June 2011 Archives

As I mentioned the other day, I've been going through our storage space, getting these time capsule-like pops of memory from old files and boxes and stuff. One of the more unexpectedly unexpected encounters: print photos. I just don't have envelopes of photos or snapshots sitting around anymore, not like I did in the 1990s.

And in that way, at least, I am like Tacita Dean, an artist whose films I've long admired, but whose work in photographs I haven't really thought of much until now.

For her 2003 show at the Kunstverein Dusseldorf, Dean excavated a set of forgotten negatives she shot while living in Prague in 1991. As Catrin Lorch put it in her review of the show for Frieze:

[Dean] printed almost all of them to make a series of black and white, small-format photos. The almost forgotten scenes reveal a cross-section of the early years of post-communist Central Europe: broken-up cobbles, blurred, speeding trains, gracefully curving stairwells suffused with the crumbling charm of Eastern European modern architecture. A woman's fat legs in black tights; a friend at the breakfast table. Looking at these photos arranged in open wooden boxes on a small table was like opening a message in a bottle.
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In 2008, Sotheby's sold a set of Dean's Czech Photos, which she'd published in a small edition, for a remarkable 3,750 GBP. [Sotheby's flash-based e-catalogue site, where this screwed up double image comes from, is a web-breaking disaster,, btw.]

And then this morning, the lately irascible Jonathan Jones [h//t modernartnotes] mentions Dean's "ambitious prints derived from photographs," which he calls "her most powerful creations." Well, which, what?

Sure enough. And ever true to her analogue roots, they're photomurals. And overpainted photomurals to boot.

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Beauty, 2006, 3.6 x 3.75m, collection sfmoma

Dean showed these large-scale works in her 2007 show at Frith Street Gallery in London, titled Wandermüde, which is the little-known corollary of Wanderlust. She made what are essentially portraits of the oldest trees in Southeast England, printed them on a large scale--using Steichen-style photomural-as-wallpaper technique--and then painted out the non-tree elements of the photo with gouache.

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Crowhurst, 2007, 3x4m, collection: moma

That's one in SFMOMA's collection up top. Above is Crowhurst, from MoMA's collection. I like how the oblique view clearly shows the work's materiality, its seams and curled edges. MoMA's website says they showed Crowhurst in 2007-8, but I confess, I don't remember seeing it. I hope I didn't mistake it for a Ugo Rondinone tree drawing and keep on walking.

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We're consolidating storage spaces between New York and Washington, and it's given me a chance to reorganize a bit. I found a couple of boxes my 1994 self apparently just threw stuff into, sealed up, and shipped off, almost like Warhol-style time capsules.

At least, that's the positive spin on them. I'm sure Hoarders has a different take.

Anyway, one of the things I found was a stack of old Artforum magazines, including this one, from Summer 1994, which was something of a Donald Judd tribute issue. The cover image of a Judd study for a 1985 wall work collaged from paint chips jumped right out of the box at me.

The next thing I noticed when I picked it up was how thing and light it was: just 120 pages, plus a 32-page Bookforum inset. Adorable.

And then, flipping through it, I saw this:

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A two-page photospread, dropped into the issue in the Artforum equivalent of breaking news, which announced to the art world the re-emergence of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty. Summer 1994, people, just like I said it did.

The 1993 aerial photo on the left is by Atsushi Fujie; it's hard now to remember the time--even though it was most of the Jetty's first two decades of existence--when the only way to really see it was from the air. [Whoops, Fujie's photo is dated here from the 1970s.]

In any case, the two contemporary photos on the right are by Carol van Wagoner of the Salt Lake Tribune, the paper which first published news of the Jetty's appearance in the Spring of 1994, before the snowmelt, when Great Salt Lake was at its low point.

The brief text by Parisian art historian Jean-Pierre Criqui, which opens "Spiral Jetty is back, and it doesn't look like itself," is a nice time capsule, suitable to mark the transition in the Jetty's history. The moment when the archetypal work of Land Art stopped being just a sign of itself--a concept, a state of mind, really--and reasserted its massive physical presence, and its inextricable link to its site:

The jetty's vicissitudes, then--disappearance, reappearance, transformation--are clearly relevant to the nature of the work as it was conceived by its (co-) author. Any attempt to restore or to reconstruct it would run counter to its concept. Should the Spiral Jetty someday disappear forever, what would take its place beneath its title would be no less powerful: an entire network of signs, visible or not--a text, a film, photographs, drawings, and numerous subjective elaborations, including those of the author of this article, who has never been to Utah yet would say, without hesitation, that Spiral Jetty is among his favorite works of art.
As one who drove out to the Jetty for the first time that Summer, I can say without hesitation that it's among my favorite works of art, too.

Meridith Pingree ----- Blue Curtain

Meridith Pingree's in a show right now at Freight + Volume. Thanks, Anaba for the heads up on this fascinating-looking work.

It reminds me a bit of Rebecca Horn's work, which, frankly, I haven't seen much of since her jaw-droppingly weird retrospective in the Guggenheim rotunda in 199...2? 1993. Wow, feels like yesterday, but it was so long ago.

Pingree's kinetic sculptures seem a little less menacing, maybe? Or maybe it's just watching them on video feels safer.

Previously: speaking of catenaries...

June 26, 2011

Sgarbian Backdrops

The near-universal consensus from the VIP opening was that the Italian Pavilion exhibition curated by art critic/Berlusconi apparatchik Vittorio Sgarbi was an unalloyed, over-politicized disaster. Yet so far, I have seen very little substantive criticism or engagement with it. Rome-based art theorist Mike Watson's column in Frieze is a so-far-rare exception:

...the show appears to have resulted unwittingly from the congruence of a cultural elite who lack political power and a political elite who lack culture, highlighting the negative aspects of both - although ultimately it is the clumsy Berlusconian presence which comes off worse here.

In Italy, a country with a deep cultural heritage, the fine arts are the final refuge from a philistine tendency that affects everyday life with an alarming pervasiveness. Yet it appears that the systemic contradictions which plague the Italian political and cultural sphere - and which serve to keep the powerful grinning their stricken grins - have now invaded the fine arts.

Oddly, when I first started liking this quote last week, it was partly because I'd read it as "the fine arts are the final refuge for a philistine tendency," an Italian play on patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels. I imagined a demagoguing, pseudo-populist media mogul's flailing administration wrapping itself in a fresco at Venice. But apparently not.

Instead, Watson maintains the notion of art as a "refuge from," a world apart from the [real] world. Watson says this philistine affront occupying "the centre of the most prominent cultural event in the art world's calendar," demands "an appropriate response." But what? A sternly worded petition? Some scathingly derisive remarks over dinner in Basel? Art world folks can tweet their outrage all they want, but when the smoke from Sgarbi's stinkbomb of a show clears, they'll still be inside their gilded cage refuge.

The Physiognomy of a Nation [frieze]

Robert Rauschenberg's massive 1970 silk screen edition, Currents sure is hard to miss. And not just because it's 18 meters long.

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MoMA's copy from the edition [of just six] has been wrapped around the corner of the second floor galleries for a while now. Which may have helped coax Peter Freeman into bringing out another of the screenprints last week for Art Basel.

But it's also at the end of the Rauschenberg's segment in Emile de Antonio's documentary, Painters Painting [above], which I rewatched recently. Bob unfurls it with a slightly soused, earnestly glib voiceover about how, even though there's so much information packed into a daily newspaper, most people don't read it. But if someone spends $15,000 on the info, the artist can get him to pay attention. Or at least not wrap the fish in it and throw it out.

Which is ironic, I guess, because I've found that the size and visual uniformity has caused me to stroll by Currents without ever even slowing down. I register it as reworked newspaper content, on a giant roll, just like the real newspaper itself--but I don't slow down to look closely. I mean, really, at that scale, how much of my time does Rauschenberg really think he's gonna get?

