August 2011 Archives


So lately, I've been thinking a lot about The Dutch, and their politics and art. The Rijkshuisstijl and 1 Logo Project, which redesigned and centralized the Dutch government's visual identity, which happened to coincide with political shifts to the right, and swelling anti-Muslim intolerance, and suddenly, drastic budget cuts meant to cripple or destroy the liberal and visual arts establishment in the country. And a visual identity which ironically derives its central element, a 21-color palette, from the light and landscape as seen in Dutch Golden Age paintings.


And so of course, I have been thinking hard, still, about Vermeer painting his serene scenes in the midst and aftermath of a continent-wide, generations-long religious war.

And then someone, I can't remember who, pointed last week to Morgan Meis's discussion from Antwerp of Frans Hals, who was treading fine religious lines to make his proto-modernist paintings in a Dutch/Flemish culture where painting itself had become highly, politically and theologically charged.


So I went to the National Gallery, where their Vermeers are tucked away in the Cabinet Galleries, a series of three tiny rooms carved out of a forgotten storage space in the mid 1990s. The scale approximates the collection rooms in 17th century Dutch & Flemish homes for which the small paintings were originally created.

Bouquet of Flowers in a Glass Vase, Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, 1621, via nga

Here are three little paintings of a type I would have barely glanced at or ignored, if it weren't for my peculiar Dutch color palette fixation: I mean, right? Still lifes of flowers and fruit? And yet they really are pretty amazing. And then you think about where and when and why they were made. According to the Cabinet Galleries brochure, which I had never picked up, such tiny paintings [7x9, 8x12] were called kabinetstukken, cabinet pieces.

The center painting, Bouquet of Flowers in a Glass Vase, was made in 1621 by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. The NGA says without elaboration, "Bosschaert, who was born in Antwerp, moved to Middelburg after 1587 for religious reasons." He was 14 at the time.

Basket of Flowers, 1622, Balthasar van der Ast, image: nga

This pair of kabinetstukken by Balthasar van der Ast apparently hung in the private chamber of Amalia van Solms whose husband Frederik Hendrik ruled over the Protestant Netherlands his father William of Orange fought to establish.

Basket of Fruits, 1622, Balthasar van der Ast, via nga

They are listed as gifts of Mrs. Paul Mellon.

Previously: the first What I Looked At Today included bigger, flashier Dutch painting: Van Dyck, Cuyp, etc.

August 31, 2011


Sam Thorne in this Summer's Frieze looks at writers writing about looking at fictional art. He includes the hero [sic] of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, the post-poststructuralist filmmaker James O. Incandenza, whose lost masterpiece gives the novel its title:

Incandenza is one of the few conceptual artists in fiction (he is preceded by Maria Turner, a joint creation of Sophie Calle and Paul Auster who pops up in the latter's 1992 Leviathan - the novel's accounts of her works were subsequently enacted by Calle herself). Many of Incandenza's films are described as technically or conceptually unfilmable (one is 'unfinished due to hospitalization'), while his video Infinite Jest is itself said to be 'lethally entertaining' - once viewers start watching they cannot stop and remain transfixed until they starve. This elusive videotape, of which all copies are missing, is wrapped up with the unbearable pleasure of seeing. The visual is thematized as entirely other to language, as Wallace insinuates that the visual can make claims on our attention that the verbal cannot. Within the logic of the novel, the video would be impossible to sufficiently describe; it evades all attempts at ekphrasis - a shortcoming which is in this case redeemed, in that the ability to properly visualize it would result in death.

That writing fiction may finally be incompatible with adequately describing a work of art is the worry that shadows many of these novels. But, like Bergotte's dying realization, they also suggest that the knowledge of this shortcoming is what makes writing worthwhile.

I did not realize that Incandenza had a show. While at Columbia last year, Sam Ekwurtzel invited a couple dozen artists to create works for A Failed Entertainment: Selections from the Filmography of James O. Incandenza. The show is still touring the country with him. Ekwurtzel, that is. Incandenza still does not exist.

Unmentioned by Thorne: Henry Codax, the fictional conceptual monochrome painter in Bernadette Corporation's novel Reena Spaulings, who also had a show this year, courtesy of Jacob Kassay and Olivier Mosset.

Works on Paper [frieze]
Ekwurtzel speaks: Behind the scenes of an Infinite Jest-inspired art show [flavorwire]


I was intrigued by Roy Lichtenstein's Prop For A Film when it showed up last summer at Phillips in London. Obviously, the main thing was the work itself: a large [3.5 x 8 ft] abstract, shaped field of Ben-Day dots, pretty fantastic, actually, which turned out to be a beach. The other thing about it, also obviously, was hey wha? Lichtenstein made a film? A film he showed at both LACMA and the US Pavilion at Expo70 in Osaka?

I was already pretty fixated on several of these related topics at the time, so I started poking around on the story of Lichtenstein, his film--films, actually--and his Prop For A Film. It's all pretty odd and interesting, and somewhat complicated, and though I started gearing up to write about it, I've kind of held off, or haven't gotten around to it, I guess, for almost a year now.

But then today, I see that Andrew Russeth reported for the Observer that Prop For A Film, which failed to sell at Phillips last summer, has turned up in Sotheby's New York contemporary sale next month, albeit with a much lower estimate.

And though Sotheby's catalogue copy seems almost identical to Phillips', they added a note that the Whitney will show Lichtenstein's films in October, the first exhibition of them in over 40 years.

So yeah, Prop For A Film. To get right down to it, I'm not sure it's really a painting. Which doesn't mean it's not a very interesting Lichtenstein.


