated them to the college's Allen Museum.

All this gifty goodness and casual domestic use leads me to speculate that LACMA's "missing" Kellogg's Corn Flakes boxes--10 known, plus at least 33 and maybe more, if they produced as many as Pasadena did--were treated as thank-you gifts to donors who paid for their fabrication, or were sold to "friends and family" of the museum. So keep your eye out.

warhol_brillo_christies_98.jpg
The Brillo Box formerly known as Stockholm type, and formerly known as being by Andy Warhol, sold at Christie's in 1998.

So awesome. The Beverly Hills art dealer Robert Shapazian's bequest to the Huntingon Museum of 10 Brillo Boxes by Andy Warhol has brought the whole tangled Brillo Box versioning and authenticity debate back into the news. As the LA Times' Christopher Knight reports, Shapazian's Brillo Boxes include one 1964 Stable Gallery box--and nine Pontus Hulten Boxes, made by the legendary founding director of the Moderna Museet. And the Pompidou. And MoCA.

Until this summer, those nine would have been called Stockholm Type. But following the completion of the Warhol Authentication Board's 2+year investigation and the release of their 27-page report [Jul 19, 2010 pdf via LA Times], the 105-120 or so Stockholm Types have been split into Stockholm Types and Malmo Types.

Hulten had somewhere between 10 and 12, but not more than 15, boxes made after his 1968 Warhol exhibition at the Moderna Museet closed. He did this, he said, because Warhol told him to "make them over there." Hulten apparently pocketed that date and authorization. When, in 1990, he had 105 Boxes fabricated in Malmo for a series of exhibitions, he referred to an "old authorization." The only thing missing, it seems, was documentary evidence of this readymaking on Warhol's side.

There was extensive context provided to show that fabricating works was part of Hulten's standard practice--he had replica Tatlins and replica Duchamps made, including, even, a Large Glass, which Duchamp later signed [as a "copie conforme"]. Hulten's texts and statements show he considered Duchamp and Warhol as readymade brothers.

Following the logic of Duchamp and taking it to another power, Hulten interpreted Warhol's 1964 Stable Gallery box sculptures not as factured works of art, but as repeatable, ready-made objects, that were interchangeable with real Brillo Soap Pads cartons or replicas.
And then the Board does what authentication boards do: it examines the physical details of each type of box, distinguishing Warhols based on the traditional notion of the character of their painted surface, or facture. Stockholm types were "painted and sanded multiple times to achieve a high degree of finish before they were printed," but Malmo types "appear to have been painted with a roller." Stockholm types have mitered corners, but Malmo types [and Stable Gallery types, for that matter] have abutted joints. Malmo types are made with a nail gun, Stockholm types were nailed by hand. And so on.

The conceptual difference between these two approaches to Warhol's work is fascinating, and Hulten clearly felt justified and correct in the way he had his Brillo Boxes made. The fact that Hulten's 1968 boxes were made in 1990 seems to have been more broadly known and accepted within the Scandinavian museum and art community. But he also did not have any problem "misrepresent[ing] the works and falsif[ying] their history" to the Estate, the Board, and the Catalogue Raisonne.

And so, the Board has reclassified all Hulten boxes as "exhibition related copies" [Stockholm] and "exhibition copies" [Malmo]. Any questions?

serra_tiltedarc.jpg

What if they decided to put Tilted Arc back? What if the General Services Administration, and the Jacob Javits Federal Building folks called up Richard Serra and said, "You know what this Federal Plaza needs after all is a nice, long, angled slab of Cor-Ten steel"?

Would that be a shock? Would that be a story? A new day of some kind dawning? Because that's what's happening. Only it's not New York, it's Washington, DC. And it's not Richard Serra, it's Alexander Calder. And it's not Tilted Arc, it's Gwenfritz.

gwenfritz_nmah_toda.jpg
Gwenfritz displaced, image via si.edu's Mitch Toda

In 1965, Mrs. Gwendolyn Cafritz convinced the Smithsonian's S. Dillon Ripley that the first modern building going up on the National Mall--the Museum of History and Technology, now known as the National Museum of American History--needed some modern art to go with it. She offered her family's support for a large, abstract fountain by Alexander Calder. After site visits and negotiations, the artist settled on a fountain jets-inspired sculpture in a reflecting pond. The Cafritz Foundation donated the $400,000 needed for a 40-foot high, black steel stabile [and its landscaping] on the west end of the museum.