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So maybe it was because I'd just run into Richard Serra moments before in the atrium, or because I came at the work head-on this time, instead of from the side. But I'd never noticed, for example, that there is a news photo of a frontloader bringing a massive fir tree trunk to the Pasadena Art Museum for Serra's 1970 work, Sawing: Base Plate Template (Twelve Fir Trees)

Above it and to the right, I'd swear that row of tract houses is a Dan Graham photo.

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And hey, there's a story about construction progress on Expo 70 in Osaka, where E.A.T., the collaborative Rauschenberg founded with Billy Kluver, was creating the Pepsi Pavilion, and where Rauschenberg was still thinking he'd show his own work, a plexiglass cubeful of bubbling drillers' mud called Mud-Muse, which he'd developed with Teledyne for LACMA's Art & Technology show and the US Pavilion.

If I can spot these now-obvious contemporary art references in Currents, what else must be lurking in there? Was incorporating other artists' images Rauschenberg's way of tipping his hat to artists and work he liked, or was he assimilating and subsuming it in his own, sprawling scroll? Was he engaging in a dialogue with the Conceptual and post-minimalist kids coming up or putting them in their place? Or trying to put himself in theirs?

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The most intriguing references now, though, turn out to be a little trickier. There are multiple instances of diagrams showing hands throwing the OK sign which remind me of nothing so much as the sign language woodblocks used in the prints at Jasper Johns' latest show at Marks.

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Shrinky Dink 4, 2011, intaglio print, image via

I remember thinking immediately of Rauschenberg when I saw the mirrored newspaper transfer appearing in the upper left of this Johns drawing, Untitled, 2010.

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Rauschenberg began using the technique in the mid-60s, and it's all over Currents. Remind me again how long MoMA's had their print on view?

June 22, 2011

Ro/Lu Lo/Go

Ro/Lu is en fuego these days, in case you didn't know, and I've been lucky enough to get warmed by their fire.

First off, they've been doing this Simple Chair project, an exploration of how and where our stuff is made. It's making its second appearance at Mass MOCA. I was planning to just write about it more when I saw the publication [to which I contributed a brief article of my Enzo Mari X Ikea table project], but Ro/Lu just keeps on doing stuff, so I can't sit silently by.

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And then, as if reading my mind--or my blog drafts, or maybe communicating telepathically with me through the minimalist/modernist/design/art ether--they posted a link to an awesome-looking 1980 exhibition at The Renaissance Society in Chicago, "Objects and Logotypes: Relationships Between Minimal Art and Corporate Design".

Whoa. It's fascinating to see how Minimalism, modernism, and corporate branding were perceived and presented thirty years ago. They all feel digested and processed now, but I get the sense that what curator Buzz Spector is talking about in his essay is not quite the same thing we use those terms for today.

Which may be a way of saying I take issue with many of Spector's definitions and points, but I'm not quite able to articulate why I think he's wrong. I mean, I can say that I think Greenberg's Minimalism-as-"mannerism" does not seem related at all to the principles of usage in corporate visual design. Or that the ubiquitous, homogenizing proliferation of a corporate logo seems like the diametric opposite of Robert Morris's sculptural gestalt, not its twin.

But Spector's show still seems like an interesting, important first step for the coming revisiting of Minimalism. And siting avant-garde art practices in parallel to mid-century corporate marketing is pretty compelling to think about. And I really like the idea Spector hangs his show on, that these designers and artists are alike in conflating form and value, i.e., that they "reflect a common faith in the efficacy of form as a means of restructuring society through public exposure to works executed within particular systems of use."

As I sit here in the middle of a mild obsession with the Netherlands government's new, painting-inspired rebranding and centralized visual identity system, this idea feels as relevant as ever.

So thanks, Ro/Lu!

Last year about this time, after seeing Jeff Koons's BMW Art Car, I tossed off the idea that artists could be cranking out vinyl wraps as artworks.

Which I will happily assume is why designboom and Porsche had this contest last winter to create vinyl wraps for the Cayman.

Which, hrm. Even as I randomly take full credit for the idea, I gotta say, it's just as likely it's entirely wrong.

June 20, 2011

Sheep Parade

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After hipster bouncy castles and food truck happy hours, and shuffling like giddy commuters along a packed, 10-block-long sidewalk the size of a lesser tunnel passageway at Penn Station, I was forced the other night to contemplate the cheery, civic absurdity of the High Line.

Which fortunately turned out to be mostly novelty; the crowd thinned out noticeably on the older, wider section south of 23rd St. I was early for dinner, so I pressed on, keeping a hopeful eye out for Euan as I passed under the Standard; running into him would mean his long, weary nightmare of being stuck, laid over, at Charles de Gaulle had ended. [Alas, he tweeted, it had not.]

Though you'd think it might, entertaining the possibility, however remote, of seeing my most authentically Austin Powers-ish friend did not prepare me for the marching band.

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Their music, obviously was heard first. I was coming towards them, or--how thick are these reedy plantings?--perhaps they were coming towards me. Somehow, it was neither. The band remained well within earshot, but largely out of sight to High Liners who didn't want to stand in the bubbly water feature section above the gas station on 15th St. Wade in, though, and you could see them marching in a circle--yes, there they go, taking another lap--around the oval green of 14th Street Park.

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And thus, I was compelled to think again--twice in one day!--of Francis Alys, whose video works, Rehearsal I, of a futile trip made to the accompaniment of a brass band, and Cuentos Patrioticos [above], in which a shepherd leads his flock in a beautifully improbable circle around the Madre Patria in Mexico City's Zócalo, are the best things in his MoMA exhibit, not counting the skillfully executed vitrines and pedestals. [image via]

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I've been moving art and life at our storage unit in Long Island City several times the last couple of weeks, and it's given me time to really look. Look across the water to the most spectacular structures built in New York City in the last five years: the massive, stainless steel egg-shaped digesters at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant.

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I mean, really. I refuse to be swayed or disheartened [too much] by it--it's totally different, I say. I really want to put mine in the Pantheon anyway, I say--but several thoughtful folks have expressed their sympathies upon seeing Anish Kapoor's Leviathan at the Grand Palais photographed from its more satelloonish angles.

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But you know what they say in the sewage treatment business, what goes around comes around. If Kapoor has the intestinal fortitude to keep working after the opening of these unsurpassable 145-foot tanks, I can certainly forge ahead with replicating a satelloon.

If anything, it's even more relevant and imperative than before. Because Newtown Creek is actually designed by Polshek Partners [now Ennead], who also designed the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History, an early inspiration for my Project Echo project.

In a way, then, the idea for putting a satelloon in a museum space was hatched from the eggs of Newtown Creek. In another way, though, no, gross.

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Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant digesters up close and symmetrical on Google Maps [google]

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I'm always thinking of the Danish artist collaborative Superflex in terms of media or information, action or activism. But they sure can make some fine-looking, seemingly commodifiable art objects, too.

A few years ago, as part of their Copyshop franchise project, Superflex had made T-shirts with Barbara Kruger's iconic painting altered to read, "I copy, therefore I am." But this year, their Copenhagen dealer Nils Staerk had a full-scale [111x113-in] printed vinyl version on view at Art Basel.

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In addition to their videos, Staerk's site has some other graphic works and objects, including this pleasantly Brillo-esque corner pyramid of FREE BEER cases from 2007. [Which is far more resilient than, and not to be confused with, Cyprien Gallard's recent pyramid of free beer at KW-Berlin.]

June 18, 2011

Out Of 'Out Of Practice'

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Away | Out, 2010, Seth Adeslberger via

Seth Adelsberger's evocation of Erased de Kooning Drawing in this work on found paper manages to be both calculated and offhand. It was one of my favorites in "Out of Practice," Baltimore gallery Nudashank's sweet show about studio and process in Joshua Abelow's temporary Art Blog Art Blog space. It closes today, so hop to.