Starting around 1964, when the world was still trying to come to grips with the painterly implications of his print-related imagery and Ben-Day dots, Lichtenstein was already experimenting with other techniques and materials that challenged the definition of painting. His Electric Seascapes combined dots with new, high-tech materials like Rowlux [above], a prismatic plastic sheeting originally developed for reflective highway signs.

Fish and Sky (from Ten from Leo Castelli), 1967, screenprint, photo and offset, ed. 200, via wright20's Sept. 15 contemporary sale

When Maurice Tuchman invited Lichtenstein to partner with Universal Studios for LACMA's ambitious Art & Technology Program in 1968, the artist decided to continue his seascape experiments with motion, perception, and the flat picture plane by creating an actual "moving picture" of a landscape. So yes, this whole thing really fell into place around a seemingly simplistic, even banal play on words.

Sotheby's pitch boils down the "moving picture" concept as it was exhaustively described in LACMA's A&T report/catalogue:

[He used] sequences of filmed landscape fragmetns in combination with synthetic images using his trademark Ben Day dot grids or textured aluminum. The project expanded upon ideas he had explored in his landscape collages of 1964 and 1965, which were his most abstract compositions to date. In these works, the constituent elements of landscape were drastically reduced to two or three large areas of Ben Day dots representing sea, land and sky.
Because of cross-country logistics, Lichtenstein ended up doing almost all actual production with his friend, independent filmmaker Joel Freedman. Roy and Joel spent the summer of 1969 in Southampton, filming the props against the sky or the waves. Assistants would hold the props steady or rock them to simulate the motion of the ocean.

Only it never worked. The movie camera couldn't accommodate different exposure levels for each component, and the depth of field never resolved to produce the planar flatness Lichtenstein was after. So they threw out the props, shot straight-on shots of the sky and lapping waves, and then added all the graphic elements in post.

I'll leave the details of the films themselves for a separate post, but the point is, Prop For A Film never ended up in any of the films. And so the exhibition history--both Phillips and Sotheby's list LACMA and Expo70--is tenuous at best. [Sotheby's seems to realize this, threading a needle by saying "the work travelled to" Osaka, meaning the film installation. They also get the dates wrong; 1969 was the start of filming. A 2-screen installation at the Expo came first, in 1970, followed by LACMA's 3-screen version in May 1971.]

Which, whatever, it's still a large, stunning, early Lichtenstein painting, right? And its provenance, OK Harris--the gallery founded by longtime Castelli director and Lichtenstein discoverer Ivan Karp--is unassailable. Well, it's certainly a Lichtenstein something.

When I first contacted Freedman last year, he told me how he'd saved the piece--it's Magna on wood, not canvas--after the project ended, and had it on the wall of his loft for several years. The trademark dots meant people would visit and recognize it immediately as a Lichtenstein. Then, when he was in need of completion funds for a documentary--if I remember correctly, it was the mid-70s, so probably Broken Treaty at Battle Mountain--he gave the work to Karp to sell. At Karp's suggestion, Freedman asked Lichtenstein if he'd help his project by signing the piece, and Lichtenstein generously agreed. The work was sold, and documentary was finished and released to great acclaim.

When he signed it in Karp's gallery, Lichtenstein also wrote the title on the back. Or maybe it wasn't a title, so much as a description: Prop For A Film.

Passed at Phillips, Roy Lichtenstein 'Prop' Moves to Sotheby's []
Lot 28 Prop for a Film, 1967, est. $400,000-600,000 []
Lichtenstein's project writeup from the1971 A&T catalogue []
Previously: Lichtenstein's Electric Seascapes

BONUS: Freedman is running a Kickstarter campaign to complete a followup film, Land of the Brave. It ends in four days. [kickstarter]

August 29, 2011


When it's not taking letterpress to the people, the Type Truck is making stops in some of the more fantastically designed and sited picnic pavilions in These United States. From the tour date calendar, I do believe this particularly Prouve-esque model is in northern Arizona or southeastern Utah, a day or so away from their gig in Green River.

A couple more views here and here.

AAA UPDATE: of course, RO/LU does me one better. Nicely played.


August 28, 2011


michael appleton for nyt

Such a great shot, such artful product placement. While it's unfortunately still true that you cannot buy publicity like this, only the most foolish brand evangelist will find himself unprepared when disaster coverage strikes.

hiroko masuike for nyt

The truth is, news photographers want to include your store or brand in their hurricane coverage; it can add excitement and content to the shot. The trick is to help the journalist by making that sexy storefront/logo shot not just easy, but irresistible.

reuters via daylife

Be respectful, not demanding. Craft your message with current media standards in mind, if only to increase your chances of actually getting it on the air.

Most brand messaging during a disaster buildup often feels impulsive, improvised.


Which works great for a nimble, inherently creative brand like agnes b.

reuters via daylife

But let's face it, executing on-brand on the fly is tough. Even if guy from Reuters takes a picture of your defiant but slightly odd scrawl, the benefits to your brand are limited if readers have to rely on the caption to learn that Lush is actually the name of your irreverent beer and winé shop.

But it shouldn't always have to be so ad hoc. This scaffolding covering the glass cube at the Fifth Avenue Apple store looks absolutely fantastic. Those guys really are brand geniuses.

Apple Store 5th Avenue - open 24 hours a day, except when a hurricane is coming
via johnrevill's flickr

Except it's actually for an ongoing renovation project. They got lucky. Here's Getty coverage of a very high-quality boarding-up underway at the Georgetown Apple Store:

Thumbnail image for getty_apple_gtown_hurricane.jpg
getty via daylife

A barrier which, however strong physically, utterly failed from a brand standpoint. The raw OSB--and not just OSB, but mismatched OSB!--is almost as detrimental as the hidden logo.

