November 2010 Archives

nancy_lachambre_balloon-1895.jpg

Rather than post this beautifully composed 1895 photo of Henri LaChambre's rather awesome gas balloon inflated at Nancy, I should've freakin' bought it by now.

Of course, my problem is that, now that I've seen it, I've filed it away for future flea market reference, where I'm sure I'll just stumble upon a photomural-sized print of it for a euro.

Anonymous - Henri Lachambre and His Balloon at Nancy, France, $450 [vintageworks.net, thanks to whoever sent this to me, I forget, sorry]

Previously: Les Ballons du Grand Palais

I've got a lot of browser tabs to clear before I head to Miami.

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Am I not listening or looking in the right place, or is there really not enough discussion about MoCA's exhibition of drawings by the composer/architect/polymath Iannis Xenakis?

Xenakis was a longtime collaborator with Le Corbusier. Philipp Oswalt credits him with the introduction of light and projection as tools and "subject[s] of architecture" in the dramatic chapel of the convent at La Tourette.

Tools which would come in handy in the multimedia Poeme Electronique, whose film projection cones and soundscapes drove the form of the 1958 Philips Pavilion [top].

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Anyway, the drawings include musical scores, which sometimes appear interchangeable with Xenakis' schematics and sketches for his later independent installations, including the Polytope for Montreal, above, an abstract light and sound environment, which he created around the time of Expo 67. The Xenakis archive is at the National Library in France. Not sure how accessible it is, but LA might be the best/easiest shot.

Related: Philips Pavilion models spotted in Amsterdam

It's less than a week away, and I can't believe I haven't hyped it yet:

I'm giving a presentation this Friday in Miami during Art Basel Miami Beach titled, "Relational Aesthetics For The Rich, Or A Brief History Of The Gala As Art."

It's based on this similarly titled blog post, which pulls together a lot of things I've been fascinated by over the years, but which was inspired by MoCA's Annual Gala, which the museum relabeled "a Happening," and which they turned over to Doug Aitken to design as an artwork.

At least that was Jeffrey Deitch's original pitch; the results--and the history and context of museum gala art--turn out to be a little more complex.

Anyway, the talk is part of #rank, a program put together by Bill Powhida and Jen Dalton, which will be held at SEVEN, the shared exhibition and program space in Wynwood organized by a group of awesome New York dealers.

There are so many people to thank, starting with Magda Sawon from Postmasters and artist Michelle Vaughan, who are the honorary co-chairs of the presentation. And there are the gift bag sponsors, of course, who will be announced soon. I hope.

The gig goes down at 1pm, and it should be available for live streaming online, in case you are too busy making acquisitions at ABMB or something. But then you won't get a gift bag...

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At least now we know what NY Times museum building critic Nicolai Ourossoff has been up to lately.

Just as I am thinking I need to add Saadiyat Island and the names of the grand new patrons of the arts from Qatar and Abu Dhabi to the greg.org art world pronunciation guide, I find a few things blocking my view of Our Glorious Cosmopolitan Future.

Since at least as far back as Rem Koolhaas bold, neo-Nixonian embrace of CCTV, a policy of architectural engagement has liberated our Western starchitects from the tyranny of conscience, of having to think or worry about the political or ethical unpleasantness of their state clients. I guess that exemption extends to our Western, liberal institutions, too--our Louvres, our Guggenheims, our NYUs, our Georgetowns.

But seeing as how I am not in one of these cultural oases and thus am not at risk of getting fired, deported, or arrested, I'll just put some of the problematic parts in bold:

The consultant who works in fear of losing his/her job:

"There are religious extremists everywhere in the Middle East -- even here," said an Arab consultant who has worked on several developments and spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired. The sheik, this person said, believes the cosmopolitan influences of the projects may help "open up the minds of these younger Emiratis before they go down that road."
The international museum franchises walled off in hermetic playgrounds for the ruling class:
The new museums will be embedded in a kind of suburban opulence that can be found all over the Middle East, but rarely in such isolation and on such an expansive scale as in Abu Dhabi. The concrete frames of a new St. Regis hotel and resort and a Park Hyatt are rising just down the coast from the museum district, along Saadiyat Beach. Nearby, a 2,000-home walled community is going up along an 18-hole golf course designed by Gary Player, to be joined eventually by several more luxury residential developments and two marinas for hundreds of yachts. A tram will loop around Saadiyat, connecting these developments to the museums.
But wait, didn't Jean Nouvel just say he'd "always wanted" to "make the museum part of the city, not just a building?"

The temporary workers' paradise that doesn't actually exist yet, except as a tourist stop for foreign reporters:

In some sense this village embodies a version of the cosmopolitanism Abu Dhabi says it is trying to create. But even if it is completed as planned, it will house only a small fraction of the city's hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers; the rest will presumably live in cramped quarters in the city's industrial sector or in faraway desert encampments. And once the museums are completed, a spokesman for the government development agency told me, it will be bulldozed to make room for more hotels and luxury housing.
And the kicker:
Even many educated Arabs in and outside Qatar -- among the museums' target audience -- see a disturbing inconsistency in these grand plans.

"Some have lived here 50 years," said Fares Braizat, a Jordanian professor at Qatar University who has been working on a census of foreign nationals. "They speak Arabic with a Qatari dialect, but they are still not allowed Qatari citizenship" or any of the enviable perks that go with it: free education and health care, interest-free government loans, preference in hiring, a sense of equality.

Here I would have to take issue with Mr. Ouroussoff's characterization. Whatever feeling a Qatari citizen derives from his large, exclusive bundle of "enviable perks," a "sense of equality" is clearly not among them.

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But it's not all bad. There's something about Qatar's National Museum that gives me hope:

Inside, displays of tents, fabrics, saddles and other objects, as well as enormous video screens that will immerse the visitor in the experience of the desert, are meant to convey both the humble origins of Qatar's royal family and the nobility of Bedouin life.
If we can get work through our tribalistic present, beyond both Qatar's exploitative foreign worker practices and American jingoist sneers at the mere mention of Al Jazeera, maybe there will be a shared, globalized, nomadic future where the humble nobility of Bedouin life is celebrated as an aspirational ideal, not just an exotic throwback. Maybe a culture rooted in hospitality and mutual responsibility that subsumes, or at least reconciles the twin forces of rootless disconnection and nationalism which shape each individual's worldview.

I'm not sure where billion-dollar museums shaped like falconry hoods or hyper-magnified sand crystals will fit in such a culture, but maybe that's the point.

Building Museums, and a Fresh Arab Identity [nyt]

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Sforza to the end.

The AP caption: "John Scott cleans the podium on the stage in preparation for the groundbreaking ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010." [daylife

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Something Holland Cotter wrote today made me really think: "Short Circuit is a sweet reminder of Rauschenberg's collegial generosity; he believed in art making as a communal endeavor, and acted on that belief."

Collegial generosity is certainly one way to look at it. Because Rauschenberg had exhibited in the Stable Gallery's Second and Third Annuals, he was supposed to be able to select artists to show in the Fourth Annual. For whatever reason, though, in 1955 Eleanor Ward decided only Stable alumni would be allowed in that year, and so Rauschenberg's picks--Short CircuitJasper Johns, Ray Johnson, Stan VanDerBeek, and Susan Weil--were rejected.

And so the story goes that Rauschenberg smuggled them into the show anyway, as elements in his own combine painting. [It's not clear why VanDerBeek's work wasn't included; Cotter says he didn't get a piece finished in time, but I've also read that VanDerBeek declined the combine invite.]

Rauschenberg invited the artists to, as Walter Hopps put it, "collaborate in his piece." A generous gesture, to be sure, but also a complicated one.

Short Circuit triggers a whole host of questions that I find the quite interesting: What is the status and relationship of the artworks Rauschenberg incorporated into his combine-painting? Do they still function as autonomous works? If so, why? Are they substantively different from the other cultural detritus he used--newspapers, postcards, fabric, objects? If not, why not?

In the bluntest sense, these questions are answered by the invitation for the show, which mentions none of Rauschenberg's three collaborators:

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Rauschenberg's generous inclusion of his ex-wife's painting, his friend's collage, and his partner's iconic flag painting--oh, wait, that's right, this was the first flag painting of Johns ever to be exhibited, and it was as an element of another artist's work--and behind a door to boot. Did anyone in 1955 even know that Jasper Johns' Flag wasn't Robert Rauschenberg's flag?