Out of Practice, through June 18 [artblogartblog.com]
Nudashank is an awesome Baltimore gallery [nudashank.com]
Seth Adelsberger portfolio site [sethadelsberger.com]

So when I first published the Richard Prince Canal Zone YES RASTA book in March, I got some nice responses from people, including a couple of folks who suggested I look at joining ABC, the Artists' Book Co-operative. ABC is an interesting-looking coalition of artists and photographers who come together to support and discuss print-on-demand publishing and to bring attention to their projects.

As it turns out, Printed Matter is hosting a reception and conversation tomorrow night with active members of ABC, which is in conjunction with an exhibition of ABC/POD titles that runs until June 30th.

It should be positively informative and delightful, and I look forward to going, to meeting some of the folks there, and to possibly seeing a greg.org reader or two as well. At this point, I think I will not endeavor to join ABC, but to continue to admire them from a distance.

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Seeing as how they already have at least one guy who copies jpegs of Richard Prince cowboy photos in volume, and another who just released a collection of Google Maps images showing of the peculiarly aesthetic polygonal camouflage technique used to obscure sensitive sites in the Dutch landscape, maybe a little more distance would be better for all concerned.

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ABC Artists' Book Co-operative conversation and reception, Thursday, June 16, 5-7 PM [printedmatter.org]

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Well here's one Dutch immigrant detention center that's not invisible! Just the opposite.

That's the Sportsdomes DJI up there, by architect Willem van der Sluis, featured in Wallpaper* Magazine in 2008, the same year the project won a Dutch Design Award for his Amsterdam firm Customr.

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Just like the Kabul Dome the US Government ordered from Buckminster Fuller in 1955, Customr's Sportsdomes were designed on a tight budget; in a hurry; using the latest modular manufacturing technology; so that they can be erected, dismantled, and moved with minimal skilled labor; primarily in arguable beneficence toward brown people.

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Their gradated, perforated metal skin creates an indoor/outdoor space that is meant to offer a pleasant ambiance to detainees for a couple of hours of free play during each of their last weeks in the Netherlands, while protecting their privacy/ hiding their identities from the outside world.

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While they were points of contention among the neighbors, the Zaandam domes proved so successful that their patron, the Ministry of Security and Justice, ordered another "domecage" in 2008. Did I say "domecage"? I meant sportsdome.

CustomrWillemvanderSluis [customr.com via design den haag]

Previously:
Dutch camo domescapes
Welcome to the Kabul Dome

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As part of their project Caché-Exposé, investigating the Netherlands' largely invisible detention and deportation system, the Amsterdam art & design collaborative Foundland documented obscure, anonymous detention sites around the country. Then they used a highly official, public system to distribute their images: design-it-yourself postage stamps.

What with the domes, the minimalist/industrial architecture, these stamps, and--hello, this awesome flag they shot in 2008--I can't help noticing how beautifully designed the Dutch immigrant prison system is. So thoughtful.

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That is the Ministry of Security & Justice flag there, flying over the Zaandam waterfront dome prison. The biomorphic shape is a perspectival view of the scales of Justice, a fragment of the Ministry logo, which is an abstracted, blindfolded Justice.

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Is, or was. Because on Google Streetview, the flag is different. Much simpler.

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That is the new Rijkshuisstijl, which is officially called the Central Government Visual Identity, but which I gladly transliterate as the State House Style, a four-year effort begun in 2007 to centralize and redesign the Dutch government's corporate identity. Part of that initiative was the 1 Logo Project, a replacement of 125+ separate ministry and agency logos with a single logo, the national coat of arms on a vertical blue bar.

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Ah, I'm told it's a ribbon. Here's the English version of the style guide.

Oh, man, the color palette, 16 colors "inspired by the colorful Dutch landscape painting," plus five gradients. Get me Colby Poster on the horn.

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I am kind of geeking out over this. On the one hand, it's a normal redesign gig, tastefully done, but typical to the point of banality. On the other, because it's the state, I can't help but read every platitude in the mission statement and objectives, every justification of every design decision and element, through a politicized filter. Without knowing really anything about the details or shifts in Dutch poltiics beyond recent surges of right-wing populism, I can't help but interpret the identification of problems the Rijkshuisstijl was intended to fix as criticism of the parties and governments then in power.

Partly, it's the Rijkshuisstijl's incredibly bold assertions of design's importance and function. And the grand assertions of meaning:

"The symbol exists of a blue ribbon with the coat of arms. Subtle and unpretentious, an authority without being authoritarian."

The color of the logo is Rijksoverheid Blue. Inspired by the Dutch skies and Dutch light. Blue for calm and reliability. Blue for tradition and enduring values. Blue for harmony and balance."

"The wide variety of logos previously used by various government organisations made them less recognisable, causing confusion among the public and business community. People were no longer able to see the wood for the trees. Central government organisations seemed to be competing rather than cooperating with each other. This approach compounded the widely held view that central government was fragmented."

"The mission statement and the motto both underline what central government stands for. They give the central government logo (Rijkslogo) real meaning."

And then there's the irony of context, the subjective happenstance of discovering the Rijkshuisstijl while looking at an exposé criticizing the Netherlands' unjust treatment of immigrants, a project which I'd discovered in turn while reading about the current populist government's massive cuts to the country's arts infrastructure. Is this what modernism and Good Design signed on for? Because it's what they got.

Oh, and there was a symposium, and a book, De stijl van het Rijk/ Style and the State, produced last fall by the Stichting Design den Haag.

Foundland [foundland.org]
Rijkshuisstijl guide in English [rijkshuisstijl.nl]
UPDATE: So the work was actually done by Studio Dumbar in Rotterdam, announced on their site in 2007 [studiodumbar.com]


I finally made it down to City Hall Park to see the Public Art Fund's installation of Sol Lewitt structures. Which, first or now, you must watch the discussion of working with Lewitt at the New School. Go ahead, I'll wait.

OK.

So along with the general admiration and pleasure of seeing so many Lewitts, the first thing I think is: picturesque.

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Double Modular Cube, 1969

Lewitt introduced human proportions into these modules, which may somehow account for why it feels like an idyllically sited pavilion or garden folly. But it's definitely activating something in the landscape, too.

Then there is Complex Forms, 1987:

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Which, I know, I know, every algorithmically-generated polygon around here gets tied to Dutch Camo Landscapes. But:

For the Complex Forms, the artist drafted a two-dimensional polygon and placed dots at various locations within it. As the form is projected into three dimensions, those interior points are elevated into space at different heights. The elevated points dictate the seams of the object's multi-faceted surface.
So these things turn out to be topographies "projected" from two dimensions into three. Maps. So it is not a stretch.

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The way I found the Dutch Camo Landscapes in the first place was through architecture. They were 2D patterns generated from photos of 3D structures, which read as 3D structures themselves. As camo deployed against aerial surveillance, I've also imagined them as crystalline structures or surfaces, topographies, installed above whatever site is being obscured.

It's to the point that last fall, I actually went to the Noordeinde Paleis [above] in The Hague, not *really* expecting, but kind of hoping, to see it sitting, safe from terror or whatever, under a giant, polychrome, polygonal tent. It was not. I'll add that to my project list, though. [note to self: call Queen Beatrix.]

It also reminds me, even more explicitly, of Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis' 1958 Philips Pavilion in Brussels, which, as these two models I found displayed shoved into a corner at ARCAM in Amsterdam one night show, was similarly constructed from 2-dimensional curves and points projected into space.

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"The Complex Forms introduce irregularity into Lewitt's work," we are told, "which is further explored, for example," in the Splotches. Which, again, two-dimensional drawing projected into structure via formulas for generating color and height. I can really dig these things, except--I didn't photograph it, didn't want to be a crank, but holy crap, I can't stop staring at that seam.

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Splotch 15 [with giant $#)%ing seam], 2005

It was not like this when it was exhibited on the Met's roof garden in 2005, was it?

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No, I do not think it was. What gives?

The next thing is how lush and classical City Hall Park is. Since this incarnation dates from 1999, I guess historicist is the right word. I don't remember noticing this as acutely as I do now.