Must Buy Apple Products
"Must Buy Apple Products," image m.v. jantzen via flickr

In fact, a quick survey shows, with the exception of a few strikingly on-point, silver sandbags in the Meatpacking District, hurricane preparedness design is a glaring weakness in Apple's heretofore vaunted retail strategy.

jeremy m. lang for nyt

Another tenet of disaster coverage messaging is to balance long and short term objectives. On the one hand, there's marketing to do and money to be made. On the other, you don't want to be seen as exploiting either the situation or your customers. So make sure the statement about fair plywood panel pricing is in the shot with the helpfully upselly hurricane shopping list.

"WOWOW look at what Best Buy is doing! Selling cases of water for over 40 bucks!" via @AConDemand

And remember, a hurricane is no time for business-as-usual, and that goes for branding, too. So instead of squeezing out full, point-of-sale retail for every bottle in inventory, be creative. Offering a case of water free with purchase of every flatscreen could build goodwill toward the brand, which may pay off immediately by mitigating any effects of post-storm looting.

There will always be naysayers who think that putting even a little thought into your brand's disaster coverage presentation is crass and exploitative. Or who are willing to just hand over complete control of the presentation of their brand to freelance photographers and shiftless twitterers.

To these people, I would say simply, "Follow the experts."

Monocle's artfully, pointlessly taped storefront, via eric etheridge's awesome hurricane retail roundup

Not the branding experts who, in their obsessive preservation of brand essence, apparently miss the entire point of taping a window in the first place.

No, the other experts, the ones who live and breathe disaster coverage; the ones whose job it is to stand ready to help, to be prepared to move in wherever The Weather Channel's satellite trucks may roll. When you're wondering what your hurricane brand strategy should be, ask the important question first, "What would the Red Cross do?"

colin archer for nyt

August 27, 2011

Vintage Neutra Plywoodporn

Whatever else it is, Hurricane Irene is the greatest thing to happen to plywood fetishists since the Puerto Rican Day parade.

I love the sight of a freshly boarded up facade under any circumstances, the fiery, manufactured beauty of the plywood grain before it's sullied by spray paint or Clive Owen movie posters.

Do you remember how they managed to find more of just the right vintage Douglas fir ply in 2001 so they could install Donald Judd's spectacular 1976 piece, Untitled (Slant Piece) all the way across the back wall of Paula Cooper's space? I'm getting chills just thinking about it.

I can't find a picture, either, so these snapshots of the deep, honey-colored plywood I saw around the previously undocumented Richard Neutra lodge I discovered in rural Utah last year will have to suffice:


There was this one piece loosely covering up the fireplace in the living room, beautiful, but really, just a teaser.


What to do when it's 1950, and you're out in a desert field, finishing up your client's hunting lodge, and you've got a bunch of plywood scraps left over? Don't fret the grain matching, just knock together a small dresser or two.


And then just stick the rest down in the basement, so he can use it to close up the house during inclement weather.

Previously: Beckstrand Lodge, Richard Neutra, 1950


People walking the city streets with made-on-the-spot chairs. First there was the Chaise Bordelaise. Then it was the Sedia Veneziana. And yet, though The Generator by Raumlabor has had two incarnations at Storefront for Art & Architecture this year, there has still not been a New York Chair. Instead, it's CHAIRS X URBANITY.


Well, we take what we can get. After we make it, that is. Unfortunately, I was out of town, and thus was unable to make and/or take anything at all. Sigh.

Generator 02: Chairs for Urbanity []
Generator Event at NY Festival of Ideas, May 2011 [flickr]
CHAIRS X URBANITY Chair Fare Make and Take August 13, 2011 [facebook]
Previous Raumlabor coverage: sedia veneziana, chaise bordelaise

August 26, 2011


image: designboom

Enzo Mari was brought in to design the exhibition at the Fondation Cartier, Vaudon-Vodun, African Voodoo Art from the Collection of Anne and Jacques Kerchache. It's simple and spectacular, and designboom has, as usual, rather comprehensive visual coverage of the project.

Above, a "film set" Mari calls The Village, autoprogettazione-esque backdrops to evoke the original context in which Kerkache would have first encountered the impressive household guardian figures. At least that's how Mari explains it in the exhibition's making-of interview video:


Holy smokes, filmmakers having Mari manhandle one of the guardians! Whether it's our aging Maestro or the conservators, your insanely staged B-roll stunts are gonna give someone a heart attack!


You don't bring in a legend like Mari for his finesse at grouping sculptures. You bring him in to fill your glitzy Nouvel folly of a museum with endearingly humble-deluxe, purpose-built pine furniture!

image: designboom

For the major autoprogettazione moment in the film/lecture/reference/public event space, with EFFE tables and SEDIA I chairs. Mais, qu'est ce-que c'est ca? New additions to the series? What's that wood-framed flatscreen?


And are those DIY display vitrines ringing the room?

images above via

Because the laborer should be able to knock together his own home theater--autoprogezzione?--and a case for his ephemera collection in a weekend using just the most humble materials from the corner hardware store. Or as designboom puts it, and quotes Mari:

the showcases, designed for this exhibition, partake of the same vocabulary.

"'autoprogettazione' has been a project for making furniture that the user could assemble simply from raw planks of wood and nails. a basic technique through which anyone with a critical mind could address the production of an object."

So it's for the [vitrine] user with a critical mind. Autoprogettazione as Institutional Critique. Can I have my show now, please?

Let's go to the tape: "There's a display stand."

No no, no pressure, just Enzo #$()%ing Mari watching you build his iconic chair there.

"It must be simple." Oh no, you B-roll knucklehead don't do--


"A stand without the arrogance" YOU DID IT! YOU MADE HIM PICK UP THE HAMMER!


Oh, the horror. Why not just take him to a computer and make him fake type something for you? Or walk faux-purposefully down the Boulevard Raspail? How could-- No.