The story of Johns' promethean debut at Castelli Gallery in 1958 is well known. In this 1969 telling of it to Paul Cumming, Castelli visits Rauschenberg's studio in 1957, and then they pop down to Johns' studio, which is full of targets and flags, and Castelli offers him a show on the spot. Which makes the cover of Art News and changes the New York art world overnight. But check this out:

Jasper Johns was a real discovery in a certain sense because, although he existed, not many people knew about him. I saw him for the first time in a show at the Jewish Museum. That was in March of 1957, and that was the Green Target that the Modern has now. I saw that green painting. It didn't, of course, appear as a target to me at all. It was a green painting. I didn't know that he was doing targets. Well, going around and seeing the familiar painters of that time.... It was a show that had been organized by Meyer Schapiro and other people. There was Rauschenberg and Joan Mitchell, and, oh, all that younger generation. Well, I came across that green painting, and it made a tremendous impression on me right away. I looked at the name. The name didn't mean anything to me. It seemed almost like an invented name--Jasper Johns.
[Emphasis added on the parts where, holy crap, two years after exhibiting Short Circuit, there's still a question whether "Jasper Johns" exists.]

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Johns had shown flags at Bonwit Teller [including White Flag, which he eventually gave to the Met], where he and Rauschenberg dressed windows under the commercial pseudonym Matson Jones. Except for a drawing in a group show, Johns only exhibited a flag painting under his own name in 1957, in a group show at Castelli a few weeks after their fateful studio visit.

Rauschenberg's Short Circuit--and Johns' first and most immediately important paintings of flags and targets--were created when the two artists were closest, and when Johns was essentially unknown. When the flag was stolen from Short Circuit, both artists were famous, and their split was so acrimonious, they were not speaking to each other.

These relationships and collaborations, these formative histories of the New York art world, and these contestations of autonomy, authorship, sourcing and appropriation all seem to converge on Short Circuit. And it makes me wonder, again in the bluntest terms, whose flag was it, and who was it stolen from?

In his review of the Robert Rauschenberg show at Gagosian, where the work is somehow different because it is for sale, Holland Cotter explains Short Circuit's origin as an attempt to get his recommended artists' work into the Stable Gallery's group show, but then whoa:

Only Mr. Johns and Ms. Weil, Rauschenberg's ex-wife, came through with work on time, so into the cabinet went a little painting by each And, with one significant change, those two paintings are still there: Mr. Johns's picture, a mini-version of one of his soon-to-be famous flag images, was stolen in 1965 and replaced by an Elaine Sturtevant copy.
Really? 1965? But didn't I just get finished explaining how it was actually stolen in 1967? Yes, yes I did.

Or so I thought.

I won't dwell on the fact that, though they were extremely responsive and helpful, Gagosian had already told me neither they nor the Rauschenberg Foundation had any record or idea of when Johns's Flag painting was stolen.

But as I was about to send in my correction to the Times, I re-read Walter Hopps' 1976 account:

The original flag painted by Jasper Johns was subsequently stolen and was replaced by a replica painted by Elaine Sturdevant [sic] at the time of the exhibition "Art in Process: The Visual Development of a Collage," held at the Finch College Museum of Art in March 1967.
And you know what, it might be possible that the "subsequently stolen" does not, in fact, refer to the March 1967 show, and that the Sturtevant replacement took place "at the time of exhibition." That is a possible reading.

But it doesn't change the fact that texts and critical coverage of the Finch show so far makes no mention of the theft, or the replacement. And that a year into the traveling exhibition, Short Circuit's cabinet doors, which visitors had been able to open, were now nailed shut.

I'd also add that while the 1976 catalogue text mentions the theft, the reproduction of Short Circuit seems to include the original Johns flag. It certainly does not depict the Sturtevant Johns Flag that's in there now. It's almost as if the Sturtevant replacement decision was made in time for the 1976 show/catalogue, but not in time to have it photographed. [Or maybe Rauschenberg and/or Hopps didn't see a need to rephotograph it? Which would be a separate set of interesting issues.]

So either Cotter knows something, or he's wrong, and is just latching onto 1965 as the theft & replacement date because that's when Sturtevant first showed her Johns Flags. Either way, I've added him to the interview list.

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Alright, the search is on; I'm working to trace the history of Robert Rauschenberg's 1955 combine Short Circuit and especially to figure out what happened to Jasper Johns' flag painting, and when and how Sturtevant's flag painting got in there, and what all that means.

When I first wrote about Short Circuit last week, there was no date or story or anything about how the flag disappeared, only that it had been described as "stolen."

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In his 1997 Rauschenberg catalogue, Paul Schimmel had mentioned the Johns Flag--which, like a painting by Rauschenberg's ex-wife Susan Weil, was incorporated into the combine behind two cupboard-style doors--had been stolen while the work was on exhibit. Now I've found out where and when that was, I think.

In 1976, Walter Hopps curated a Rauschenberg retrospective at the National Collection of Fine Arts, which is now the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art. From the catalogue:

The original flag painted by Jasper Johns was subsequently stolen and was replaced by a replica painted by Elaine Sturdevant [sic] at the time of the exhibition "Art in Process: The Visual Development of a Collage," held at the Finch College Museum of Art in March 1967. In his statement for the exhibition catalogue, Rauschenberg commented, "This collage is a documentation of a particular event at a particular time and is still being affected. It is a double document."

For Rauschenberg the work remains "a double document" of the past and the ongoing present. Recently, in commenting on the stolen encaustic, he has stated, "Some day I will paint the flag myself to try to rid the piece of the bad memories surrounding the theft. Even though Elaine Sturdevant did a beautiful job, I need the therapy."

Much to unpack there, especially in that second quote. Wow.

But at least now we have a date and a place: Finch College Museum, March 1967. Finch was a women's college on the Upper East Side. From the archival photos, the Museum looks like the basement floor in one of the school's townhouses on East 78th Street [between Madison and Park]. In the 60's, under the direction of Elayne Varian, the Finch Museum had a pretty advanced contemporary exhibition program.

[One of the top Google hits for Finch College turns out to be from Calvin Tomkins' Rauschenberg bio. Legendary dealer Ivan Karp tells the story of how he was showing some girls from Finch around Castelli Gallery when Roy Lichtenstein walked in with his first comic panel paintings under his arm.]

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"Art in Process" was an innovative series of exhibitions that placed sketches and models alongside finished works to examine the working practices of contemporary artists. An "Art in Process" show on Structure, for example, which went up in 1966 within months of the Jewish Museum's seminal "Primary Structures" show, contained works by Lewitt, Judd, and Smithson, including the latter's Enantiomorphic Chambers [on the right in the image above, via aaa.si.edu], which, ironically, was also lost.

Anyway, after its Spring 1967 debut at Finch, the Collage show traveled under the auspices of the American Federation of Arts. Though I can't find the complete list of venues, in February 1968, it came to the Phillips in Washington, DC, where the Post's sportswriter-turned-art-critic Paul Richard panned it by repeatedly dismissing collage as mindless random gluing and comparing it to the tacky "Snoopy's valentines" everyone had just exchanged.

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Except for Short Circuit, that is, which Richard called, "the best in the show." Take note of his description, though, and that he specifically mentions reviewing all the extra documentation of the show in the Phillips back offices:

(When first exhibited, viewers could open the collage's two hinged doors to discover two paintings, one a flag picture by Jasper Johns. They're no longer visible. The doors have been nailed shut.)
No mention of the theft, the missing Johns, or any replacement. And the doors are shut on the paintings by the artist's ex-wife and ex-partner. No musing, please!
Despite the mind-boggling variety of its components, the piece somehow holds together. The composition is bright and strong. It's nice to think about (the viewer can muse on the various associations generated by relics of Miss [Judy] Garland, Lincoln and [John] Cage), but tracing the development of this work would be a hopeless task.
We shall see, Mr. Richard, we shall see.

Brooklyn-based photographer Ofer Wolberger is right in the middle of an interesting project: The Photographic Book Series, twelve limited edition artist books, each with a specific subject or theme. Sometimes he uses source photos, sometimes they're [presumably] his own.

The newest volume, #7 - Covers, is actually a handmade book of photocopied hardcover books, and it's definitely more interesting than it might sound. Part Nina Katchadourian, part Sigmar Polke, it's really quite poetic and beautiful.

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Another standout from the Series is #3 - Town, and I'm not just saying that in a "Look, shiny object!" way. But Town is a series of photos of a large silvered canvas/painting propped up on the edge of a gel-lit stage. Its nice combination of abstract and documentary makes it more Moholy-Nagy than Walead Beshty. And it makes me think it could have been shot after a Silver Clouds party at Warhol's Factory. I.e., awesome.