Maybe because so many Lewitts are installed along the park's radial axis, lined up with that replica fountain just so.

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In his opening remarks at the New School, Nicholas Baume described the Public Art Fund's program as "looking back at radical practices dating from the 1960s and registering their contemporary resonance." He goes on to cite the appeal of seeing "the interesting juxtaposition of natural landscape [sic], New York City skyscrapers, and the architectural and decorative elements of the park," which "provide a fascinating and rich context." But now this installation, I get less sense of juxtaposition, and more assimilation. Radial historicism: 1. Radical practice: 0.

As I'm walking around, trying to figure out how to process this situation, I suddenly looked at the Complex Structures head-on, i.e., the "wrong" way.

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And it turns out to be radially symmetrical itself. A mirror image. And I remember writing about laughing at first at Chinese tourists who didn't "get" the Iwo Jima Memorial, and who posed for photos at the head of the statue, only to realize they didn't have the same LIFE Magazine photo-mediated historical context as Americans.

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Connecticut veterans at the front of the Iwo Jima Memorial, image: ct.gov

Which, suddenly, Lewitt's practice of projecting a 2D image into a 3D structure has an entirely new, complicated legacy which I've never seen addressed before, but maybe this City Hall Park is a good place to start.

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They may not be able to create an art ecosystem that can withstand the whims of populist demagogues, but I tell ya, back in the day, the Dutch sure could make the hell out of a birch writing cabinet.

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Cees Braakman for Pastoe writing cabinet, birchwood cabinet with original colour-painted flap door (scratch), EUR1300 [vervlogenjaren.nl via anambitiousprojectcollapsing, also previously, reflib]

June 13, 2011

Dutch Camo Domescapes

I love it when a plan comes together. Or at least when several subjects of interest converge unexpectedly.

It seems the Dutch art world is about to be decimated by sudden and substantial government funding cuts and reorganizations. [for angry details, check sven lutticken's recent post; for plaintive, possibly resigned reaction from the affected institutions, try the open letter at the Dutch public arts organization, SKOR.]

If the proposed changes really do take effect, and the status quo of one of the most highly developed state-sponsored ecosystems for the arts is actually dismantled at a stroke, I think it's really important to requestion every comfortable assumption of the involvement between art and politics. It has a lot of obvious problems and weaknesses, but the Dutch system, at least as perceived from abroad, has always seemed like the apotheosis of certain ideals of cultural industrial policy, which, Lutticken argues, now "don't seem to be worth a penny."

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Anyway, not that they saw them coming, but SKOR tried to understand the political shifts that precipitated these cuts in the December 2010 issue [#20] of their excellent journal, Open, which examines populism and the persistent need for narrative and myth in the democratic process.

Dutch populism seems to center on--surprise--issues of immigration, assimilation, and Muslim vs. Christian cultural influence. As it turns out, one of the contributors in Open 20 is Foundland, a graphics, art, and research group that seems part collaborative, part design firm.

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In 2009, Foundland created CACHÉ ÉXPOSÉ, an investigation into the remote, largely invisible, and unreported system of detention and deportation facilities in the Netherlands. The majority of the people imprisoned in the facilities or subjected to the system seem to be immigrants and refugees from largely Muslim countries.

When I read the description of the project, I wanted to see if, like the intelligence- and military-related sites, these politically sensitive detention sites were obscured on Google Maps. Fortunately, Foundland had created a Google Maps list as part of the CACHÉ ÉXPOSÉ project.

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And the short answer is no. Their industrial anonymity is camouflage enough. But then hey-ho, looking at the waterfront detention center in Zaandam, a commercial city northwest of Amsterdam, what do I see? Awesome-looking domes.

Double geodesic domes of unknown purpose, but which look to be at least somewhat transparent or translucent from Street View. What a wonderfully open society the Netherlands must be that in can allow the Google Street View car to drive right up into the middle of its immigrant prisons. Oh wait.

zandaam_domes_cu.jpg

What strikes me, besides the lone figure standing outside the double barbed-wire fence? Is irony the right word to see a geodesic dome, a form which was once erected to great fanfare in Afghanistan, where it served as a symbolic center of friendship, trade, democracy, and political cooperation with the west, being deployed in a back alley prison in Europe filled, presumably, with impoverished immigrants from the Middle East?

Then again, Afghans in 1956 apparently did see the US's Kabul Dome pavilion as representing The Future. So.

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Short Circuit, Robert Rauschenberg, et al, via the estate/VAGA

I always [well, for a weekend or two last December, anyway] figured I'd find the original Jasper Johns flag painting that was inside Rauschenberg's Short Circuit before the Combine was sold, so that it could be presented to its eventual owner in its original, art history-upending state.

Yeah, well. Turns out the missing flag was not a dealbreaker for the Art Institute of Chicago. Carol Vogel just released the news that James Cuno orchestrated the Museum's purchase of Short Circuit, Sturtevant flag and all, from the estate, for an anonymously sourced price of $15 to $20 million.

In her piece, Vogel mentions the flag, and the Susan Weil painting, behind the cabinet doors. But then she says something I've never heard or seen anywhere: that though both were invited, neither Ray Johnson nor Stan VanDerBeek actually contributed pieces to the Combine VanDerBeek we knew, but Johnson?

I'd always understood that Johnson was in, and I'd assumed that the collage in the center of the lower half, with the Abe Lincoln and Venus postcard, was Johnson's. If it blended so seamlessly with the rest of the Combine, and with the rest of Rauschenberg's oeuvre, well, all the better. Johnson was famously sanguine about his collage work, and loved if his artist friends tweaked or reused it. Or so I'm told.

I like this reproduction of the piece, too, with the doors barely ajar. I've heard a story from a couple of people now, that when Johns went to Gagosian to see the show, he mentioned that the doors on Short Circuit were supposed to be closed. This image kind of finesses the door, concealing just enough so that the first thing you say when you see the piece is, "Holy smokes, that's a Jasper Johns flag three years before he showed it anywhere!"

Prime Rauschenberg at Chicago Art Institute [nyt]
Previously: Until I get some tags, this is how you find all the Short Circuit-related posts around here

Holy smokes, this is like something out of Land Art Kafka. Tyler Green points to a just-published report by the Salt Lake Tribune's Glen Warchol: the Utah Department of Natural Resources is claiming the Dia Foundation's 20-year lease on the 10 acres of state land under the Spiral Jetty is not being renewed. Dia was "tardy" in making its $250 lease payment, and that the Foundation had not responded to an automatically generated notice of the end of the lease sent in February.

Dia's deputy director had no idea about the situation when the Tribune reporter called for comment. Yet the report also includes multiple sources from the state, and other local experts familiar with state land leases.

The story is just flabbergasting, the dismissive quotes in particular. Oh, and the land use attorney who finds the non-renewal "unusual" and who notes that it'd be "unheard-of" for the state to fail to renew a mineral extraction company's lease.

Robert Smithson leased 10 acres of sovereign land at Rozel Point to build the Spiral Jetty in 1970. The original payment was $100/year. The artist's estate gave the Jetty to Dia in 1999, which implies that the estate had renewed it at $250/year around 1990.

Reading the report again, this paragraph jumps out at me:

The Spiral Jetty would continue to be protected as state land and the public access would remain the same, [Forestry and State Lands spokesman] Curry said. "Dia's not holding the lease is not going to change anything regarding the Spiral Jetty."
On the one hand, it could sound like an attempt or decision by the state to take control of the Jetty itself. On the other, neither Warchol nor the state spokesman seems too steeped in the nuances of ownership and authorization of an artwork. [Which obviously happens to be site-specific, but still.]

It's an early report of a fragment of a complicated situation with [literally] monumental consequences.

Control of iconic sculpture Spiral Jetty in dispute [sltrib via @tylergreendc]

Water Pictures - Alice in Wonderland

I found a beautiful and odd book the other day, Reflections: The Story of Water Pictures, published in 1936 by Marion Thayer MacMillan.