You did not just ask Enzo Mari to hammer something while he was holding it. If you can't get your $#)(%ing shot, that's your problem, don't take it out on a great man like Prof. Mari. "It needs a carpenter's hammer"? It needs a revolution. Langlois did not lose his job at the Cinematheque so that museum marketing video directors could wrap their late capitalist tyranny in the honorable flag of auteur theory. To the autoprogattazione barricades!

Right after we lock down the salvage rights to those 30 chairs, four tables, eight vitrines--and one flatscreen.

Here's a shot, though, from Comrade Elena Vidor's flickr.

UPDATE woo-hoo, and here's an update from Venice, where Bruno Jakob has installed Breath, a very similar-looking, seven-part series of invisible paintings in and around the Arsenale.

Breath, 2011, via peterkilchmann

Vaudou-Vodun, runs through Sept. 25 []

August 26, 2011



Since I was researching the family murder last night--an 11-year ranchers' feud, irrigation wars, shovel fights, gouged-out eye, yearlong revenge plot, shotgun ambush, an old guy named "Boss"--this alternate spelling of OK'd, which I came across in a little story, tacked onto the bottom of a regional news roundup in The Richfield Reaper, c. about 1948 or '49, is only the second most shocking thing from the past that no one had ever told me about.


Oh brother, I have this giant post mostly written about how Leo Steinberg's awesome 1997 lecture Encounters With Rauschenberg includes all these references that show that, not only did he recognize the intimate interrelationships between Johns' and Rauschenberg's early works, he also identified hints of dialogue, reference, in works made decades later.

And of course, I'm referring to Steinberg's discussion of The Ancient Incident, the 1981 Combine/sculpture of a pair of lover/chairs pyramided atop some old steps, which is going to be in Gagosian's Rauschenberg show in Paris next month. [Hold on, unless that's the bronze replica Rauschenberg made of the sculpture in 2005. I think it may be. Except I just read the title of the image file, so no. 9/14 update: Except I just read the caption on the email announcement of the same show, and sure enough, this is patinated bronze, and, confusingly, is also titled The Ancient Incident (Kabal American Zephyr), but it has a date, 1981-2006, like it's the same work, except it's a different one, or. Anyway.]

I was really going to publish it, but it feels a little, I don't know, sappy, hokey, romantic, even. But not crazy, AFAIK. As I write out these 2.25 paragraphs, I'm starting to wonder if the best way to put the info out there isn't as an annotated, footnoted, republished version of Encounters With Rauschenberg, which reveals the lecture to actually be a secret, epic poem of the founding of Bob & Jap's hometown of Zembla. I so totally called it.

But while busily not writing that, then, and worrying my over-conversational voice, over-excited art historical imagination, and my over-reliance on semicolons and footnotes is a sign of my over-doing it on the David Foster Wallace homage front--but see, Maud, my footnotes are from Pale Fire, not Infinite Jest! I don't think I'm not copying Wallace; I think I'm not copying Nabokov! Nice work in the NYT Mag, btw!--John Powers matter-of-factly produced the greatest post ever. On his own blog, Star Wars Modern.

It's all about the connections between previously overlooked satelloon mentions by Arthur C. Clarke and J.G. Ballard and Robert Smithson and Spiral Jetty. And with some steampunk Contact thrown in for free. I bow my head in awe and gratitude, and I look forward to seeing you back here after you've finished reading it.

And then I didn't post it last night because, well, Libya, of course. Did anyone else notice this crazy, masking tape rebel flag behind these doctors treating a pro-Qadaffi soldier? [nyt/ap]


And then I didn't fix the post because I was interested in Art In America's report [via rkjd] that several months ago, John Chamberlain and Gerard Malanga quietly settled their lawsuit over the sale of 315 Johns, which Malanga and like a million other people insisted was his work, made of tons of silkscreened Chamberlain portraits as "an homage" to Warhol, but which Chamberlain claimed he had traded for with Warhol, and that Andy, he, and Henry Geldzahler had cooked it up in the first place, which is how Chamberlain managed to get it authenticated--and which he sold for $3 million at Art Basel "to an unidentified collector." Mhmm.


My favorite part is how the case got resolved "a few weeks before the May 5 opening of Chamberlain's first show at Gagosian." Actually, that's my second favorite part. My favorite part is the awesome quote Malanga's lawyer Peter Stern gave AiA:

"[T]here has been no retraction of allegations in the complaint and no one has acknowledged that they are in possession of or know the whereabouts of the painting.
Well now. Glad that's all cleared up.

August 19, 2011



The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Homeland Security on the government's deployment of body scanner technology on streets and in roving vans.


These are the three pages of the FOIA report that did not come from a scanner manufacturer's publicly available brochures and website, and that were not the publicly available agenda for a scanner industry conference.


Related: DODDOACID, one of a suite of six Redaction Paintings made in 2007 by Jenny Holzer from FOIA documents, and acquired by the National Gallery of Art in 2010 []

FOIA Note #20 (August 15, 2011) Government Transparency [ via @wagnerblog]

Via Tyler Green comes another awesome installment of Alan Taylor's photoblogging journey through WWII for The Atlantic. This time, a selection of stunning Kodachrome transparencies made by the Office of War Information, selected from the Library of Congress's growing digitized collection. And look what else is in there?

United Nations exhibit by OWI at Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. Close-up of photographic display and seals of the nations (LOC)

The OWI was created in 1942 to propagandize domestically and abroad for the war. It sounds like a rather hotly contested mess of a government operation, and its domestic operations were basically defunded by Republicans and segregationists who complained that the OWI was actually using the war effort as an excuse to promote FDR, the New Deal, and racial equality.