gwenfritz_orig_site_nmah.jpg
Gwenfritz, c.1969, in the site Calder designed it for, via si.edu

At the dedication ceremony in June of 1969 [below], the Washington Post reported that Calder unexpectedly announced the name of the sculpture would be, The Caftolin. When her turn came to speak, Mrs Cafritz said no way, they were sticking with the first choice, The Gwenfritz, and that's that. Obviously, no one objected.

gwenfritz_dedication_wapo69.jpg
via Washington Post, June 4, 1969

The Gwenfritz [not sure when the The disappeared] was Calder's first major commission in Washington, one of his most important stabiles, and Washington's first major modern and first major abstract public sculpture.

nmah_bandstand_si.jpgNone of which seemed to slow down the Smithsonian which decided in 1983 to move the site-specific sculpture and replace it with a Victorian-era bandstand from the grounds of a Jacksonville, Illinois mental hospital. Or the Washington Fine Arts Commission which approved the move over the objections of--well, of almost no one, since Calder himself had died in 1976. The Washington Post did run an angry column by Robert Hilton Simmons, though, criticizing the trouncing of the artist's intentions and the Museum's claim that the sculpture's new site, in a grove of trees on the corner of Constitution Ave & 14th Street, would "allow it to serve more fully as a focal point."

The frictionless violation of Calder's intentions was cited by public art experts as a direct precursor to the government's accelerated actions in the Tilted Arc controversy beginning in 1984-5. And yet, in the absence of an outspoken artist, Gwenfritz has sat in its altered, degraded, and supposedly more "focal" site for 26 years and counting.

All of which makes Washington Post art critic Blake Gopnik's new video visit to Gwenfritz even more jawdropping than normal:

This is actually one of my favorite new discoveries in Washington. It's by Alexander Calder. He made it in 1968, and it's called Gwenfritz. Terrible name for a really amazing, magical work of art.
Rather than ask what it means that the Post's art critic calls a 40-foot-tall Calder located at one of DC's busiest intersections--across the street from both the White House and the Washington Monument-- a "new discovery," why don't we just say it proves the paper's 1984 argument about the invisibility of Gwenfritz's displaced site. [Or maybe Gopnik, like many, many Washingtonians, is essentially inured to monuments and outdoor sculpture. A fascinating theory, perhaps, for another post.]

And rather than mock, I'll just note Gopnik's proudly uninformed self-reflexivity, and his free-associative interpretations based on the sculpture's maintenance issues. ["This seems so much a part of the period in which it was made, the tail end of American industry. You could call this a 'Rust Belt Sculpture.'" Actually, it was born when Modernism was still the official symbol of America's free and glorious future, and that its ex-pat creator had it made in France.] And his praise for the idyllic site and its relationship to the surrounding trees.

gwenfritz_gopnik.jpg

And his complete ignorance of the work's context, history, or implications when he mentions in passing, "I think the Museum's going to move this to a better site soon. That's what I've heard."

Oh?

Yes.

I called the press office today and confirmed that it is the Museum's as-yet unannounced intention to return Gwenfritz to its original site. In August, the bandstand was dismantled in preparation for its triumphant return to Jacksonville. The date for Gwenfritz's return has not been set, but it will mostly likely take place after the Museum's renovation of the west wing, or sometime between 2012 and 2014.

Or just in time for the 30th anniversary of its uprooting. You heard it here fir--let's just say that's what I heard.

Industrial Remnants [washingtonpost.com]

October 5, 2010

Going Long On Terry O'Shea

terry_oshea_slab_end.jpg
Terrance O'Shea, late 1960s, 11x11x2 slab of laminated plexiglass

This summer while poking around into the conflicted treatment of the Pasadena Art Museum's Warhol Brillo Boxes, I found a tangential mystery: 10 or 30 or 40 or more Kellogg's Corn Flake Boxes Warhol authorized for the LA County Museum of Art seem to be unaccounted for. Warhol "donated" 100 boxes in 1971; the donor/collectors on LACMA's influential Contemporary Arts Council paid for the fabrication; but now the museum only has 57 in their collection, and at least ten have turned up in private collections and/or at auction.

lacma_cac_cat.jpgStill haven't figured that out. But one thing leads to another, and so I'm looking at the catalogue for the last known appearance of "all" the Warhol boxes, a 1973 show organized by Maurice Tuchman titled, Ten years of contemporary art council acquisitions, inaugurating the new contemporary art galleries, [left] and I see this title, how can I not?