While vacationing in the Indian territories surrounding Georgian Bay on Lake Ontario, soon after the end of World War I, McMillan discovered a Rorschach-like phenomenon where still waters would occasionally produce perfect mirror images of the craggy coastline.

Over 15-plus years studied and photographed perfectly mirrored reflections along the coastline of Georgian Bay, Lake Ontario. [She tells of teaching herself photography in order to capture these ephemeral landscape images.]

MacMillan began showing her photos around, first to the local population and Indian craftsmen, and she came to the conclusion that such visual phenomena were apparent to centuries of canoeing Indians, who drew inspiration from them for their myths and artifacts. She particularly saw radially symmetric totem poles as permanent representations of these phenomena.

Water Pictures - Maya

Eventually, she began giving slide lectures of the photos at museums, universities, and art societies, where she drew connections between this "primitive" visual language, which was surely a common thread among all "savage" cultures, and the most advanced modernist, abstractionist movement being put forward in the art world of the day.

Water Pictures - Child's Head by Brancusi

And so the caption on her photo, titled Child's Head by Brancusi, reads, "The oval of the child's face, with bend head, fingers in mouth, is so obvious that it needs no description."

Many, or really most, of her photos are similarly titled and labeled; in her search for meaning in this optical, perceptual phenomenon, MacMillan repeatedly found "obvious" representations of artistic, literary, and religio-spiritual subjects. Which only temporarily distracts from the beauty and now-historically tinged aesthetic of the images themselves. I imagine there are some sexy, old prints out there somewhere.

The art and anthropology worlds seem to have been politely intrigued but largely unaffected my Mrs. MacMillan's work or discoveries. Though she does mention a photographer she'd introduced the effect to had taken some accomplished Water Pictures of her own, which she showed at Julien Levy's gallery, to generally positive reviews.

Basically, as long-lost art goes, MacMillan's book doesn't feel like a masterpiece, or even that important. In one way, I feel a bit implicated, as I sit here, finding or creating world-changing images and rewriting art history, in my little blog canoe. But then, it was important to her, and maybe it's enough to recognize that.

Reflections: The Story of Water Pictures is usually available on Abebooks, though my $20 inscribed copy seems like an outlier [abebooks]
I posted a couple more images in the gregorg flickr [flickr]

erased_dekooning_sfmoma.jpg
Erased de Kooning Drawing as of 1999 at SFMOMA

When we last left Erased de Kooning Drawing, the late, great Leo Steinberg had finally told his story about getting Rauschenberg on the phone in 1957 in order to sort the damn thing out. Steinberg's conclusion was that, far from a "Neo-Dada" prank or Oedipal negation, Rauschenberg had offered de Kooning "a sort of collaboration" of erasure. The plausibility of this interpretation was inspired by the equally collaborative combine painting of the same period, Short Circuit.

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Erased de Kooning Drawing, without present matboard, c. 1970, via Emile de Antonio's Painters Painting

So to recap quickly: EdKD is a collaborative work. In which erasure-as-drawing is the subject, or the strategy. Each artist with his different markmaking method. And it is inscribed, labeled, by hand, with a flatly descriptive title and claim of authorship. And though it had been unmatted at some point [above] rendering the inscription and the drawing as one collaged work, it was matted in a way that obscured this unity, and it was [eventually] presented as a framed, presented object. A conceptual work, realized. A concept of a drawing erased. Hold all that in your head. Am I missing anything?

edkd_eda_label.jpg
Erased de Kooning Drawing, detail, c. 1970, via Painters Painting

Anything besides the small detail that the inscription, the text, the third instantiation of the concept, the generative inverse of the erased drawing itself, was made by Jasper Johns?

For the crucial period of EdKD's uptake into the art world's discourse, Rauschenberg had always claimed that he had written the inscription. That he'd "signed" it. That's what he told Emile de Antonio on top of that ladder. That's the only way anyone talked about it. But it is not true.

Vincent Katz has made one of the rare references to the importance of the work's collaborative creation in Tate Magazine in 2006. But others credit Calvin Tomkins with breaking the news of Johns' involvement in EdKD in his 2005 New Yorker profile of Rauschenberg:

Johns gave Rauschenberg the title for "Erased de Kooning Drawing," which came into being in 1953, when Rauschenberg persuaded de Kooning to give him a drawing which he would then erase, to see whether a work of art could be created by the technique of erasure; Johns also did the precise lettering for the title, on the framed matte below the very faint, wraithlike ghost of the erased image.
The title, of course, is not on the matte, but under it. It was originally of a piece with the drawing, until the matte separated it, demoted it, even. Which may intensify the implications of difference between pre- and post-matted drawing.

[Tomkins does not identify the source of his revelation about Johns' involvement, even though he wrote in the same piece that "Johns recently told Joachim Pissarro, a curator at MoMA, that he thought the term 'combine' had been his suggestion." The latter was a memory Rauschenberg apparently did not share.]

edkd_label_sfmoma2.jpg

Tomkins may have been the first to publish it, but claim of Johns' collaboration was first made at least six years earlier, by a seemingly unlikely source: Robert Rauschenberg.

In a 1999 video interview about the newly acquired EdKD, Rauschenberg told SFMOMA curators,

So when I titled it, it was very difficult to figure out exactly how to phrase this.

And, uh, Jasper Johns was living upstairs, so I asked him to, to do, the uh, the writing.

And they say you never get to know your neighbors in New York. Sometimes you make historic works of art together with them.

Except that on Pearl Street, as Castelli famously told it, Johns was downstairs. And Rauschenberg was upstairs, in the loft vacated in the summer of 1955 by Rachel Rosenthal, who had found the building in the Spring of 1954. Rauschenberg was certainly around--and living around the corner--before then. They'd met early in the winter of 1954, began and he and Johns had already created and shown Short Circuit by then. So either Rauschenberg was referring to a time before they moved in together, Or Johns didn't add his pieces to the drawing before mid-1955. Either way, it sounds like the drawing, to use Tomkins' odd phrasing, actually "came into being" after 1953, the date Johns wrote on it.

Part 1: 'FRAME IS PART OF DRAWING'
Part 2: Erasers Erasing in Painters Painting
Part 3: Norman Mailer on Erased de Kooning and other 'hopeless' and 'diminished' art
Parts 4&5: Leo Steinberg on EdKD and how it's a collaboration
Part 6: A 3-Way Collaboration, that is, with Jasper Johns. Oh, that's this post. Just one more, I think.

An aside from Dan Hill's extended examination of physical retail:

a conversation earlier today, spiraling out of the fact that we have some Ikea furniture (a bed) in a shipping container somewhere, traveling from Australia to Finland, and the thought occurs that Ikea could replace that physical shipping by simply sending a copy of the bed from the Espoo store, and picking up the old one in Sydney. A form of fabrication possible with their already distributed network of components.
On Retail [cityofsound]

orozco_bluememory_2.jpg

Looking back at some of the other projects of FREE SOL LEWITT co-curator Daniel McClean, I have basically concluded that we have been walking in a weird parallel in the art world for ten-plus years, without ever actually meeting.

In 2000, when we were still buying a fair amount of his work [i.e., when it was last affordable enough for us to buy, or to buy more than one thing], McClean curated an installation in Japan by Gabriel Orozco.

orozco_bluememory_1.jpg

Called Blue Memory, Orozco hung a screen of fine, blue netting/fencing on the edge of the eaves of Kyoto garden designer Shigemori Mirei's house, where the bamboo sunshades usually go. It's classic Orozco, a transformative effect produced with modest, found or offcast materials.