A couple of things it did do: launch the Voice of America radio broadcast system, and take over the Farm Service Administration's photography program. Which means the OWI was also involved in some way with Edward Steichen's late 1942 MoMA photo exhibition, "Road To Victory," which included many FSA images.

United Nations exhibit put on by OWI in Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. Central motif was this frame containing copy of Atlantic charter, with amplifiers at each end broadcasting speeches by Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek every half hour, and

In any case, the OWI certainly turned the center of New York City into their propaganda playground. I mean, holy smokes, check out these photos of "This Is Our War," just one of an ongoing series of exhibitions they staged in Rockefeller Center. This was in March 1943, and focused on the United Nations, the 28 countries and governments in exile who first signed onto Churchill's Atlantic Charter, which articulated the Allied principles for the war, and incorporated FDR's Four Freedoms. Which are embodied here by four giant, allegorical, golden sword statues: a dog, a snake, a dragon [?] and a pair of unbound hands.

United Nations exhibit put on by OWI in Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. Central motif was this frame containing copy of Atlantic charter, with amplifiers at each end broadcasting speeches by Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek every half hour, and

In case you didn't get the point from the inspirational photomural cutouts or the giant, somewhat awesome V for Victory, the exhibit also featured "amplifiers at each end broadcasting speeches by Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek every half hour."

United Nations exhibit by OWI in Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. View of entrance from 5th Avenue (LOC)

I know she wasn't physically delivered into the world until 13 years later, but I wonder if Cady Noland wasn't somehow born right here on Fifth Avenue.


But wait, there's more! Here's how the NY Times reported the opening of the OWI's next show:

The fanatical scream, "Hell Hitler!" ripped through the air in Rockefeller Center. It took startled crowds some time to realize that the cry and the bark of Hitler's voice came from some captured German sound films.

For "The Nature of The Enemy," the OWI ringed the skating rink with massive photomurals showing Hitler, bombed out refugees, crying Chinese peasants, and flaming battleships. If you bought a war bond, you could sign a bomb that'd get dropped on Berlin.


Along the Promenade, a half dozen dioramas were, like the giant banners running the length of the buildings, just depicting the facts, ma'am: "THE ENEMY PLANS THIS FOR YOU": "Desecration of Religion," Militarization of Children," "Concentration Camps," &c., &c.


I'm sure the uneven spacing and kerning of this otherwise awesome [painted plywood? were there cabinetmakers on staff whose job consisted of building giant letters?] sign/sculpture was frightening enough to cause a dozen Madison Avenue ad layout men to enlist on the spot.

The Nature of The Enemy exhibition, Rockefeller Center, June 1943, 56 images []

Fear not, I have not given up the search for the missing Jasper Johns Flag painting. The one which was in Robert Rauschenberg's 1955 combine, Short Circuit, a combine which was originally shown with the title, Construction with J.J. Flag. The combine which was the subject of an unusual agreement between the two artists after their bitter 1962 breakup, that it would never be exhibited, reproduced or sold. Which technically did not happen, since the flag painting was taken out in 1965, and Rauschenberg put the piece, with the title, Short Circuit, on a national tour in 1967 as part of a collage group show organized by the Finch College Museum.

Which, point is, in looking for the flag, I keep finding more things I had never heard about Rauschenberg's and Johns' time together, a point at which they each were making hugely important, innovative work. And frequently, it seems, they were working on it together. His, mine, and ours.

For a few months now, I've been thinking about a letter Johns wrote to Leo Castelli, which I'd come across at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art. I've been kind of slow to mention it, partly because it just feels a little weird, like going through someone else's mail. Which I guess it exactly what an archive is, but still. Also, I've been wary of reading too much into a single letter, or of over-interpreting a single statement.

But then I'm constantly struck by how frequently a particular phrase uttered in a single interview can get echoed across the writing about an artist, as if that one statement from decades earlier is somehow not just a snippet of a conversation, but a key to deep meaning. So this overdetermining tendency is not mine alone, and whatever, take it for what it's worth.

In the spring and summer of 1964, while Johns traveled to Japan, he scouted out Kusuo Shimizu's Minami Gallery for a future Rauschenberg exhibition sometime after the fall. Johns had some pretty specific suggestions about what kind of Rauschenbergs would work in the small, tight space:

I should think that smaller works as different as possible from one another would be good. Or if Bob is going to use repeated repeat images in all the paintings, one work the size of a wall + several much smaller things. If Bob were willing, I think a good effect could be made by having one large painting + several smaller ones which used the same silk screen images but reduced in size. That is, two screens should be made of each image - one large + one small. The opposite would also work - a large painting with smaller images + smaller ptgs. with larger images.
It's not that Johns is prescriptive, designing his ex-partner's paintings at a distance. His language is very careful to couch the decisions as Rauschenberg's to make. But Johns also has a marked fluency in Rauschenberg's composition and process, and he seems comfortable discussing it, at least with their mutual friend and dealer.

Johns could discuss Rauschenberg's silkscreening techniques in detail in 1964, even though Rauschenberg only began using silkscreens in 1962, the year the two finally broke up. [Crocus, done in the late summer/early fall of '62, is one of the first/earliest silkscreen paintings.]

In any case, one more datapoint. As it turns out, Rauschenberg's show at Minami never ended up happening. Fresh off his hyped and controversial grand prize win at the Venice Biennale, but while he was still also working as the stage manager for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's world tour, Rauschenberg visited Minami Gallery in the fall of 1964.

According to Hiroko Ikegami, Rauschenberg walked in, saw an exhibition of Sam Francis, ["who was still respected and popular" in Japan], and walked right out. Shimizu was offended, and canceled Rauschenberg's show. Maybe before Rauschenberg canceled it himself, who knows? The Merce tour was a personal disaster for Rauschenberg, and a rift developed between him and Cage and Cunningham which took several years to heal.