Documentation of the Artist's Act of Placing One of His Sculptures in the La Brea Tar Pit, 1971, by Terrance O'Shea.

And the work consists of a photograph--a 4x5 transparency, actually, and a notarized letter/certificate. And the sculpture is a Lucite-looking prism or wedge, and there's no letter, and the LACMA website only has a thumbnail image of the letter, no text.

And the web searches for Terrance O'Shea are incredibly meager-to-nonexistent. Even though he was apparently the first LA plastics artist to win the museum's [CAC-funded, btw] New Talent Purchase Award--in 1966.

But I turn out not to be the only guy looking at Terry O'Shea in 2010. The folks at Cardwell Jimmerson in Culver City had just restaged a pivotal 1971-2 CalArts exhibition titled, "The Last Plastics Show," which had included O'Shea's work. Both times. Here's how their press release set it up:

By then [1972] the subject of plastic, resin and arious automobile-body technologies as expressed in California art had been thoroughly explored in multiple exhibitions up and down the west coast and extending east to Detroit and the Jewish Museum in New York. Moreover, the sunny technological optimism associated with California in the nineteen sixties had suddenly darkened; the hostile reception greeting LACMA's 1971 blockbuster "Art and Technology" exhibition being a case in point. This was indeed the end of an era, as older art practices and institutions (plastics and Chouinard Art Institute, for instance) gave way to the new (Conceptualism and CalArts). It was in this historical context that the artist/curators Judy Chicago, Doug Edge, adn DeWain valentine gave the exhibition its decidedly self-mocking and surprisingly poignant title: "The Last Plastics Show."
So I spoke with Tom Jimmerson, who gave me a brief sketch of O'Shea's work and life. He was sort of an artist's artist's artist, it seems, difficult to work with, and yet friend to many. Apparently holding artspeak and underwear in equal disdain, O'Shea was known to suck in his gut and let his pants fall to the ground at openings when the conversation got too hi-falutin'.

terry_oshea_runes_68.jpg
Runes, 1968, Terry O'Shea

He made impossibly tiny works out of the shards of plastic he'd salvage from his buddies' castings: intricate capsules, spheres, eventually some book-sized slabs, which he'd keep in black velvet bags and present with a magician's flourish for the viewer to hold and manipulate. The gallery is working on an O'Shea show for 2011, Tom said, and it sounds fascinating.

But Tom didn't know the details of the LACMA piece, or the story behind it. So he put me in touch with Doug Edge, one of O'Shea's best friends [O'Shea himself died from complications associated with a life of heavy living], he'd know. And so he did. I just spoke with Edge the other day. Here's how it went down:

In 1966, Terry went to see Maurice Tuchman and showed him his work, which he pulled out from one pocket after another. O'Shea was soon awarded the New Talent Award, which meant the museum would purchase a work for the collection. Only Tuchman or whoever never really followed up. Perhaps there was some ambiguity about the artist's responsibility to produce or present options for the curator [or the collector's committee] to choose from. Or maybe the museum was supposed to approach the artist, visit his studio. Either way, though there was, in fact, a sculpture--it was a clear, polished wedge with channels carefully routed out and filled in with colored resin, like all O'Shea's sculptures, it was laboriously fabricated and detailed--the acquisition hung in the air until 1970.

oshea_lacma_wedge.jpg

On May 28 1970, O'Shea and two friends--Edge didn't name names, but would only say that one was "a real big guy--went to the museum at about 2AM, and using the fence surrounding it in some sort of catapulting maneuver, Terry had his big friend heave the little wedge into the tar pit next to the museum.

Not that LACMA knew, of course. It wasn't until many months later, perhaps precipitated by an administrator at the museum following up on an unfulfilled pledge of work, that O'Shea informed the museum that he had, in fact, delivered their work, and they were already, in fact, in possession of it.

He created a sculpture and then he--he didn't destroy it, exactly; he "placed" it in a way that it can now only be experienced as a photograph.