Publications | Ofer Wolberger [oferwolberger.com]
Book trailer for Covers from Ofer Wolberger [vimeo]

November 21, 2010

Please Sir, I'd Like Some Meer

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Also up at Phillips today was this nice little [25x25cm] seascape, Meer (Sea), a 1973 offset print by Gerhard Richter.

Richter replaced the sky in one snapshot with the sea from another. This particular example sounds like it had some condition problems, but with an edition size of 250, plus a dozen or more proofs, I'm sure a better one is never too far away.

Meer (Sea), 1973 [gerhard-richter.com]
Related? Lichtenstein's Electric Seascapes
Hiroshi Sugimoto

November 21, 2010

Washington Monument Peace Sign

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An interesting curatorial pairing where you'd least expect it: deep in the middle a random, Sunday afternoon print sale at Phillips de Pury.

Lot 327: Washington Monument, is an unnumbered edition sliced up from a wallpaper Andy Warhol made in 1974 for an unknown commission, but apparently never installed. Dia had 322 rolls of the stuff, which it gave to found the Warhol Museum.

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With a few takebacks, I guess, because the Warhol let Dia Beacon install a whole roomful of the stuff in 2005. It looks kind of nice and abstract, a nice background for those Pasadena Brillo Boxes. [image via nyt]

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Meanwhile, Lot 328 [above], was Washington Monument, a properly signed and numbered lithograph by Willem de Kooning, published in 1970. The composition's almost identical to Warhol's, as if both artists used the same photo or postcard for a source. Or as if Warhol used de Kooning's print, which would be pretty unusual. Several of these have come up at random auctions this year: #13/50 at Bloomsbury; #14/50 at Swann.

An abstract representation of an abstract original, de Kooning's Washington Monument is uncontroversial enough to be displayed in a wide range of otherwise complicated settings.

The Phillips version is #26/50, and it was sold by the defunct law firm Dreier, LLP, which was implicated in a massive securities trading fraud sideshow to the Bernard Madoff scandal.

And two related, slightly larger charcoal drawings, dated 1969-70, are on loan from the Estate to the US Ambassador's residence in London [pdf].

The drawings are untitled, but every numbered lithograph I've found is titled simply, Washington Monument. But a Connecticut antique dealer once had a signed, proof, which apparently came from a close friend of the artist. The title of the work, the friend said, is actually Washington Monument Peace Sign, and in the bottom corner, in place of an edition number, de Kooning put a little peace sign.

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November 21, 2010

Blurmany: The Dortmund School

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More of Germany is appearing on Google Street View, and we can start to see what 240,000 blurred out residences looks like in a country of 8 million-plus: a lot. Far from being a marginalized fraction, the blurred structures pop right out; they'll be the prominent, even the defining feature of Google's virtual German landscape.

[How ridiculously cursory is this opt-out scheme, by the way? Does the blur go with the house, or the owner? Can an owner take his Street View privacy with him when he moves? Will blurred residences have an easier or harder time selling? Who gets to decide to blur a multi-family apartment? The landlord? A majority of the tenants? Whatever else they think of it, Germans should recognize that this blurring is unsustainable as it stands, and that Google is certainly treating it as a transient fix for getting through the immediate political situation.]

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And in just a matter of days, it seems that the algorithm Google is using to blur out the houses has changed. The result, as seen in this completely random collection of houses I just surfed up in Dortmund, is all blur and no pixel.

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It's also distinctively planar, with large, overlapping, color-averaging tiles, like looking through scrims or through a construct of semi-opaque glass. If they're still Richters, they're the glass paintings,

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as assembled in space by Helio Oiticica.

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At least that's what I'd probably use to reconstruct the blur structures in real life. Probably set up a very slight scaffolding of polycarbonate sheets, experiment with the films and filters to get the right optical effect. And then rephotograph the whole site.

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Without searching through the German web, I'll naturally assume that I'm the first to think of this brilliant artistic idea. But I'm just as sure someone on the ground will beat me to the execution. And as Germans acclimate to this Street View, I'm sure that the Blurman landscape will begin to creep into the aesthetic consciousness in a whole host of ways.

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Previously: Blurmany and the Pixelated Sublime

November 19, 2010

Cage's 4'33" For Orchestra

The only thing cooler than this 2006 televised [!] performance of John Cage's 4'33" by the BBC Orchestra is the fact that at least 1.5 million people have watched it since. [via permanent link |

November 18, 2010

Fun In Paint

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I don't know why I do it either, but here is Washington Post arts blogger Blake Gopnik ruminating on just what it is that makes Arshile Gorky's paintings so upbeat, so appealing:

The most striking thing about this AbEx show is how cheery and bright many of its paintings seem - as cheery as Gorky's "Garden [in Sochi]" - given that the movement is so often associated with gloomy existentialism, post-war angst and the dark Freudian unconscious. Could it be that its true roots are in the post-war boom and a country, and a city, coming into their own as cultural and economic hot spots? (But if so, why is Gorky having fun in paint in 1941 already? Or could it be that painting is an inherently affirmative, cheery act, and that painters can only ever mimic gloom, with the risk that silver linings may show through at any moment, in any work.)
Fun in paint? I'd have gone with, "tortured nostalgia for the garden his family had to flee during the Armenian genocide, during an attempt to blot out the horrors of the forced refugee march where his mother died of starvation, but not before instilling in her young son a desperate ambition which became the altar upon which a perennially destitute, lying, insecure Gorky sacrificed his own family and which, after abandonment, cancer and a debilitating car wreck, led him to hang himself from a tree." But if you see "fun in paint," I guess that's...

Anyway, the Garden in Sochi paintings are more properly considered surrealist, transitional, or proto-AbEx, similar to early the figurative/narrative/symbolic work by the other two members of the Fun In Paint School, Pollock and Rothko.

An interview with Gorky's wife Agnes Magruder, conducted on the occasion of Tate Modern's Gorky retrospective. She seems far more interesting than the subject matter lets on. [tate.org.uk]
Related: Gorky was an expert camofleur

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The Rauschenberg show at Gagosian is pretty incredible, but then again, I've had Walter Hopps' incredible show of Rauschenberg's 50s work imprinted on my brain from day one.

Anyway, here's a little art history mystery about one of the great 50s pieces in the show, Short Circuit, 1955, which, in addition to a Ray Johnson collage and a Susan Weil painting, originally included a small flag by Jasper Johns, the first one he ever exhibited publicly.

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The flag that's in there now is by Sturtevant [above], because, as Calvin Tomkins put it,

Some years later, after Johns had become famous, the little flag painting mysteriously disappeared from the mother-work. Later still, a dealer brought a small Johns flag into Leo Castelli's gallery and asked if Leo could identify it--he said it had been offered to him by a third party. Castelli recognized it immediately as the missing element from Short Circuit. He told the dealer it had been stolen, and said he did not want it to leave the gallery. The dealer refused to part with it. He took the little painting away, and nobody has seen it since.
Nice, but not true. At least two people have seen it since: the dealer, and the perp. If they fenced it elsewhere, you can add a third or more. You stay classy, art world!

So what's it like, when did it get lifted, and more importantly, where is it?

Thomas Crow's history makes it sound like the Short Circuit flag was straight [sic] oil on canvas, and that Johns only later switched to the more laborious, anti-painterly medium of encaustic, which he showed in 1958. [uh, or maybe it was encaustic after all. see below.] Either way, Sturtevant's flag certainly looks more Johnsian than Johns's flag.

Short Circuit stayed in Rauschenberg's own collection, which would necessarily limit who had access to the work. Sturtevant's first show, in 1965, included Johns Flag, which only puts a starting date for when Rauschenberg might have had the work replaced, but provides no help in figuring out when Johns' own flag went missing.

Let's try and nail down some of these dates, though, and then see who might have been around Bob's place at the time, shall we?

update:


  • OK, it sounds like Johns' flag was still there when Leo Steinberg was talking to Bob and Jasper in 1961.

  • Wait, in a footnote in his 1994 book Figuring Jasper Johns, Fred Orton says the Short Circuit flag is, in fact encaustic, and that the combine is discussed in the Smithsonian's catalogue for Rauschenberg's 1976 retrospective. No mention of a missing flag, or Sturtevant.

  • Am I looking way too early? Well, at least by 1997 [whoops, 2005], the catalogue for Paul Schimmel's MoCA Combines show is calling the flag an "Elaine Sturtevant replica."