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I didn't read it earlier, and I have to read it now, obviously, now that it's finally been published in the US. But I wonder if my first short film may be an inadvertent adaptation of Geoff Dyer's 1994 essay on World War I and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, France.

The Millions has a nice interview with him about it:

TM: You write in the book, "The issue, in short, is not simply the way the war generates memory, but the way memory has determined - and continues to determine - the meaning of the war." Can you describe the meaning of the war?

GD: Always in the book I'm just trying to articulate impressions of it. It's certainly not a history book. I always have faith in this idea that if I remain honest and open about my own confusion, the blurriness of my impressions - it's not because I'm short-witted or stupid - the chances are those feelings will be shared by other people. And I just had this very distinct sense of the First World War as being something rather buried in its own memory. There's so much discussion, as the war is going on, about how it will be remembered, or if it will be forgotten. So right from the start it just seems preoccupied with how it will be remembered. The other crucial thing is that distinction I make with the Robert Capa pictures of D-Day, where it all seems to hang in the balance and there's a great sense of immediacy. With the First World War there's no immediacy to it. It comes buried in so many layers of myth and memory.

Hmm, actually, maybe not. Or maybe the opposite. In 2001-2, I was looking at what a place of horrible destruction was like when there was no one left who did remember it. The difference between remembering and knowing, perhaps. Or the past and the experience of the present.

Also, Spiral Jetty first re-emerged in 1994, not 1999. I'd have thought the New Yorker would've caught that.

The Millions Interview | Geoff Dyer on the London Riots, the Great War, and the Gray Lady []
The Missing of the Somme (Vintage) [amazon]

So wonderful. William Smith writes about visiting Robert Breer's home studio as part of Triple Canopy's publication in residency last Winter at MOCA Tucson. Which sounds like the awesomest boondoggle ever, btw:

Breer famously composed most of his films one frame at a time by photographing individual drawings he made on index cards. Thousands of these drawings were filed away in his Tucson studio in what looked like old card-catalogue cabinets. As we asked about his films he would reach into the files, pull out a sequential handful of cards, and make an impromptu flip book, animating a short clip with his hands. The setup recalled the earliest days of cinema, when filmmakers would submit still prints of every frame of a movie to the Library of Congress for copyright purposes and, eventually, preservation. One can only hope that Breer's trove of drawings will find such a home.
Meanwhile, from another dormant browser tab, here's a screengrab of a video from 2003, an exhibition of E.A.T. at NTT's ICC, the Inter-Communication Center, a multimedia arts space in Tokyo.


I love the kind of unabashed way the giant-but-not-lifesize photomural of E.A.T.'s Pepsi Pavilion relates to Breer's full-size Floats. I'd assumed these floats were refabricated for Tokyo, but maybe Pepsi has kept them all this time. I think they're at the Baltic Center retrospective now. Maybe someone could find out and let me know.

Float on: Robert Breer, RIP [canopycanopycanopy]
◎ E.A.T.─芸術と技術の実験 []

August 16, 2011

In The Actor's Studio


The backlog around here is so big, I was joking with a friend this morning that I should rename the blog, "Things I've Been Meaning To Write About." But for some reason, I can't let another day go by without saying something about the upcoming auction of items and artwork [!] from The Estate of Tony Curtis.


Tony [actual name, Bernie Schwartz] was not only a famous actor, he was a dedicated artist. A painter, mostly, though he also made objects, sculptures, shadowboxes filled with found objects, slightly less creepy than Joseph Cornell's.

The Julien's Auctions catalogue has some big pull quotes from the late artist himself. The best one is on the boxes:

There's a child-like simplicity about them...but there's also supposed to be deep and profound meaning. This is what separates the men from the boys in art. The meaning (of art) is always in the eye of the beholder. I can talk until I'm blue in the face, but some people won't understand, even then. [emphasis added]

Anyway, it's really, really not the art that interests me, so much as something like an admiration, maybe with a mix of pathos? Sympathy? Is that too presumptuous? About the mix of over-the-top celebrity living combined with a generally unappreciated pursuit of artmaking.

[According to the Independent, art was his primary occupation for the last 25 years of his life. The article is also strangely focused on how such a manlyman as Curtis could produce such feminine art: Matisse-inspired paintings and Bourgeois [uh, no, really??]-inspired boxes.]

First, up top, just wow. Collector AND artist. There are several photos in the Julien's catalogue from this shoot, which I assume was in Curtis's old Beverly Hills place. Mondo Blogger wondered what that Op Art piece over the fireplace is? It's not in the sale. Neither are those zebra skin butterfly chairs. Too bad. The Warhol Some Like It Hot Shoe drawing is, though.


A lot of boxes in his studio. Holy smokes, did you know that he got his faux 18th-century dining/work table from Marlene Dietrich?? [Lot 385: est. $2-4,000]

According to the Independent, art was Curtis's primary occupation for the last 25 years of his life. But it must also have been his lifelong passion. Just look at the young Curtis there working shirtless at his easel.


That article is also strangely focused on how such a manlyman as Curtis could produce such feminine art as his crafty little shadowboxes, or his Matisse-inspired paintings. Speaking of paintings and easels, did you know Curtis got this easel from Edward G. Robinson? He even put a protective plexi cover over EGR's initials.


Curtis was apparently selling limited edition gliclee prints on canvas of his work, signed and with "applied objects and handpainted enhancements," on his website, which, good for him. The original overpainted photo of Curtis and Sinatra is probably my favorite of his works. He really cut loose. Very Vegas.


But it kind of breaks my heart a little to read the lot descriptions for some of these prints [actually, the Sinatra piece is the original]: "Numbered 9/250 on the verso. NOTE: According to the Tony Curtis Estate, only 15 copies of this giclee were produced."