This work lingered in my mind for a few months. But after seeing "The Original Copy," Roxana Marcoci's show of photography and sculpture at MoMA, I really picked up the pace on tracking down O'Shea's LACMA work. Which seems almost entirely undiscussed in the art and art historical world. And yet, not only does Documentation of the Artist's Act... fit Marcoci's premise like a glove, but O'Shea himself was operating at a critical juncture in LA's artistic history, a singular link between plastics and finish fetish--which he deployed toward his own, idiosyncratic ends--and the Conceptualist irreverence of, say a Nauman or an Oppenheim, or a Ruscha, who also happened to make a work involving LACMA and fiery destruction.

But anyway, keep that all in mind while reading O'Shea's letter, which Edge graciously read to me over the phone. It's after the jump, because even though I've found some other of O'Shea's work that shows this LACMA piece was not just a one-off joke, it's hard to imagine this post going even longer that it already has.

tsc_lowe_gasgenerators_si.jpg

About this time last year, while pondering the ur-satelloons that were Prof. T.S.C. Lowe's Civil War-era aerial reconnaissance balloons operated for the Union Army, I was struck by the idea of re-creating the rather awesome-sounding and -looking portable hydrogen gas generators [above] Lowe designed and had built at the Washington Navy Yard in the fall of 1861.

I'm glad to report that the research for that project is moving ahead, thanks to the accidental discovery of the apparently definitive history of their making in Frederick Stansbury Haydon's 1940 tragically unfinished classic, Aeronautics in the Union and Confederate Armies: With a Survey of Military Aeronautics Prior To 1861. As NASM Senior Curator Tom Crouch put it in his foreword to the 2000 reissue of the book, retitled as Military Ballooning During the Early Civil War,

Aeronautics in the Union and Confederate Armies remains not only the basic account of the creation and early history of the Federal Balloon Corps, it is recognized as something of a minor classic of historical scholarship. While reviewer Paul Angle feared that readers would find the level of detail and sheer bulk of the documentation daunting, he also recognized it was "a study quite likely to be definitive."

In fact it is Haydon's uncompromising scholarly rigor and his attention to the smallest detail that gives the book its extraordinary power. The author tells us how much fabric was used to manufacture every balloon that saw federal service, and he provides the formula for the varnish used to seal the envelopes. He explains the technical details of the mobile gas generators that Lowe designed to inflate his balloons in the field and provides the precise cost of the rubber hose used in their construction. And what color were those generators? Light blue. Haydon found the receipt for the paint.

"Pale blue," we read, "with bold black lettering bearing the legend, 'Lowe's Balloon Gas Generator,' and a serial number." Twelve were built and put into service.

Since he consulted a great number of historical artifacts without mentioning one, I must assume that no generator survived for Haydon to inspect.

It's hard to explain how irrationally exuberant I am over the discovery of New World Stoneworks, which, well:

If you have ever walked along a rocky coastline or riverbed, you've seen how nature can sculpt stone with flowing water to expose its inner character. The New World Stoneworks process harnesses this force and channels that creative power into the hands of the architect or designer. Like every other material in a modern construction plan, it is now possible to detail each stone in CAD and achieve the artisan details of the past.
New World uses CAD, computer-controlled waterjet cutting, hand chiseled finishing, and just-in-time palletizing to transform stoneworking for the 21st century.

They repeatedly mention not just how fast it is to install their precision-fitted stone, but now it eliminates noise, dust, and jobsite waste. I guess it has its practical benefits, but it also sounds a little neat-freaky, frankly.

newworld_stoneworks_vid.jpg

Anyway, when I watch them build a granite doghouse [!] in two hours, and when when I read things like this:

If you have a photograph of a stonework style or historic work you want to match, we simply scan the photo and replicate the look. We can even control the degree of surface weathering.
I start wondering about the artistic possibilities of New World's technique.

Something about the ironic intersection of randomness and intention, like Rauschenberg's identically painted drips in Factum I and Factum II. Or the Japanese construction workers demanding a precise, randomly generated placement guide for the faceted platinum Olafur Eliasson tiles going into their boss's Tadao Ando house. Or Dan Colen's brick wall, frankly. The mental jobsite still has some clutter, I guess.