  • It also says the flag was stolen "by an unknown viewer," so it was taken while on exhibit? Bonus Short Circuit trivia: Rauschenberg also invited Stan VanDerBeek to stick a work in, but he declined.

Huh, a good question from a British reader, who sent along an amusingly embarrassing story from the Daily Mail about some poor chump reporter's attempt to authenticate a glaringly obvious Johns forgery he bought for a hundred pounds on Portobello Road: has this Short Circuit flag ever been registered as stolen? Because it sounds like Scotland Yard hasn't heard of any missing Johns.

Off The Wall: A portrait of Robert Rauschenberg [excerpt via google books, thanks art unwashed]

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Ausgezeichnet, this is so awesome.

Amidst a fierce, ongoing, politicized debate, Google has released the first Street View panoramas for Germany. To assuage privacy concerns, the company is allowing homeowners to assert their Verpixelungsrecht, that is, their Right to Pixelation.

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Some 240,000 locations are thus set to be blurred out. From what I can understand, though, the rollout is still in its early stages, and so only a handful of blurred buildings have gone live.

And the hunt is on. The few opt-out houses spotted so far have fed the media firestorm anew, and the examples cited by Der Speigel or FAZ [Google Translate] from Oberstaufen, the tourist village which first invited Street View to town, have been removed by Google "for review."

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At the center of the debate is my old blogging 1.0 buddy Jeff Jarvis, whose rather hyperbolic post on the subject, "Germany, what have you done?" was translated and republished by FAZ. [thanks greg.org reader/cinematographer Sanne Kurz, who tweeted about Jeff's column.]

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Sanne had referenced Germany's complicated history of a giant state surveillance apparatus that elisted millions of citizens to spy on each other. Jeff's having none of it:

This is not a matter of privacy. And don't tell me it has a damned thing to do with the Nazis and Stasi; that's patently absurd. If anything, the Stasi would have exercised their Verpixelungsrecht to obscure their buildings from public view, taking advantage of the cloak of secrecy the idea provides. That's the danger of this.
Well, who's Stasi now, because that is exactly what is happening next door in the Netherlands, where the Intelligence and Defense Ministries actively distort the Google Maps imagery and block Street View access for dozens of sites they have unilaterally deemed sensitive. [Search greg.org for "Dutch Camo" for details, such as they are.]

While obscuring active military bases or the royal palaces may be justified for security reasons, the Dutch government's Google Maps pixelation program also renders maps of entire villages and town centers unusable as it hides abandoned NATO weather stations--or nothing at all.

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The state needs to be held accountable in its efforts at information control and censorship, but I can't disagree more strongly with Jarvis's unnecessarily extreme, incendiary language to criticize the individual assertion of some control over his own data. Referencing the Street View pano above:

Ugly, isn't it? As someone in the audience said when I spoke on the topic at a meeting of the Green party in Berlin a few weeks ago, it is as if they are digitally bombing the German landscape.
Actually, no it isn't, and--holy crap, wtf?--no it isn't.

Google's German Street View blurring looks utterly fantastic. And for that matter, fantastically German. By which I mean, of course, that it looks like a Gerhard Richter painting.

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Nurses, 1965, image: gerhard-richter.com

Richter's signature blurring technique calls into question the status, context, and veracity of the photographs that are his source material. Richter, Rosemary Hawker has argued,

refers not to the visual plenitude and truth that we usually associate with photography, but rather to its moments of representational inadequacy, to photographic blur and lack of focus that results in deliberately obscured imagery.
It's worth noting that Richter began his blurred photo-painting series soon after fleeing East Germany.

I would think that the persistence of a few deliberately obscured images on Google Street View will serve as a useful corrective to the convenient, info-rich panorama's seductive call, and will help remind users that they are, in fact, not in "the German Landscape," but in a corporately controlled, commercial, and contested simulacrum of it.

richter_two_fiats.jpg
Two Fiats, 1964, via gerhard-richter.com

Far from "bombing" the supposed digital public sphere, the people who exercise their Verpixelungsrecht are asserting the individual's right to virtual protest, to engage the digitization of his entire world on his own terms.

richter_mustang.jpg
Mustang Squadron, 1964, image: gerhard-richter.com

Google has filed for patents to place advertising, "virtual billboards," within Street View, reserving for itself the right to control and alter its ostensibly objective representation of the world for its own reasons, including, but not limited to, its own commercial gain. If someone painted their URL on the front of their store, would there be an outcry if Google threatened to blur it out unless they got a piece of the action?

Jeff argues that it's folly for politicians to restrict innovation like geo-tagged facial recognition that, who knows, might be useful in locating Katrina victims. But who's to say that, when our reality gets augmented to death with advertising and tracking, opt-out blurring isn't where the real value will be? It's the unlisted number of the future.

Or the vanity phone number. As an inadvertent-but-eager connoisseur of Google Map pixelation techniques, I could just as easily envision a premium Street View image management business emerging out of this controversy. In fact, it's already started.

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Just look at the unsightly street closure and construction project right in front of the Tourism Office of the otherwise-scenic Oberstaufen. Sheesh, no wonder they baked Street View a cake. Now check out the screenshot Spiegel got, where an embedded photograph from Panoramio helps clean things right up, mostly:

oberstaufen_gmap_spiegel.jpg

The Street View we see now is a mere shadow of the virtual world--or the virtualized real world--to come, and I'd like to think that when it comes to building and designing that world, digital citizens will be able to vote with more than their wallets.

At the very least, when people start paying Google to decorate their Street View houses with Blingee crap and animated gifs, mark my words: we'll be grateful for the visual respite these Richterian Street View sites will provide.

Related, actually from over a year ago: Gerhard Street View

November 13, 2010

Sea Force One

Christoph Brech is the master of the meaningful tight shot. In Sea Force One, he focuses in on a pair of workers in a small boat who are scrubbing the hull of Francois Pinault's black yacht in front of Punta della Dogana during the 2009 Venice Biennale.

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The work is included in "Portraits and Power: People, Politics & Structures," at Strozzina in Firenze. It is interesting to compare their writeup of the piece--

We do not know who was on board the yacht - possibly François Pinault himself, the famous French luxury goods entrepreneur and primary investor in the new Venetian exhibition area. Brech has turned his camera on a moment that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, deliberately choosing not to record the sumptuous affirmation of wealth of the yacht. It is the contrast between the size of the latter and that of the small boat, or between the black hull of the yacht and the evanescent white of the soap and of the reflections upon the water, that brings out the greatness of the vessel, the actual size of which we do not grasp. The artist succeeds in moving beyond the façade of power and wealth by stopping at its surface. He seems to be suggesting that the strategy for the construction of an image of power may lie in its antirepresentation: i.e., the "myth" of power is created by veiling or concealing the identity of those who hold it.
--with the artist's own:
The yacht Sea Force One is anchored in front of a museum at the Punta della Dogna in Venice. The waves of the lagoon are reflected in the black varnish on the ship´s hull.
From a small boat nearby, workers are cleaning the yacht.
A painting emerges from the broad, white trails of foam on the ship´s dark surface, visible only for a short while until erased by cleansing streams of water.
Once again the reflected waves dapple the yacht.
At first read, I thought Brech's focus on the formalist, painterly abstraction was notably less political than the Florentine curators' interpretation. And damned if it doesn't, in fact, look like a negative inversion of a making of film shot in Franz Kline's studio.

Which immediately reminded me of the interview Felix Gonzalez-Torres did with Rob Storr, which I've reprinted and referenced here several times over the years.

I'm glad that this question came up. I realize again how successful ideology is and how easy it was for me to fall into that trap, calling this socio-political art. All art and all cultural production is political.

I'll just give you an example. When you raise the question of political or art, people immediately jump and say, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, those are political artists. Then who are the non-political artists, as if that was possible at this point in history? Let's look at abstraction, and let's consider the most successful of those political artists, Helen Frankenthaler.

Why are they the most successful political artists, even more than Kosuth, much more than Hans Haacke, much more than Nancy and Leon or Barbara Kruger? Because they don't look political! And as we know it's all about looking natural, it's all about being the normative aspect of whatever segment of culture we're dealing with, of life. That's where someone like Frankenthaler is the most politically successful artist when it comes to the political agenda that those works entail, because she serves a very clear agenda of the Right.

For example, here is something the State Department sent to me in 1989, asking me to submit work to the Art and Embassy Program. It has this wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw, which says, "Besides torture, art is the most persuasive weapon." And I said I didn't know that the State Department had given up on torture - they're probably not giving up on torture - but they're using both. Anyway, look at this letter, because in case you missed the point they reproduce a Franz Kline which explains very well what they want in this program. It's a very interesting letter, because it's so transparent.