But these late painting/print/whatevers, as well as many of the shadowboxes, appear to be explorations of Being Tony Curtis. With maybe a little exploitation thrown in. I guess he figured his celebrity was what people wanted [to buy], hopefully in editions of 250. Oh well.

There are mountains of household tchotchkes and objets, too, typical ticky-tacky decorator infill--and yes, I think having Tony Curtis's porcelain elephant plant stands would be cooler than having generic Pasadena antique store porcelain elephant plant stands, but not by much.


But there are a few things that seem to bear the mark of the artist's hand more than others. The pair of black-lacquered cedarwood boxes, for example, one filled with sea glass and topped with a shark fin-like surfboard skeg, and the other lined with one of Houdini's bookplates. I mean, right?

If I end up bidding, though--and this may be why I'm writing about it, to psyche myself up or out of bidding--there's only one thing I'm going for: the Tony Curtis Artwork Chandelier.


A unique piece, it's described as "A spiral brass hanging light fixture with multiple Lucite tags, each featuring a different piece of Tony Curtis artwork." An entire Curtis retrospective in a spiral light fixture. It's Boite en Valise-meets-The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths. [Lot 400: est. $300-500] Maybe I'll hang it over Marlene Dietrich's dining table.

Property From The Estate of Tony Curtis, Sept 17, 10:00AM PST []

August 15, 2011

View Of New Amsterdam

I'm not sure why I'm so fascinated with the Netherlands, or more precisely, why it's the source/site/subject of so much of my art/object/image/culture interest. Maybe it's because of New York, which has always felt to me of a piece with Amsterdam in some way. Whatever, maybe the particulars are not that important right now.

But I'd like to see more thinking and writing and reporting like Steven Erlanger's NYT piece on immigration, religious tension, politics and Dutch identity.

The sometimes violent European backlash against Islam and its challenge to national values can be said to have started here, in a country born from Europe's religious wars. After a decade of growing public anger, an aggressively anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim politician, Geert Wilders, leads the third-largest party, which keeps the government in power.
Wow, I just re-read the 2010 post I wrote about remembering Laurence Wechsler writing on Vermeer. It's the same things. And you know, maybe these particulars are important right now.

Amid Rise of Multiculturalism, Dutch Confront Their Questions of Identity [nyt]
Previously: What I Looked at in 1995: Vermeer's View of Delft


I've had Michelle Kuo's interview with Robert Breer [artforum, nov 2010] open in my browser tabs for months now, ever since Steve Roden posted about his incredible little toy Float, which was sold at MoMA's gift shop in 1970, at the same time one of Breer's original Pepsi Pavilion Floats had been liberated from Expo'70 in Osaka and set loose in the Abby Aldrich Sculpture Garden. [A PDF of The Modern's Aug. 25 press release for the piece, titled Osaka I, said the toy Floats would be sold for $7.95, or two for $15," in the Museum's Christmas Shop.]


Kuo's is one of the best interviews I've seen with Breer; most never got past the basic, "how did you get into animation?" "So you lived in Paris on the GI Bill?" chestnuts. With what is now a terrible lack of urgency, I'd made a few attempts to track down Breer this year, in hopes of following up with him about what he'd probably consider the least important aspects of his creative practice: the commercial work and product design and TV animation [including still unidentified segments on The Electric Company] he would bring up--and then insist be kept separate.

Because Breer's consistently innovative filmmaking and playfully minimalistic/animalistic sculptures--and the fact that he did his most monumentally awesome art work for Pepsi--hinted at the potential relevance of the work he kept in his commercial closet.

Which, amusingly, is not really the point, except to say I want to find a Float of my own, please.

No, the immediate point is, wow, how awesome is Breer's 1966 sculpture, Rug? This was the work that introduced Breer's sculpture to me, at a show that also opened my eyes to the revelatory breadth of his filmmaking. It was recreated for the first time in decades in 1999 at AC Projects. Their small second floor space in off-Chelsea was creeping and crawling with little Breer sculptures, while the Mylar Rug slowly shifted around in place. The other works felt alive, droid-like. Rug's movements were creepier, more ominous, like something was alive underneath it.

Good for the Walker, it looks like they acquired the mylar Rug [there are others, in other colors/materials] just this year.


Anyway, while poking around GB Agency, Breer's Paris gallery, I came across this sketch, dated 8/71, which includes an incredible proposal for a Rug piece made from an American flag. [The text underneath reads, "float flat on floor (flags) + motors".] The storyboard-like drawing not only ties Breer's sculptural and animation projects together nicely; the other three sequences--"cloud in sun," "bushes in breeze," and "daisies"--help site Breer's work in observation, duration, and the natural world. Which may have mitigated the political implications in 1971 of something lurking under a crumpled US flag.

In any case, I expect, if not exactly look forward to the day when, this work will be realized for a future Breer retrospective.

August 14, 2011

On Being Karl Lagerfeld

Everyone was so hyped up about the extraordinary, long New Yorker feature detailing the hunting and killing of Osama Bin Laden, that well, obviously, I couldn't post about it at the time. But I was so pissed at Helmut Lang for shredding his 6,000-piece clothing archive and turning it into mediocre sculpture, I knew I had to put things into context. See the bigger picture. Figure out what's really important. I had to go back and re-read John Colapinto's extraordinary, long New Yorker feature on Karl Lagerfeld from 2007. Specifically this scene:

The fitting model strutted forward in a new outfit and posed in front of Lagerfeld. He scrutinized her through his dark glasses and frowned. He said that he did not like the way the assistant had arranged the neckline of the sweater the model wore. Several assistants converged on her and began to tug uncertainly at the fabric.