New World Stoneworks [via nxtform, thanks paddy]
Previously: "The most believable stone veneers in the world"

rudolph_familyofman.jpg

I've never done an actual, in-depth search for any, but I've always wondered what became of the giant photomurals architect Paul Rudolph used for the exhibition design of Edward Steichen's landmark 1955 MoMA show, Family of Man. [vintage scan above, from kelviin's flickr set [correction: Olivier Lugon points out this image is actually from George Kidder Smith's installation of another Steichen show at MoMA, Power In The Pacific, in 1945.]] I mean, part of me doesn't want to find out they got tossed into the dumpster.

That was definitely on my mind this summer when a huge, wall-sized Ansel Adams photo sold for $518,000 at the Polaroid bankruptcy auction.

But at least someone was saving some of these things. Like this giant, three-panel photomural of Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion, which is coming up at auction in LA in a couple of weeks.

mies_mural_ellwood_lama.jpg

The mural was made for a 1969 Mies exhibition organized by LA architect Craig Ellwood [below is an image, from Ellwood's monograph, of the show installed at LACMA.] Since the Barcelona Pavilion wasn't rebuilt until the 1980s, the photo itself has to be from 1929-30. It's from Mies' own archive, but I'm not seeing who took it. Ellwood was a huge Mies fan, though, and this mural was in his collection until he passed away.

ellwood_mies_lacma69.jpg

At $2,000-3,000, it's priced more as an exhibition artifact than as a print. But that's a thing about artifacts; these photomurals and giant prints seem to anticipate the wall-filling, painting-engaging future of contemporary photography, like how Cycladic art suddenly looks modern after Brancusi.

When/if any Family of Man pictures turn up, I think they should really be treated as deadweight which I'll glady take off your hands for the cost of shipping.

update: which is pretty much what the mural sold for: just $1700.

October 4, 2010

Rodeo, Cowboy

ernst_haas_rodeo57.jpg

Now I love me some rodeo, but primarily bull riding. It pains me to think how many rodeos I've missed at Madison Square Garden.

So seeing legendary Magnum photographer [wait, is there any other kind?] Ernst Haas' 1957 photo of a bronc rider in MSG turn up at Phillips de Pury's photo auction this week was a nice treat.

Of course, it's an estate print, and I can't quite tell why the estimate seems higher than most every size and edition option available for retail here.

prince_joke_gf_cowboy01.jpg

It almost makes me want to see what a thumbnail edition looks like; why should Richard Prince provide all the fun, right? And no sooner do I say that, than a Prince triptych pops up in the auction catalogue: Untitled (Joke, Girlfriend, Cowboy), 2001 actually includes a motion-blurred image of a Marlboro Man riding his horse through the snow.

Of course, that edition, published by Hatje Cantz, looks like it's still available in the primary market, too. And at a quarter the price. And the auction site even grabbed their jpeg from the publisher. I guess Phillips' operating premise is that there's still money to be made selling art to the Google-less. Good luck.

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While pursuing his MFA at the University of Miami in 1976, artist Leo Rosenblatt created a printmaking process called Stat Art, "a technique incorporating drawing and mixed media on large sheets of commercial copy film in conjunction with light sensitive newspaper printing plates.

"Stat Art allowed unusually large runs of original lithographic art to be printed on large commercial newspaper presses with no image deterioration."

Rosenblatt began working as the art director for Tropic Magazine, published on Sundays by the Miami Herald, where he continued his experiments with Stat Art, culminating in what he calls "the world's largest edition of an original lithograph," by the well-known Florida resident and prolific printmaker, Robert Rauschenberg. People Magazine was on the story:

On Dec. 30, 1979 the Miami Herald printed 650,000 Rauschenbergs as the cover of its Sunday magazine, Tropic. In essence an original lithograph, it showed images of south Florida. The artist went to the Herald pressroom and signed 150 of them, thus enhancing their value--and the jubilation of readers fortunate enough to find one on their doorstep.
650,000? Why, that's almost as many prints as the rest of Rauschenberg's editions combined!

Piece For Tropic was a full 13x21.5 sheet, wrapped around the magazine. Rosenblatt wrote an accompanying article introducing the lithograph and its concept.

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Above, via Rosenblatt's site, is Rauschenberg's original black and white artwork for Piece For Tropic. Up top is an unsigned copy, framed in Lucite, and accompanied by Rosenblatt's article, on eBay for $750. Even after 31 years, that seems ambitious for an edition of 650,000. Here's one for $975 from a gallery.