I guess it's the curator's job to overexplain things [?] but Brech's title and his discussion of the work in terms of abstraction is plenty political in itself.

We go to History with the culture we have, not the culture you want, or might wish to have at a later time.

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316 pages. 136 Mb PDF download. Not including the copyright notices, well under 1,000 words.

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I can't quite put my finger on why, but I feel that, at least when The Future looks back on us, here, in this moment, in this culture, in the--as the flight attendant unexpectedly put it when he announced our arrival at Schiphol--in this, the 2,010th Year of Our Lord,

lego_falcon_bk1.jpg

the instruction manual for the 5,000+piece Lego Set 10179-1: The Ultimate Collector's Millennium Falcon may just end up as the touchstone, the most meaningful book, the best we managed to do. It is certainly the pinnacle of something.

lego_falcon_bk2.jpg

During the unboxing, a giddy Amazon customer notes: "The bound instruction book weighs almost as much as the completed model! Almost. It's huge!!!"

lego_falcon_amazon.jpg

Seriously, I'm thinking it should be sold as a stand-alone. On the shelf next to The 9/11 Commission Report. And published in a limited edition art book version, on archival paper. Or at least given a fighting chance by being uploaded onto blurb.com.

I mean, it's allowed, right?

If you plan to print the building instruction, please be sure to download the correct version:
# Building instructions labeled "NA" or "V39" may be printed on US standard letter size paper (8½ in × 11 in, 215.9 mm × 279.4 mm).

# Building instructions labeled "IN" or "V29" may be printed on EU standard A4 paper (210 mm × 297mm, 8.3 in × 11.7 in.)

http://cache.lego.com/bigdownloads/buildinginstructions/4525430.pdf [via things magazine, so this might be the A4 formatted file, fyi]
UPDATE: Lego does have the Instruction Manual available for sale separately. It is $53, plus shipping. [lego.com]

Remind me again where I got the idea to buy Susie Linfield's new book, The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence?

I ordered it two weeks ago, but it just arrived yesterday, which turns out to be too long after the initial recommendation/one-click-order impulse to remember where I saw it.

At first, I assumed it was Brian Sholis's interview with Linfield for Artforum:

I don't urge either naive acceptance or cynical rejection of photos of political violence; the book makes a plea for us to use photographs of atrocity as starting points to engage with very complicated histories and very specific political crises. If we want to construct a politics of human rights that isn't merely an abstraction, we need to look at these photographs of suffering, degradation, and defeat. We need to think clearly not only about the relationships among these images, how they function and what they communicate in aggregate, but about the specific conditions each one depicts, no matter how disturbing, shaming, and bewildering an experience that may be.
But it ends up I'd ordered it three days earlier.

Anyway, whoever you are, Influencer, thank you! I suspect I'm in for a grimly invigorating read.

So fantastic. When I started digging around a bit on its history, I just assumed Jean Tinguely's kinetic masterpiece, Homage to New York, would itself be the most interesting find. Not quite.

tinguely_pennebaker_still.jpg

After making a name for himself in Europe with his "meta-matics," automatic drawing machines, Tinguely came to New York in the early winter of 1960 and spent three weeks building Homage in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art. Billy Kluver helped him build the self-destructing sculpture from parts scavenged, thanks to multiple trips with curator Peter Selz, from the Newark dump.

Homage was performed? exhibited? destroyed? before an invited audience of around 250 on the evening of Thursday, March 17, 1960. I haven't figured out who was there, but in a 2008 Brown Bag Lunch Lecture on the work, Columbia art historian Kaira Cabanas said someone referred to it as "Black tie Dada," which might have just earned it a mention in my history of the gala-as-art movement.

The popular story is that the piece somehow malfunctioned, caught fire, and prompted NY firefighters to intervene just 30 minutes into the 90-minute event. Actually, even the Museum's description of its own artifact from Homage says this. But it also has the incorrect date for the event, March 18, so perhaps not.

March 18 is the stated publication date for the Museum's press release [pdf], though, which said the machine would be "set in motion" and "shown" only from 6:30 to 7:00. So it's possible that everything went as planned.

tinguely_homage_moma.jpg

[Also, people apparently picked through the wreckage for souvenir fragments, but I can't find any mentions of them surfacing. Besides MoMA's conveniently self-contained hunk, above, the Tinguely Museum has a few manageable pieces.]

But really, the press release and the pamphlet/handout prepared for the event, is a gold mine of quotes and commentary. I double dog dare you to think of Alfred Barr the same way after reading his statement:

Forty years ago Tinguely's grandadas thmbed their noses at Mona Lisa and Cezanne. Recently Tinguely himself has devised machines which shatter the placid shells of Arp's immaculate eggs, machines which at the drop of a coin scribble a moustache on the automatistic Muse of abstract expressionism, and (wipe that smile off your face) an apocalpytic far-out breakthrough which, it is said, clinks and clanks, tingles and tangles, whirrs and buzzes, grinds and creaks, whistels and pops itself into a katabolic Gotterdammerung of junk and scrap. Oh great brotherhood of Jules Verne, Paul Klee, Sandy Calder, Leonardo da Vinci, Rube Goldberg, Marcel Duchamp, Piranesi, Man Ray, Picabia, Filippo Morghen, are you with it?
I am, Brother Alfred, I am! Say amen, somebody!

Ahem, also, did you see that weather balloon that was part of the piece? Here's the sketch from the brochure:

tinguely_sketch_moma.jpg

And here it is, atop another performance photo, probably, again, from David Gahr:

tinguely_homage_gahr.jpg

The brochure quote from original Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck adds back some of the fatalistic frisson that can be lost in a nostalgic, artifact-centered look back at a troubled historical moment:

There are times in human history when the things men have been accustomed to doing and have long accepted as a part of the established order erupt in their faces. This is the situation right now--the universal crisis is forcing us to redefine our cultural values. We are like the man who is astonished to discover that the suit he has on does not fit him any longer. Religion, ethics, and art have all transcended themselves, especially art, which, instead of being art as we know it, has come to demonstrate man's attitude toward his basic problems. So it is senseless to ask whether or not Tinguely's machines are art. What they show in a very significant way is man's struggle for survival in a scientific world...
He goes on to call Tinguely a Meta-Dadaist, which is quite nice. And to someone who lived through the horrors that produced it, it makes more sense than being nostalgic for Dada.

Anyway, Robert Rauschenberg was an early fan of Tinguely's, and soon became an exhibition collaborator. Last winter the Tinguely Museum in Basel had a show about their working friendship. Which featured this awesome photomural of Homage To New York:

tinguely_museum_photomural.jpg

It's probably from one of the performance images David Gahr shot for Kluver and MoMA. I don't think it's archival in any way, but it's a great way to evoke the physical presence and scale of the assemblage.

I can't find it now, but someone wrote how Tinguely kind of announced the Kinetic Art movement with Homage To New York, and then declared its end with "a similar" installation in front of the Duomo in Milan in 1970. Which cracked me up, because, hello, have you seen what Tinguely put in front of the Duomo in 1970? And was that similar to what Homage to New York was? Because I doubt it, but if so, wow.

Actually, let's go to the tape. Or the film. Because D.A. Pennebaker shot the event, and made a documentary short, Breaking it up at the Museum, which features Tinguely previewing the piece, some details of the machine in motion, the takedown, the crowd, the applause, Tinguely's curtain call, and a couple of audience member reactions:

Jean Tinguely - Homage to New York (1960)

"It's one of the most exciting things I've seen in the art season in New York."
"Why?"
"Well, it was something new, and visually, it was marvelous."

"I felt like being in ze Twenties again."

As Patrick said, a time machine.

Our stop at the Stedelijk over the weekend gave me On Kawara on the brain.