See more images at Shima/Island, a series of four temporary installations and artist/curator-led seminars in 2000-2001 about the Japanese landscape. [hi-ho.ne.jp]
Artistic License: Daniel McClean on Contracts and Aesthetics [bombsite]

This is so awesome, if a little salty. [via @ianbuckwalter]

robins_flys_eye_goetz1.jpg

So everyone dutifully reproduced the press release about Craig Robins putting Buckminster Fuller's 24-foot version of the Fly's Eye Dome through a "historic restoration" by boat fabricator Goetz Composites, yet no one seems to have followed through with picture of the completed job. Well here you go, from Goetz themselves.

fly-eye-fish-eye_goetz.jpg


In 2008, Max Protetch exhibited the fiberglass dome, a prototype manufactured in 1976-7--which used to be described as a 26-foot diameter dome, btw--at La Guardia Place in the Village. The photo below is from his installation at Protetch: Beacon last year.

fuller_flys_eye_beacon.jpg

Said the press release:

Eric [Goetz] and his team, working with Daniel J. Reiser and John Warren who fabricated the original structure with Bucky, have gone to extraordinary lengths to engage this process with the same meticulous detail as a world-class fine art restorer.
Which is apparently not the same thing as restoring a world-class work of art, or even a piece of design, where the patina is to be preserved, even treasured, but more like a Pebble Beach concours-style project, where you chrome-plate all the screws.

longhouse_dome.jpg

Maybe it could be argued that stripping off the blue paint on the inside brings it closer to its "original condition." But looking at the raw fiberglass interior of the 33-foot dome Jack Lenor Larsen installed at Longhouse Reserve in Easthampton, I wonder if original originally meant something else.

Larsen's dome was first loaned to him by Fuller's daughter Allegra Fuller Snyder. It was constructed by John Kuhtik, whose company Emod had by then been working to produce the Fly's Eye dome "for nearly a decade", presumably with Fuller's blessing and involvement.

Anyway, I guess I'm stoked that Protetch hustled and saved one of Fuller's rare artifacts, even if saving it means stripping it of its history. I'm sure it'll look shiny and fantastic in Miami.

Restoration of Buckminster Fuller's iconic Fly's Eye Dome at America's Cup [archdaily]

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US Pavilion at Jeshyn Fair, 1956, photo by James Cudney

In the Spring of 1956, as the Jeshyn Fair celebrating Afghan independence approached, and the Soviets were well along in constructing a massive pavilion, US diplomats in Kabul thought the US better have one, too.

A USIA officer named Jack Masey commissioned Buckminster Fuller to create a 100-foot diameter geodesic dome in two months. His Raleigh, NC-based firm, Synergetics, Inc., apparently completed it in one.

jeshyn_dome_meridian_1.jpg
Pashto laborers assembling Buckminster Fuller dome, 1956, photo by Jack Masey

It was airlifted to Kabul, where a crew of local Pashto erected it in two days. The aluminum & plastic-coated nylon dome tent pavilion was a hit, "perhaps the most significant cultural event" of the "golden age" of US-Afghan relations, according to the creators of "In Small Things Remembered," an exhibit looking at the history of the two countries' relationship.

The show, which closed yesterday at the Meridian International Center in Washington, DC, was organized by Dr. Curtis Sandberg, VP of the Arts at Meridian, and sponsored by the State Department. It comprised photos discovered in various archives and foreign service officers' private collections, such as Masey, above, and James Cudney, top, who spent eleven years in Afghanistan taking pictures, and developing various photography- and media-based culture, education, and diplomacy programs. Cudney passed away in 2009, but some more of his Afghan photos can be seen in the previews of two 2010 calendars he or his family created on lulu.com. They look pretty amazing.

Anyway, the US Information Agency and Dept. of Commerce continued to use the Kabul dome for trade fairs across Asia. As USIA's director of design, Masey would go on to select Fuller to build the US Pavilion at the Montreal 67 expo, too.

In Small Things Remembered, at Meridian through June 5 [meridian.org]

free_sol_lewitt_2.jpg

So awesome, yet, so annoying. How did I not know of this? When it was going on? I was emailing with the Van Abbemuseum at the time about replicas of artworks, particularly their refabrications of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Light Space Modulator and his Raum der Gegenwart. I'd just been working on an exhibition proposal myself for turning a gallery into a production site for sanctioned art replication. I was hanging with SUPERFLEX themselves last October after the Creative Time Summit, just weeks after the show closed. I was knee-deep in museums and artists and copyright as I released my edition with 20x200.com. And yet I only find out about FREE SOL LEWITT this morning from Half Letter Press's tweet?? Obviously, I bought the print version of the catalogue before the download for the free pdf version was complete. So I am clearly doing something wrong to have missed this.

free_sol_lewitt_1.jpg

Anyway.

In 2010 the Danish artist collective SUPERFLEX curated an exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, "In Between Minimalisms," that included a work of their own. [Which was in turn curated by curator-turned-lawyer Daniel McClean] FREE SOL LEWITT is a machine, a small-scale factory set up inside the museum, which created exact replicas of a work in the collection, Sol Lewitt's Untitled (Wall Structure) (1972). The replicas, certified as new works by SUPERFLEX, were then given away to the public.

free_sol_lewitt_3.jpg

Some of the details of this production remain unclear, like how many were made. I gather that by working four hours/day, the aluminum cutter, welder, sander, and painter were able to produce 1-2 FREE SOL LEWITTs per week during the 20-week run of the show. Five were "almost finished" within the ten day interval between the opening of the show and the symposium held at the museum on the question, "Who Owns the Artwork?".

free_sol_lewitt_shipping2.jpg

Or what happened to them. The FREE SOL LEWITTs were awarded by lottery to museum visitors who expressed interest in filling out a form. Except for the cheery faces of the lucky recipients of a few structures, who were photographed loading the almost comically large, unwieldy 2x3.5-meter work, unprotected, into rental trailers and vans, I can't find any news of where or how the SUPERFLEX pieces are being put to use.

free_sol_lewitt_shipping.jpg

SUPERFLEX chose to replicate Lewitt's work because his pioneering ideas of conceptualism, seriality, and art objecthood resonated with the collective's own position toward copyright, exchange, and control.

In both essays and interviews in the catalogue, they challenged museums to make countering the constraints of copyright an integral part of their institutional missions. They spoke of the "artistic commonwealth" in which artists borrow and copy freely from each other, and artists and their estates and artists' rights agencies do not shut down each others' creative processes by the invocation of copyright. The project's shape was inspired by Lewitt's statement in 1973 that "ideas once expressed become the common property of all" and that "we artists, I believe are part of a single community sharing a common language."

And then I laughed. Because though it's clear Richard Prince is a citizen of the Artistic Commonwealth, it's equally obvious that the United States is not a member.

SUPERFLEX/ FREE SOL LEWITT, April - Sept. 2010 [vanabbemuseum.nl]
Buy the FREE SOL LEWITT catalogue, $25 at Half Letter Press [halfletterpress.com]
SUPERFLEX [superflex.net]

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Lee Krasner, Bird Talk, 1955, oil, paper, canvas on cotton duck

Lesley Vance on Lee Krasner, in Artforum's artists on ab-ex feature:

At one point in the early 1950s, Krasner grew dissatisfied with some drawings she had been working on in her studio, so she tore them to shreds and tossed the scraps on the floor in frustration. The sight of those fallen fragments triggered much of her subsequent work--collages made from ripped-apart drawings and, later, from torn sections of paintings.

I had a similar moment of destruction born from discontent a few years ago, only instead of tearing up my painting, I scraped away paint. This act of erasure produced a more intuitive composition and opened the door to the type of spaces I now pursue.

Leslie Vance at Kordansky
Brian Dillon on erasure, palimpsest, etc. [fort-da]

You know what, it's the weekend. We can have two long Leo Steinberg-related posts at once. Read'em on the NetJets to Basel.

steinberg_rauschenberg.jpgThough he mentioned it in his most important piece of writing, which was also the most important piece of writing on Rauschenberg, it's not entirely clear whether Leo Steinberg had actually seen Erased de Kooning Drawing when he wrote "Other Criteria."