The 150 subscribers who received a signed copy were selected at random from the Herald's database; I haven't found any mention of any signed examples from the edition appearing on the market. If your grandmother was a hoarder, though, you may be in luck.

October 3, 2010

What I Heard: Paul Richard

I just got back from hearing longtime Washington Post art critic Paul Richard speak at the National Gallery of Art. Richard is an excellent speaker and an alluring storyteller. His lecture, titled "What I Saw," began with his move from scrappy beat reporter to dread-filled art critic in 1967.

Richard did an admirable job of illustrating his talk largely with artworks either from DC, or which had been shown in DC. A central, and astute, premise, which Richard used to pivot from his own inexperience to the non-academic, non-specialist enthusiasts who were his readers, to the four-decades-long wave of new museums and blockbuster exhibitions in DC was basically, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you."

And he's right. Museums--like the one he was speaking in, of course, the alternative title of his lecture could have been, "What Museums Showed Me"--brought revelatory shows to Washington: Chinese Treasures and British Treasure House treasures, DaVinci treasures, tons and tons of treasures.

And Richard paid homage to Washington's most cutting edge curator ever, Walter Hopps.

And yet. He wove his argument for universal "rhymes" and echoes in art across cultures and millennia, from IM Pei's triangles to the Washington Monument's capstone to prehistoric ochre carvings. He spoke reverently and fondly about DC's most mercurial and brilliant curator ever, Walter Hopps, and the artists he met through Hopps, like Duchamp, Warhol, Kienholz, and Tony Smith. Which got us to about 1968.

But Richard showed exactly two works--Rachel Whiteread's Ghost (1990) and Beverly Semmes' Kimberly (1994), that were made after he became an art critic.

Which I guess is as accurate an account of the history of DC's fraught, distant, marginalized relationship with contemporary art as anything else. Or at least of its newspaper and its museums.

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From the website of Sri Dharma Mittra, the Asana Yoga pioneer of Gramercy Park, and the Bernd & Hilla Becher of yogic typologies:

In 1984 Dharma completed the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures, as an offering to his Guru, and for all Yoga aspirants. This original masterpiece was meticulously assembled from over 1,350 photographs of posture variations he took of himself, all hand done before the computer age. Over 300 of these postures that are very popular today are created by Sri Dharma (of which he will only say "came through" Divine intuition). It has been an invaluable teaching tool over the past decades. You will find it in just about every yoga school and Ashram worldwide including India.
And in Washington, DC, in Cleveland Park's neighborhood framing shop, Frame Mart Gallery, where I just discovered this Ben-Day dotted, photocollaged masterpiece of the genre.

It's the only one I've ever seen, but I still feel confident in declaring Dharma Mitra's chart the most magnificent work of contemporary yogic collage art in the Western Hemisphere.

Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures by Dharma Mittra

You can still purchase the Master Yoga Chart in three different sizes--though why anyone would get any size other than the gargantuan 43x60 inch version is beyond my understanding. If it turns out to be silkscreened, I might suggest the Master Yoga Chart sarong/wall textile as a perfect complement to, and not a replacement for, the printed poster.

Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures by Dharma Mittra

Of course, Frame Art Gallery has a 43x60-in. version beautifully mounted and framed and ready to go, for an exceedingly reasonable price. They purchased a small number of them way back in the day, and this one remalns. For you, perhaps.

October 2, 2010

Ahnighito

inuit_metal_britmuseum.jpg

I don't know why, exactly, but as I was looking online for Zakaeuses this morning, the description of this early 18th century Inuit knife from the British Museum caught me off guard:

This type of knife was made and used by the Inughuit (Polar Inuit or Eskimo) of north-west Greenland. Similar pieces of iron were used to make all-purpose knives for butchering animals, preparing meat, eating and making tools.