Which makes me sad to have missed the San Francisco Art Institute's show this summer, On Kawara: Pure Consciousness In 19 Kindergartens. It was about a project where Kawara installed a week's worth of his date paintings in kindergarten classes around the world. [It's not new; I first heard of it in 2003 at an Ikon Gallery show.] Because just look at this tasty documentation. Is that an artist's book? Or better yet, an artist's boardbook? aha, a box set?

kawara_kindergarten_sfai.jpg
From the gallery site:

The purity of the consciousness in question thus could be seen as the children's perfectly beautiful indifference to the spectacle of exhibitionism before which, be they never so fully alive and absorbed in the round of their activities, they could not even begin to know how to react, how to become present. It is this radical failure in the know-how of response, this "blindness" before the panopticality of artworks raised on high, this easeful neutrality, that the archival project On Kawara: Pure Consciousness at 19 Kindergartens aims to invite its own "beholders" to consider and, perhaps, to emulate--no doubt with the same unwitting theatricality and slight desperation that the sophisticated adult always betrays when attempting to rediscover within herself what Friedrich Nietzsche called, in Beyond Good and Evil, the seriousness that one had as a child at play (den Ernst . . . , den man als Kind hatte, beim Spiel).
That is one helluva sentence.

catlin_niagara.jpg

Now I knew George Catlin did some bird's eye views, but I did not realize he also did some Bird's Eye Views. This is one of the latter, an 18-inch gouache from 1827, Bird's Eye View of Niagara Falls.

He got it pretty close, too. Did he use a map or something?

niagara_gmap.jpg

olafur_landscape_christies.jpg

I am aware of the argument that because a) I have never spoken to anyone at the Smithsonian1 about this show, it follows that, b) the specific venue, date, and funding for this show being, to say the least, TBD, my announcement of it is premature.

catlin_landscape1_si.jpg

There is another argument, however, that a) it's been over ten years since I first conceived of it, and in the intervening years, and b) the artists and works in the show have remained both stable and intriguing, and c) no one else seems to have made a similar curatorial investigation, my announcement is, in fact, long overdue.

dawson_97.jpg

And one could argue that, with George Catlin's American Indian Gallery now deinstalled at the Renwick, seemingly permanently, there's no better time than the present. Or the future.

Anyway, They're understandably overshadowed by the portraits, but I've always thought there was something fascinating and proto-photographic about Catlin's landscapes. Catlin's whole Plains Indian project was documentary, a function of painting that was soon to be usurped by photography. The landscapes feel like the most direct account of what Catlin actually saw on his road trip [and boat trip] to Indian Country.

catlin_landscape3_si.jpg

Unlike the epic landscape painting of, say, the Hudson River School or Caspar David Friedrich sought to capture the sublime and the overwhelming, transcendence or romanticism of Nature, Catlin's landscapes seem content to have captured a moment. They're like snapshots, with all the freshness, immediacy, and banality that entails.

dawson_96.jpg

And seen together, the landscapes, like Catlin's paintings of Indian scenes and ceremonies, reveal both typologies, and the artist's own pictorial and compositional modes.

catlin_landscape4_si.jpg

Olafur Eliasson's The Landscape Series (1997) stood apart from most of his photogrids up to that point; instead of cataloguing a feature in the landscape--cave mouths, or lighthouses, or glacier boulders--it catalogued views, the very idea of a Landscape.

oe_river_raft.jpg

In the following years, Olafur added another strategy to his photography, which resonated even more closely with Catlin's process. The Walk Series (1999) and The River-Raft Series (2000) are comprised of photos taken along a journey. They document the artist's passage through and perception of the landscape.

Verne Dawson, meanwhile, is a vital conceptual link between these two otherwise disparate artists. Especially in the late 1990s, Dawson was painting in what might be called an enlightened retro vernacular style. His self-consciously simplistic technique and subject matter felt like it might have come from the Catlin era, but for two factors: his fantasist scenes featuring both Indians and airplanes collapsed or distorted time [or History, really]; and their savvy embrace of abstraction betray Dawson's existence on the near side of 20th century painting. The skies on some of his paintings remind me of a less depressed Rothko.

And yet. Dawson's mythologies underscore the exoticism, stereotyping, and subjectivity that Catlin's project could ultimately not escape. And the quick, sketchy, painterly reductivism of Catlin's landscapes have an abstract quality that feels impossibly modern.

Once you lay out the discussion between painting and photography, abstraction and landscape--and by you, I mean me--then I'd want to bring folks like Liz Deschenes into the show. And if they give me some more rooms, I'd probably put the original Western photographers in there, too, like O'Sullivan, maybe coupled with Mark Rudewel, or Trevor Paglen.

Catlin set out to document and preserve a world that he knew was being lost. Dawson imagines a world that seems like it might have been, but wasn't. And Eliasson reveals how the reality we each construct is continually disappearing as we pass through time.

Or something like that. I think I still have a little time to work out the details.

1 Of course, it doesn't have to be at the Smithsonian; I was just trying to make it easier to get the Catlins.

[images via si.edu, gbe, and wherever]

November 10, 2010

'General Landscape Scene'

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"Good for any part of the country." I love it.

And not just because it reminds me of one of my favorite Olafur photogrids:

olafur_landscape_christies.jpg
The Landscape Series, 1997, horribly hung in an image by Christies.

Looking at objects and vintage photos in isolation, it blows my mind that Enzo Mari is somehow not a famous, formative artist, but only [sic] a designer. How did that happen? Did he make all his work in secret? Did he never try to show it? Did he just never sell it? Or enter an art dialogue? Did he get muscled out by Fontana and Manzoni for the parochial art world's Seminal Sixties Italian Artist slot?

But you know what, he was a famous artist, or at least he showed his art for a long time in a series of prominent places, in exhibitions that were considered important and are now considered historic, even. And yet even as some of those events are being revived, revisited, and reemphasized, Mari's involvement in them is not.

I was going to solve this mystery, and find the answer, using the two dozen or so browser tabs I've accumulated in the last 24 hours. But you know what, I think I'm just going to cut 'n paste my links and let the info sort itself out.

Thing is, there probably ARE people who know exactly how or why Mari the Artist's career or influence is the way it is; and it'll be easier to try and track them down rather than engage in armchair speculation. Or I'll just pigeonhole Hans Ulrich in Miami, either way.

So here's what I've got:

stroom_poster.jpgWhen we last considered the techno-militartistic merits of pre-WWII era sound location devices, I wondered where to start. And now I know: the Netherlands.

I'm not sure why, but it was acoustic locator-palooza over there. On the wall of the awesome library in Stroom, the visual arts center in The Hague, I spotted a large poster of a guy sitting in a German-style portable locator. And there were two more images in Stroom's recently published journal, Podium for Observation

Turns out they're from the Museum Waalsdorp, which is located on a military base outside of The Hague. And apparently, they're not German-style at all; they were designed in Waalsdorp in 1927 by an engineer named Ir.van Soest. And they have some there. But it's only open on Wednesdays, and only with advance reservations.

In Amsterdam on Museumnacht, meanwhile, we headed from the Stedelijk to ARCAM, the city's architecture center & museum, because their current exhibit, "Music.Space.Arch.," sounded like I could have curated it myself. Or blogged it, more like:

The focus of the exhibition is the suggestion of space as created with the aid of acoustic objects. The spatial experiences relate to various scales, ranging from the intimacy of the individual to the spacious openness of the urban space.

Included among the collected objects are the 'Side Scan Sonar', which brings the urban space surrounding ARCAM to the visitor, and listening equipment with which enemy aircraft were detected in the Second World War. With 'Sound Scrape Shoes' by Ricardo Huisman, the ARCAM building becomes the source of the experience, while in the presentation of the famous Philips Pavilion of 1958, the proportions are completely different from what we are familiar with.

Acoustic locators AND a re-creation of the Philips Pavilion? How could we miss?

Well.

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We literally arrived at ARCAM one minute after the tap dancer had begun her show. Now for me, tap dancing is to real dancing what rhythmic gymnastics is to real gymnastics, or what synchronized swimming is to swimming: an over-aestheticized mutation that is somehow unaware of its own awfulness. And that's on a good day.

When you have a Dutch punk tap dancer--an alternative tap dancer, in a country where they probably have a Bureau of Alternative--in tasseled pants, dancing in the dark while an assistant shines a flashlight on her shoes, whose "intimate interaction" with ARCAM's building basically meant pushing the entire contents of the exhibit into the corner so she could erect her hollow tap floor, it is really unforgivable and unsalvageable. And that's even before the audience participation segment began.

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So we stayed in the corner, where the "completely different" proportions of the Philips Pavilion re-creation turned out to mean three A2-size models borrowed from the Atomium. Fantastic, but tiny. That wireframe's especially nice.

But the projection on the exterior of the museum of Le Corbusier, Xenakis, and Varese's Poeme Electronique, considered to be the first immersive multimedia environmental installation, had been turned off, another casualty of the evening.

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Oh, and there on a pedestal, behind some people's butts and under their coats, was a real live Van Soelst acoustic locator. Only it wasn't from Museum Waalsdorp; it was from somewhere else entirely: the Wings of Liberation Museum in Best. Holland must be the most acoustically located country in the world right now.