And as he tells the story in his awesome 2000 book, Encounters With Rauschenberg - A Lavishly Illustrated Lecture, Steinberg makes not seeing it the point. I'm really tempted to include all seven pages of EdKD from the 85-page book--the text was published straight from his lectures for the 1997-8 Rauschenberg retrospective at the Guggenheim and Menil, and it really sounds just like him. [I met Steinberg in 1991 when the delightfully friendly woman I was sitting next to for his Picasso lecture series at Rice University introduced us; she turned out to be his host, Dominique de Menil. Life-changing, &c, &c. but not right now.]

But I won't. Even though it's out of print and expensive. It really should be a PDF now. Anyway.

Steinberg's take on EdKD is useful here because he was watching Rauschenberg's career and involved in its critical dialogue almost from the very beginning; he's about as well-informed or as thoughtful an audience voice as Rauschenberg could find in the 1950s and 60s. And so his reaction seems like a good proxy for the best perspective possible of the time. And it sounds like, though he felt he had to address it, and though he could argue for its critical or conceptual significance, Steinberg didn't really like Erased de Kooning Drawing very much. It bugged him. He even apologized to his lecture audience for spending "so much time on a negative entity" and a "one-time exploit." But but!

The lead-in for his story about first encountering EdKD was, interestingly enough, an anecdote from 1961 and Rauschenberg and Johns, about artists putting personal content into their work, and denying it, and then eventually 'fessing up, and so about not quite trusting what artists themselves said:

That experience confirmed me in a guiding principle of critical conduct: "If you want the truth about a work of art, be sure always to get your data from the horse's mouth, bearing in mind that the artist is the one selling the horse."

And did I abide by my principle? I should say not! My longest conversation with Rauschenberg occurred c. 1957, when I first heard about something outrageous he'd done some years before. And rather than going after the outrage--the horse, as it were--I called the trader.

[uh, don't want to spoil the story arc, but isn't not ignoring a lesson in 1957 that stems from looking back from the 80s to a 1961 conversation putting the horse before the trader? Just sayin'. -ed.]

The work in question was Rauschenberg's Erased de Kooning Drawing of 1953. The piece had not been exhibited; you heard of it by word of mouth. I did, and it gave me no peace. Because the destruction of works of art terrifies.

See, now this is news right there: not exhibited before, word of mouth, a piece you know and worry about without seeing.
How could Bob have done it; and why? The work is often, and to this day, referred to as "a Neo-Dada gesture," but that's just a way of casting it from your thought. Obvious alternatives to Neo-Dada suggested themselves at once. An Oedipal gesture? Young Rauschenberg killing the father figure? Well, maybe.

But wasn't it also a taunting of the art market?--an artist's mockery of the values now driving the commerce in modern art?

This would put paid, so to speak, to Norman Mailer's complaint that Bob was erasing to play the market. Steinberg tells how everyone was very aware/shocked/jealous/disturbed when a de Kooning finally sold for $10,000. And Rauschenberg was the one, don't forget, who got the angriest at Robert Scull for his market-making auction some years later. But all these seemingly contradictory interpretations, Steinberg pointed out, were just assumptions from afar.
So I picked up the phone and called the horse trader himself. And we talked for well over an hour. Occasionally, thereafter, I considered writing up what I remembered of our talk, but then Calvin Tomkins discussed the Erased de Kooning Drawing in his Rauschenberg profile in The New Yorker, and he did it so well that I thought, "Good, that's one less thing I have to write." But I don't mind talking about it and recalling whatever I can of that phone conversation.
On the first question of why, Rauschenberg gave an explanation similar to the one he'd told Emile de Antonio: he was interested in drawing with an eraser "as a graphic, or anti-graphic element," and found that erasing his own work was unsatisfying.

As for why de Kooning and not some other pre-existing work of art, Steinberg examines and largely discounts the Oedipal explanation, and instead suggests that Rauschenberg recognized or claimed a kindred spirit, that erasure as a technique was central to de Kooning's own practice. And yes, this section I'm obviously going to quote at length:

There is another reason, I think, why Bob lit on de Kooning. I live with a de Kooning drawing from the early 1950s--it's of a seated woman, frontal, legs crossed [below]. The face was drawn, then erased to leave a wide, gray, atmospheric smudge; and then drawn again.

steinberg_dekooning_woman.jpg
Willem de Kooning, Woman in a Rowboat, 1953

And here is Tom Hess' account of Bill de Kooning's working method. I'd like to read you a paragraph from Tom's book Willem de Kooning Drawings (1972), and I'm encouraged to do this by the example of Rauschenberg's Short Circuit combine, which, you remember, brought in some of Bob's friends piggyback. Tom Hess was a friend; hear him describe de Kooning's habit of draftsmanship.

I remember watching de Kooning begin a drawing, in 1951, sitting idly by a window, the pad on his knee.He used an ordinary pencil, the point sharpened with a knife to expose the maximum of lead but still strong enough to withstand pressure. He made a few strokes, then almost instinctively, it seemed to me, turned the pencil around and began to go over the graphite marks with the eraser. Not to rubout the lines, but to move them, push them across the paper, turn them into planes...De Kooning's line--the essence of drawing--is always under attack. It is smeared across the paper, pushed into widening shapes, kept away from the expression of an edge...the mutually exclusive concepts of line and plane are held in tension. It is the characteristic open de Kooning situation...in which thesis and antithesis are both pushed to their fullest statement, and then allowed to exist together...
This much Tom Hess.

In view of such working procedure, one might toy with this further reason why Rauschenberg's partner in the affair had to be de Kooning, rather than Rembrandt or Andrew Wyeth. De Kooning was the one who belabored his drawings with an eraser. Bob was proposing a sort of collaboration, offering--without having to draw like the master--to supply the finishing touch (read coup de grace)

I could just go on and on. Steinberg noticed that, despite declaring his early love for drawing, Rauschenberg seems to have pretty much stopped drawing after the early 50s, Erased de Kooning Drawing was really about erasing drawing itself.

And since he brought it up, and in the context of collaboration, too, maybe that makes Short Circuit, which includes two paintings by his partner and ex-wife, a way to wrangle painting into its place, too: subsumed behind closed doors. It's an admittedly rough analogy, but then, I only just thought of it.

In any case, Steinberg's collaborative interpretation of Erased de Kooning Drawing is worth holding onto. On with the story:

Meanwhile, Bob and I are still on the phone. And Bob says, "This thing really works on you, doesn't it?"...Finally, I asked, "Look, we've now been talking about this thing for over an hour, and I haven't even seen it. Would it make any difference if I did?" He said, "Probably not." And that's when it dawned on me--it's easy-come now, but the thought had its freshness once--I suddenly understood that the fruit of an artist's work need not be an object. It could be an action, something once done, but so unforgettably done, that it's never done with--a satellite orbiting in your consciousness, like the perfect crime or a beau geste.

Since then, I've seen the Erased de Kooning Drawing several times, and find it ever less interesting to look at. But the decision behind it never ceases to fascinate and expand.

It now seems to me that Rauschenberg has repaid de Kooning's gift to him. For though we all know de Kooning to have been a great draftsman, I can think of no single de Kooning drawing that is famous the way some of his paintings are, except the one Bob erased.

So ultimately, Norman Mailer's off the hook. We know that when he wrote about Erased de Kooning Drawing in the 1970s, 1980s, Mailer fragged Rauschenberg for selling it--which he hadn't--as much as making it. And he got the title wrong: "A drawing from Willem de Kooning erased by Robert Rauschenberg". Which might mean he never went to see it anywhere it was showing over the years, but it also means he probably felt he got the work, didn't need to see it. And that he was reading art historian Leo Steinberg's indispensable 1975 collection of writings, Other Criteria.

That particular wrong version of the inscription on EdKD comes from Steinberg's title essay, which was first published in Artforum in 1972 as "Reflections on the State of Criticism." Steinberg originally presented a version of "Reflections" as a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art in March 1968. It was one of a 10-part series of Wednesday night lectures by leading critics and historians [which happens to have been organized by the Modern's Junior Council then chaired by Barbara Jakobson, which is the predecessor group to the group I chaired for a while, the Junior Associates. Needless to say, I have never felt like a bigger slacker than when I look back at all the stuff the Junior Council did in the 60s. Recordings of the series were restored in 2008, but the Steinberg lecture is not listed among them. I'll look into that.]