This example was collected in 1818 during the search for the Northwest Passage by the explorer Sir John Ross (1777-1856). The Inuit told the expedition, through the Greenlandic interpreter and expedition artist Hans Zakaeus, that they believed that they lived alone in the world and thought Europeans were gods. [emphasis added]

Greenland's Inuit used ivory and bone instead of wood, and they got all their metal from meteorites. The Cape York Meteorites, to be precise, which crashed into the earth around 10,000 years ago.

ahnighito_meteorite.jpg

Explorer Robert Peary and his Inuit guide found three large fragments near Melville Bay: Ahnighito, or The Tent [above], weighs 31 metric tons, and was found on Disko Island. [Seriously.] Woman (3 tons) and Dog (400kg) were a few kilometers away on the mainland. Woman and Dog, especially, showed signs of being the primary source for Inuit iron for centuries. They were surrounded with more than 10,000 hammerstones, brought from hundreds of miles away, which were used to cut, chip, and drill off pieces of iron, which were then flattened into blades for knives, spears, and scrapers.

snow_baby_peary_cover.jpg

Peary had his wife with hum during the expedition. When their daughter Marie Ahnighito Peary was born in Greenland in 1893, Inuit apparently traveled from all over to see the pink & blonde child, who they nicknamed The Snow Baby. In the midst of ongoing media buzz and snow baby merchandising craze, her mother Josephine Peary to publish a picture book, The Snow Baby in 1901.

ahnighito_flag.jpg

I haven't seen any mention of his asking permission, but after several years of effort, Peary moved the three meteorites to New York, and eventually sold them to the American Museum of Natural History. The pylons supporting Ahnighito run through the foundation of the building into the bedrock of Manhattan. Which, given the Upper West Side's geography, is probably right there, but still. It's basically as heavy as a decent Richard Serra Torqued Ellipse.

Lance with a blade made from meteoric iron [britishmuseum.org]
Greenland's Meteorites [amnh.org]
Cape York Meteorites [wikipedia]
Account Of The Discovery And Bringing Home Of The "Saviksue" or Great Cape York Meteorites [niger-meteorite-recon.de]

Day 276: When Silent Pandas Attack!

Hahahahahahawesome. Threadless pandaterrorists used facebook to plot a silent but hilarious panda-in at Gavin Brown yesterday to protest Rob Pruitt's "alleged misappropriation [to put it mildly]" of a panda t-shirt design by Jimiyo and AJ Dimarucot.

Never mind that Rob "obviously appropriated" the design and transformed it significantly, this is exactly the sweetest response all the artists involved deserve. [via @analogc]

October 1, 2010

AP

prince_untitled_cowboy2003_ap.jpg

It's taken a while, mostly because I've been slack about following up on them, but the artist proofs from the 20x200.com edition of my print, Untitled (300x404), are in the mail and should be here very soon. I've seen the smaller sizes--they looked sweet enough for me to go ahead with the 20x200 edition--but it's the largest sizes I'm most eager to see, especially the 30x40-inch print, which is the same size as Richard Prince's Untitled (Cowboy), 2003. The next project will be to get the two works together, Untitled (300x404) and Untitled (Cowboy), and see them side by side. Which means tracking down the Princes in their natural habitats.

Untitled (Cowboy), 2003, is an edition of 2, with one AP. It's Ektacolor [Ektacolor being a more marketable way of saying C-print] on board. I know the owner of one of the two editions. As it happens, Prince donated his AP to Tibet House, which auctioned it at Christie's in 2004. [It was purchased for $298,700 by Michael Crichton, who died in 2008. It was sold again last May for $602,500.]

At first, I assumed that Prince's work had been donated for a typical charity auction; in reality, that was the only piece in Christie's contemporary evening sale to benefit Tibet House. Apparently, it was arranged by Tibet House's art advisor, the independent curator/advisor Diego Cortez [the pseudonym of James Curtis], who is something of an artwork donation impresario. He also arranged for Prince to donate artwork to The Wooster Group, and he got Prince to design the poster for TWG's production of Hamlet.

prince_hamlet_wooster.jpg

October 1, 2010

Ditto That

ditto_300x404.jpg

Huh, I didn't notice that, but maybe I liked Ditto's limited edition Why Shapes What? book so much because of its gorgeously saturated palette?

I wonder what Untitled (300x404) would look like stencil-printed on a Riso V8000? How would that even work? I will investigate.

Meanwhile, I hear from attendees that the known-to-be-beautiful 20x200.com prints of Untitled (300x404) do, in fact, look good at the Affordable Art Fair this weekend. As an added bonus: it's being held indoors.

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 October 2010, in reverse chronological order

Older: September 2010

Newer November 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

archives