And so as we left behind a slightly chaotic-seeming jumble of awesome objects brought together by an amorphous, subjective theory, I realized that the only way to tell this blog apart from a multi-million-euro art, architecture & cinema center is that I'm the one without a tap dancer.

Museumnacht, Ives Ensemble performing John Cage

The last time we were in Holland for a Museum Night, it was in Rotterdam, and it was an infuriating mess. All the museums in the city stay open until 2AM and program special activities and events. In 2005, that included an impromptu drum circle on and around some large Donald Judd sculptures in an unattended wing of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. When the one guard I finally found wouldn't do anything to stop it, I went to the front desk and demanded to see the director--who showed up, and finally closed the lower floor.

So yeah, a bit incredulous, but Museumnacht Amsterdam turned out alright. We started at the Temporary Stedelijk, which had, not guards, but actual bouncers at the door, so it stayed very civilized the whole time we were there. They're in the second half of a major construction project, so the renovated galleries were sparsely populated by works that didn't need much, if any conservation or climate control. And many of the galleries were just plain empty.

And it was utterly fantastic. It felt like having the entire museum to yourself.

Museumnacht @Stedelijk: Krugeryoga

The ersatz yoga studio in Barbara Kruger's installation was amusing, but the most interesting thing was a performance by members of the contemporary chamber orchestra, Ives Ensemble, of a 1987 John Cage piece, Music For...(1984-87). The composition, for "variable chamber ensemble," has parts for up to 17 instruments [each titled, Music For _Clarinet_, _Violin_, &c.] and can be performed by from one to seventeen musicians, who are to be scattered throughout a space.

It was created for an ensemble in Pittsburgh, but I didn't write down the details from the score, figuring [wrongly] that I'd be able to find out more online.

Anyway, the performers--there were six in the version we saw, and they said another member of the ensemble would join them for the two later performances--synchronized their stopwatches while standing on the dais for On Kawara's One Million Years A.D. [which was off, the empty seats making me think about hopping up there ourselves and just rattling off numbers, for fun], and then they hustled off to find their rooms.

Museumnacht, Ives Ensemble performing John Cage

There were a couple of doorways where you could see two performers at once, but mostly, you'd see one, and hear a couple of others bleeding through. We did about three laps of the piece in around 30 minutes. There were probably a couple of dozen active listeners scattered about, and then another couple of dozen folks who we only saw once.

I was initially skeptical of the National Gallery's decision to play Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel in their all-black Rothko installation in the Tower Gallery, but I quickly softened, and the last two times I've been there, it's been a transformative pleasure to be all alone in that space for 20-30 minutes at a time.

Hearing Cage's work filter through a museum was equally rewarding, and it made me want to experience more of it. I spoke with a few musicians afterward, and they were practically giddy; it was apparently a surprising and fascinating experience for them, too. Which means it's rarer than museum yoga.

November 5, 2010

Meanwhile, In The Hague...

I don't know why i ended up with so many art projects in and about The Hague this year, but there you are, or here I am, really. It's one of the most interesting places on Google's green Earth.

Anywhay, Since i was as close as Amsterdam, i thought I'd take a little trip over to Den Haag and see some of the places I've been virtually obsessing over. It's been awesome. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, i can't link too easily from this iPod, so if you don't know what I'm talking about, check around the site for Walking Man and the Binnenhof, and of ourselves, Dutch Camo Landscapes.

I'm thinking I might have to change the name of this blog to Holy Smokes, but holy smokes, did the past ever look more futuristic than it did in the pages of LIFE Magazine, November 11th, 1957?

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That's where I found the house of the future of the past, Eduardo Catalona's Raleigh House, in the issue titled, "Tomorrow's Life Today - II." There's also THE Monsanto House of the Future from Disneyland. There's an Alcoa aluminum beach cabana thing; the cover's got a transparent, inflatable pool dome; a three-generation family of mimes, I guess, laying around in black leotards on a candy-colored assortment of foam slab furniture. And then there's this:

Nylon Airhouses pop up on a university campus in Kentucky. Made of U.S. Rubber Company's Fiberthin, a vinyl-covered nylon fabric four times as strong as waterproof canvas yet 40% lighter in weight, domelike houses are kept up by air, pumped in by small motors. They are anchored at base by a ballast ring of sand or water...
According to Sean Topham's Blowup: Inflatable Art, Architecture & Design, this "Fiberthin Village" or "Rubber Village" of airhouses was designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.

Actually, according to Billboard, US Rubber was manufacturing the warehouse-sized airhouses, but the domestic-scale models were being produced by the Irving Air Chute Company of--aha--Lexington, KY. Now that you mention it, they do look rather parachutish.

But why is Billboard reporting on repurposed military technology? Because in the summer of 1957, airhouses were competing against an international chain of "balloon bijoux" for the right to stage concerts in Central Park. What's "most appealing" about these inflatable concert venues, we learn, is that they promised "the virtual elimination of large crews of roustabouts to set [them] up."

In 1961, The Rotarian reported that, in addition to U.S. Rubber--which also introduced Keds, by the way, in 1917--a major player in the growing inflatable dome building industry was G.T. Schjeldahl, who also fabricated the Project Echo satelloons. See, it all comes back around.

November 3, 2010

Enzo Mari, Artist

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Look, I don't doubt that Enzo Mari hates the art world as much as he hates design. Even more, probably, since he's a faithful communist in an era when--Picasso bedamned--it's really hard out there in the art market for a Red.

But.

Mari is just as resolute about not distinguishing between art and design. And he makes art. Objects. And has, for over 60 years.

Just check this out, 44 valutazioni, a suite of 44 abstract sculptures Mari exhibited at the 1976 Venice Biennale.

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When they're listed in order the title from each piece becomes the line in a poem by Francesco Leonetti, and when they're assembled, well, hello, comrade! A hammer and sickle! Old school.

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installation images of Mari's GAM Torino show from designboom's extensive galleries.

We've brought Group ZERO back, right? At some point, the art world, and art history, are going to have to take Mari's artworks into account, because, damn. He was doing minimalism and seriality a full decade before Judd and Lewitt.

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What are these struttura of which no one really seems to speak? [Except here, in a 30-year-old Italian monograph titled, naturally, Enzo Mari, Designer, which includes a chapter on Mari's "research of form" and these "instruments of perception"?]

1956, struttura no. 301? Really? The only thing more eyebrow-raising than your date is your estimate: EUR6-8,000 at Dorotheum.

[OK, so maybe six years before Lewitt. Here's his 1962 painting Objectivity at the National Gallery of Art:]

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[I guess I was thinking of Lewitt's 1967 Dwan Gallery show--and exhibition poster/print--and his 1968 photo object, Schematic Drawing for Muybridge, as seen here in flickr user clarkvr's snap:]

Schematic Drawing for Muybridge II, 1964

But then there's kinetic art, too. And what in the world is this? Omaggio a Fadat, 1967, a machine for "creating virtual volume" made from 64 lights, switches, steel, and perspex?

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I mean, I know he had a show last year [2008-9, actually] at GAM Torino, but even if you call it "The Art of Design" and include a bunch of awesome sculptures, shoehorning 60 years of stuff into one gallery of a municipal museum is not exactly a retrospective. Look at this Omaggio, for example, if you can:

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Also, he curated the show himself. Or designed it himself, using objects selected by his friends. Believe me, I know DIY's his big thing, but seriously. It's not like Mari's an unknown quantity, and his influence is readily acknowledged--hell, he's a huge influence on me, and building his autoprogettazione table as an art exercise, then devising an exhibition based on his principles of authorized reproducibility have kept him on the top of my mind for much of the last four years, at least--but he seems relegated to the designer's corner, and his artwork--oh how sweet, the designer makes art, too!--with him.

Or am I missing something? Please say yes. [hmm, after some market-related digging, Mari's problem may be that he makes Italian art, and only two Italian artists are allowed to become well-known outside of Italy each decade. Not much to be done about that, I guess.]

I couldn't really articulate it at the time, but the overwhelming absence of modernist architecture was an integral part of growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. The country roads were widened, and winding capillaries and cul de sacs were cut into the pine forests on either side, which were given ever more oblique English-sounding names, and whose lots were promptly filled with tens of thousands of Colonial Williamsburg knockoffs.

But I did date a girl in high school who lived in an early 70s, wood-clad, contemporary-style house. It was just off of Ridge Road.

Just off of Ridge Road was also where the Argentine-by-way-of-Harvard architect Eduardo Catalano designed himself a house in 1954, when he came to teach at the just-founded School of Design at NC State. How did I never know about this house?