Anyway, Steinberg's piece is an epic refutation of Greenbergian modernism's view of both Renaissance and contemporary art. For its compelling critical framework, its defense of content and for identifying what Steinberg called the "flatbed picture plane," Branden Joseph dubbed "'Other Criteria' the single most important article on Rauschenberg's production."

Steinberg discussed EdKD along with a 1952 grass painting hung on the wall as an example of Rauschenberg's early challenges to conventional expectations of orientation:

In retrospect, the most clownish of Rauschenberg's youthful pranks take on a kind of stylistic consistency...When he erased a de Kooning drawing, exhibiting it as "Drawing by Willem de Kooning erased by Robert Rauschenberg," he was making more than a multifaceted psychological gesture; he was changing--for the viewer no less than for himself--the angle of imaginative confrontation; tilting de Kooning's evocation of a worldspace into a thing produced by pressing down on a desk.
Which is interesting, but maybe not quite as interesting as the fact that, as late as 1972 or even 1975, one of Rauschenberg's greatest critical champions seems not to have noticed that his version of the inscription is actually incorrect. Or that the earliest exhibition date listed on the back of EdKD itself is actually 1973, in a show by an even closer Rauschenberg ally, Susan Ginsburg.

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[Interesting sidebar: after posting SFMOMA's photo of the back of EdKD, a regular greg.org reader told me s/he had seen EdKD getting reframed or rematted "in the late nineties" at Minagawa, and watched as they carefully reattached the archival materials on the back. Maybe Bob was sprucing it up before selling it.]

So anyway, as of the publication of Other Criteria, then, Steinberg considered Erased de Kooning Drawing as a "youthful prank" that was "clownish," yet prescient. But it's not clear that the great advocate of close looking had actually seen the work.

Part 1: 'FRAME IS PART OF DRAWING'
Part 2: Erasers Erasing in Painters Painting
Part 3: Norman Mailer on Erased de Kooning and other 'hopeless' and 'diminished' art

These tweets actually do reflect the opinions of greg.org:

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I've had this image of Dziga Vertov's filmmaking process/org chart on my desktop for a couple of weeks now, ever since it was image of the day at mubi.com.

It's specifically for his "Kino Korrespondent" films, which he produced in 1922-25. There's crew in concentric circles, expanding out from the director. And the four quadrants of the wheel are apparently "fronts": documentary, literary, recording, and editing. It seems like a cycle, or an iterative process.

MoMA just completed a major retrospective of Vertov's films, including, for the first time, all his Kino-Pravda works. The working diagram immediately reminded me of the poster that was the icon for the series, from the 1930 film, Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass. Enthusiasm is an experimental film symphony of synched documentary image and concrete sound.

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image of the day: how Dziga Vertov organizes filmmaking [mubi.com]
Image, obviously, from the Austrian Film Museum's Dziga Vertov Collection [filmmuseum.at]
Dziga Vertov, 15 Apr - 4 June, 2011 [moma.org]

One of the more amusing Erased de Kooning references I've come across is from Norman Mailer. It's reproduced in his 2003 book, The Spooky Art: Thoughts On Writing, but it seems to date from either a 1984 lecture or even a 1974 Esquire Magazine article. Mailer gets things wrong in a helpful way:

The work, when sold, bore the inscription, "A drawing from Willem de Kooning erased by Robert Rauschenberg." Both artists are not proposing something more than that the artist has the same right as the financier to print money; they may even be saying that the meat and marrow of art, the painterly core, the life of the pigment, and the world of technique with which hands lay on that pigment are convertible to something other. The ambiguity of meaning in the twentieth century, the hollow in the heart of faith, has become such an obsessional hole that art may have to be converted into intellectual transactions. It is as if we are looking for stuff, any stuff with which to stuff the hole, and will convert every value into packing for this purpose. For there is no doubt that in erasing the pastel and selling it, art has been diminished but our knowledge of society is certainly enriched. An aesthetic artifact has been converted into a sociological artifact. It is not the painting that intrigues us now but the lividities of art fashion which made the transaction possible in the first place. Something rabid is loose in the century. Maybe we are not converting art into some comprehension of social process but rather are using art to choke the hole, as if society has become so hopeless, which is to say so twisted in knots of faithless ideological spaghetti, that the glee is in strangling the victims.
Yow, OK. To the extent that Rauschenberg wanted to create an imageless drawing, upon which would be projected the passing shadows of meaning and ideology, I think Mailer has helped him succeed.

Mailer's focus on the non-existent financial motivations behind Erased de Kooning Drawing seem to show his fight is elsewhere. Not only did Rauschenberg not sell the work for more than 35 years, and only then at a discount to a museum, he actually destroyed a gift, a valuable drawing from one of the highest-paid artists of the time, when he himself was dirt poor and relegated to painting on newsprint.

But combined with his specific error on the inscription, Mailer's market-centric misreading does help identify the source for his anecdote: it was Leo Steinberg, one of the first and most important critical voices on Rauschenberg's work. Steinberg, whose major works like Other Criteria, require you to leave the screen and head to the shelf, old-school.

Before Steinberg, though one more from Mailer. He attributes this story [or non-story, as it turns out] to Jon Naar, the photographer who collaborated with Mailer on the epic 1973 book, The Faith Of Graffiti:

Years ago, back in the early Fifties, he conceived of a story he was finally not to write, for he lost his comprehension of it. A rich young artist in New York in the early Fifties, bursting to go beyond Abstract Expressionism, began to rent billboards on which he sketched huge, ill-defined (never say they were sloppy) works in paint chosen to run easily and flake quickly. The rains distorted the lines, made gullies of the forms, automobile exhausts laid down a patina, and comets of flying birds crusted the disappearing surface with their impasto. By the time fifty such billboards had been finished--a prodigious year for the painter--the vogue was on. His show was an event. They transported the billboards by trailer-truck and broke the front wall of the gallery to get the art objects inside. It was the biggest one-man exhibition in New York that year. At its conclusion, two art critics were arguing whether such species of work still belonged to art.

"You're mad," cried one. "It is not art, it is never art."
"No," said the other. "I think it's valid."
So would the story end. Its title, Validity. But before he had written a word he made the mistake of telling it to a young Abstract Expressionist whose work he liked. "Of course it's valid," said the painter, eyes shining with the project. "I'd do it myself if I could afford the billboards."

I was waiting for an infant Dan Colen to crawl into this story, but alas. He must have read it in art school.

June 1, 2011

Google Ghost View

Oh, now this is interesting.


Andy links to an interior Street View-style panorama being featured on Google Offers. [Which is also interesting, but.]

But when you step outside into Street View's street view, this is what you see:

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It looks like an enhancement of the way Google deals with obstructions by stitching differently timed images together in their panos. You can imagine that, as Google populates its image database, it will depopulate its published images, erasing more and more of the visual information it deems extraneous or obstructive.

This Google ghost bus will look novel, until it becomes the norm, and then it, too, will be refined out of existence.

June 1, 2011

Talk Like A Venetian

Oh, the Biennale! So many people asking you what you saw! So many names you just read on the page, or the label, or the banner, without pronouncing!

I'll be adding some Venice Biennial names to the official greg.org art world pronunciation guide. If you see or hear any good ones, send or tweet them along!

First up, starting at the top:

Curator Bice Curiger
BEE-cheh. Like the restaurant on 54th St. Did you know it's short for Beatrice? Just imagine Che Guevara taking an interpretive dance class: "Be a tree, Che." and then leave out the "a tree," cuz you guys are tight.

Koo-REE-gare, rhymes with Care Bear [via youtube]

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 June 2011, in reverse chronological order

Older: May 2011

Newer July 2011

recent projects, &c.


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

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

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

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

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

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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
about

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

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

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


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


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

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

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