Catalano's house was an 1800 square foot glass box underneath an absolutely stunning 3600-sf hyperbolic paraboloid roof which, holy crap. It's, well for one thing, it was Wolfpack Red.

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LIFE Magazine called it the "Batwing House" in 1957, and noted that "the shape makes it possible to have a thin roof with great structural strength [apparently, thin meant just 2.5 inches. ed.]. It is supported on the ground at only two points. Catalano is now trying to arrange mass production of its roof in aluminum instead of costly laminated wood strips."

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Aluminum? How about poured concrete? That's what Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis built the striking paraboloid peaks and folds of the Philips Pavilion out of at the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. How quaint of Brussels and Corbu, to be only 3-4 years behind the architectural innovations of Raleigh, North Carolina.

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But Williamsburg will out. Catalano left for Boston in 1956 and sold what he always called the "Raleigh House" to some locals. Who sold it to some people who rented it. Who sold it to a guy who asked Karl Gaskins, the architect who, it turns out, designed my HS girlfriend's house, to design an addition, which was never realized. And who abandoned it behind chainlink fencing for six years so it could rot. That was from 1996 to 2001, exactly the miniscule window of time when the last vestiges of my intention to move back to North Carolina "someday" overlapped with my own dotcom bubble. When no saviors could be found, the house was razed and the lot divided for two McMansions in 2002.

And Catalano spent the last eight years of his life trying to have his Raleigh House roof, at least, re-created, maybe at the NC State Museum of Art? At the garden of his former school, NCSU? At the former, he was politely rebuffed. At the latter, he faced a surprisingly vocal opposition from professors in the landscape design department.

To these pine tree-pushing philistines, I say, "Whatever." And I will add Catalano's house to the list of Things I Want To See, And So Must Rebuild.

Triangle Modernist Houses has the whole happy/sad tale of Catalano's masterpiece, and a bunch of photos [trianglemodernisthouses.com]

November 2, 2010

Half-Keynesian

This is pretty damn funny. I heard somewhere that it's unconstitutional for a president to be even half-Keynesian. I think it was Fox Business. [via andrewsullivan]

November 2, 2010

Now That's A Headline

So much to do, so tempted to lose myself in Civil War-era New York Times archives. Taken from his diaries which later became Memoranda During The War, Walt Whitman's report on December 11, 1864 is incredible, but the headline itself is like poetry of another kind:

OUR WOUNDED AND SICK SOLDIERS.; VISITS AMONG ARMY HOSPITALS, At Washington, on the Field, and here in New-York. CAMP HOSPITALS, FREDERICKSBURGH, NEAR FALMOUTH, VA. VIA AQUIA CREEK, UP THE POTOMAC. SPECIMENS OF HOSPITAL VISITS. FIFTY HOURS LEFT WOUNDED ON THE FIELD. METHOD OF VISITS, ENLIVENING, ETC. WRITING LETTERS BY THE BEDSIDE. AFTER CHANCELLORSVILLE. JUNE, JULY, ETC. THE HOSPITALS FULL. AMBULANCE PROCESSION. DEATH OF A NEW-YORK SOLDIER. VISITS CONTINUED HOSPITAL WISDOM. CULPEPPER AND BRANDY STATION. MARCH AND APRIL, 1864. AROUND WASHINGTON. WOUNDED FROM WILDERNESS, SPOTTSYLVANIA, ETC. LAMENTABLE DEFICIENCIES AFTER HEAVY BATTLES ASSISTANCE MORE ABOUT HOSPITAL VISITING AS AN ART. ICE-CREAM TREAT. CHARACTERISTIC SCENE IN A WARD. DEATH OF A CASE FROM SECOND BULL RUN. CONVALESCENT CAMP. LATTER PART OF 1864 IN NEW-YORK. READING, INTERESTING THE MEN, ETC. WOMEN NURSES. GOVERNMENT CARE FOR WOUNDED. LITTLE GIFTS OF MONEY. WOUNDS AND DISEASES. SURGEONS, THE YOUNG MEN. AMOUNT OF THE TWO YEARS' VISITS. HUMAN MAGNETISM AS A MEDICAL AGENT. CONCLUSION

I'm feeling more serious about turning Richard Neutra's Cyclorama building at Gettysburg into an educational monument to the wounded and a wheelchair-accessible battlefield observation platform.

War becomes history, reduced to its most basic contours, a date, a bodycount, and a winner:

Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors, (not the few great battles) of the Secession War; and it is best they should not. In the mushy influences of current times the fervid atmosphere and typical events of those years are in danger of being totally forgotten.

...

The present Memoranda may furnish a few stray glimpses into that life, and into those lurid interiors of the period, never to be fully convey'd to the future. For that purpose, and for what goes along with it, the Hospital part of the drama from '61 to '65, deserves indeed to be recorded--(I but suggest it.) Of that many-threaded drama, with its sudden and strange surprises, its confounding of prophecies, its moments of despair, the dread of foreign interference, the interminable campaigns, the bloody battles, the mighty and cumbrous and green armies, the drafts and bounties--the immense money expenditure, like a heavy pouring constant rain--with, over the whole land, the last three years of the struggle, an unending, universal mourning-wail of women, parents, orphans--the marrow of the tragedy concentrated in those Hospitals--(it seem'd sometimes as if the whole interest of the land, North and South, was one vast central Hospital, and all the rest of the affair but flanges)--those forming the Untold and Unwritten History of the War--infinitely greater (like Life's) than the few scraps and distortions that are ever told or written. Think how much, and of importance, will be--how much, civic and military, has already been--buried in the grave, in eternal darkness !....... But to my Memoranda.

That's Walt Whitman's foreword to his Memoranda During the War, a compilation of his diary entries, which he published in 1875.

In a country at war, so seemingly polarized by political disagreements, it's odd how easy it is to forget that not only was there a civil war, there was an aftermath, where millions of Americans had to put their lives, their families, their cities, and their country back together again. Is forget the right word for something you presumably knew, or should have known, but really never gave a thought to?

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Armory Square Hospital, 1865, via loc.gov

Because I didn't forget so much as never realized, never put it all together, that the wartime hospitals, where I knew Walt Whitman attended to wounded and dying soldiers, were not in Brooklyn, where the Whitman in my mind lives. They were in Washington, DC, where he'd come looking for his brother George, who'd been wounded in the battle of Fredericksburg. He stayed on, and tended over 80,000 men who belonged to what he called, "The Great Army of the Sick":

June 25, (Thursday, Sundown).--As I sit writing this paragraph I see a train of about thirty huge four-horse wagons, used as ambulances, fill'd with wounded, passing up Fourteenth street, on their way, probably, to Columbian, Carver, and Mount Pleasant Hospitals. This is the way the men come in now, seldom in small numbers, but almost always in these long, sad processions.
Whitman also visited the hospitals at the Patent Office [now the Smithsonian Museum of American Art] and at Armory Square [above, now the site of the National Air & Space Museum]. His compiled letters to his mother, published in 1897 under the title of an 1863 poem, The Wound Dresser, contain additional details of his experience.

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awesome torqued circle image by marc nielsen via flickr

Originally published as "The Dresser," the poem is the centerpiece of Drum Taps, Whitman's collection of war-related poems first published in 1865, and included in subsequent editions of Leaves of Grass, beginning in 1867.

A stanza of "The Wound Dresser," or at least part of one, wraps around the cylindrical granite wall of the entrance to the DuPont Circle metro station:

Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all dark night - some are so young;
Some suffer so much - I recall the experience sweet and sad...
- Walt Whitman, 1867
New York carpetbagger and infrequent DuPont metro traveler that I am, I'd always assumed it was installed in the early 90s, an oblique sop of acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis. Ahh, yes and no.

The idea for the poems did originate with a community request to "honor those who cared for people with HIV/AIDS," but this had been expanded to include caregivers for all kinds of illnesses.

And so the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities sponsored a competition for poems as part of the Metro's Art in Transit program. In 2007.

One would think that a 150-year-old poem by America's greatest poet could survive a seemingly routine governmental agency arts collaboration unscathed. But I guess the public art doctors felt they must amputate to save the patient. With the last two stanzas cut off the inscription serves as an inadvertent memorial to what must still be sacrificed to make a permanent mark on the official landscape of 21st century Washington:

(Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have crossed and rested,
Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips.)
For much, much original Whitman material and even more Whitman scholarship, visit The Whitman Archive [whitmanarchive.org]

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 November 2010, in reverse chronological order

Older: October 2010

Newer December 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