"Non, non!" Lagerfeld said.

He uncapped a black marker and, rings clacking, made a quick sketch on a pad in front of him. Lagerfeld derisively describes many of his colleagues as "playing the designer," because they drape fabric on a model or a dummy; he conceives his collections at a kind of platonic remove, in multicolored drawings on paper, and only rarely touches fabric. The picture he produced--a swift hash of lines suggesting a soignée woman--reflected his skill as an illustrator. (His work has been published in numerous books and magazines.) An assistant looked at the drawing and hustled to the model to make adjustments. Lagerfeld ripped the drawing from the pad, crushed it in his hands, and tossed it into a large wicker hamper, which, over the course of the evening, filled with similar small masterpieces. "I throw everything away!" he declared. "The most important piece of furniture in a house is the garbage can! I keep no archives of my own, no sketches, no photos, no clothes--nothing! I am supposed to do, I'm not supposed to remember!" He smoothed a gloved hand over the empty page in front of him and visibly relaxed.

The whole piece is just a mutant rollercoaster ride of journalism, down to the last "hmm?" Here's another awesome scene:
Finally, Lagerfeld stopped talking and agreed to give a tour of the house. After warning, "You will think I'm a madman," he led the way up a grand curving marble staircase. The second floor is composed of huge rooms with soaring ceilings, ornate plasterwork, wood panelling, and fifteen-foot-high mirrors. The furniture, a mixture of antique and modernist pieces, was almost impossible to see, hidden under hundreds of magazines, CDs, photographs, promotional brochures, and books, which lay in heaps spilling on every surface, including the floors. Scattered through the rooms were dozens of iPod nanos of every hue. Each one was loaded with songs that Lagerfeld listens to when designing his collections, which he does, he says, usually in the mornings, while dressed in a long white smock. Surveying the scene through his black glasses, Lagerfeld said serenely, "Normal people think I'm insane."
He says that again later, after visiting his dressing area and the room with his five hundred suits, and then, "He shrugged. 'I don't know what 'normal' means, anyway.'"

In Colapinto's telling, Lagerfeld's voracious excesses of cultural consumption are designed to stave off boredom. The sustained investment in financial, human, and emotional capital required to keep Karl Lagerfeld entertained--and entertained enough to produce a new mountain of luxury goods year in and year out--is staggering.

And in a way, a good way, boredom was part of Lang's stock in trade. His clothes felt like an antidote to relentless fashion stimulation. At least they did at the time. For a customer. For Lang, though, who can say? He may have had some issues with the whole thing. Here's what I wrote about his first artwork, a giant disco ball which was exhibited in 2007 as "found," but which actually came from Lang's shuttered SoHo boutique:

Which completely changes the question of the disco ball from, "Where the hell'd he find it?" to "why the hell'd he keep it?" A glittering symbol unceremoniously yet sentimentally hauled out and dumped on an 18-acre beachfront estate in East Hampton and left to weather away in over-fabulous isolation. With a 4-foot disco ball in tow. [ba dum bum.]
Ultimately, Lang's problem maybe is not boredom, or not even that he's too normal, whatever that is, but that he's not Karl Lagerfeld. And for that, I imagine Lang is thankful.

Wow. Nearly camouflaged.

While each pool has a pumping system powerful enough to recycle 52,000 gallons of water per minute, it is the surface of the nearly 1,600 lineal ft of parapets that had to be robust enough to withstand rain, scorching heat, snow and ice as well as the wear and tear of three million annual visitors. For the comfort of the millions of hands that will touch the etchings, the parapets have a heating and cooling system.

"The [National September 11 Memorial & Museum non-profit foundation] was very concerned about making the experience as pleasurable as possible for visitors," many of whom will want to touch the engraved names, says Robert Downward, an associate with the project's local MEP engineer, Jaros Baum & Bolles.

JBB and Service Metal Fabricating, the parapet's Rockaway, N.J.-based supplier, knew of no prototype for a project like this, so they started from scratch to build a back-mounted tubing system that would work within the parapets and the nameplate system. The fabricator built a prototype of the panel, tested it under sunlight and then analyzed the results using computational fluid dynamics modeling.

"We calibrated the model so that it produced results in line with real field conditions," Downward says.

The result is a network of tubes that feed water behind the bronze plates. The tubes, nearly camouflaged, are underneath the plates and parallel to the rows of names.

"The spacing between the tubes was critical to maintaining comfortable temperatures at the panel surface," Downward says.

Each parapet section was shipped to the site with the tubes attached. Then, using a series of manifolds, workers connected the tube sections to the piping. The piping is connected to below-grade equipment that supplies the heated or chilled water.

9/11 Memorial Is Centerpiece of World Trade Center Redevelopment [enr via @chton1c]


I confess, I was as taken as the next guy by the Shiny Object-ivity of Jacob Kassay's electroplated solo debut at Eleven Rivington in 2009. Next guys like Portland Art's Jeff Jahn, who wrote the show felt "more in touch with the unsettled world of 2009." And Andrew Russeth, who nailed the charred & mirrored monochromes as "look[ing] like elegantly abused luxury goods."

And I had a big setup here, which I just deleted, about how I'm really not trying to add to the burgeoning body of Kassay concern trolling, articulated most clearly by Sarah Douglas, about the risks of overnight market success on the emerging artist.

But then I read Ed Schad's earnest attempt to strip the market hype preconceptions from his review of Kassay's current show at L&M Gallery in Los Angeles. And I have some issues.

On their face, Kassay and his silvered paintings seem almost too perfectly suited for the Art World's Next Top Model cautionary tale. It's like they're a trap, paintings perfectly calibrated to separate the most narcissistic collectors from their dough. The installation of silvered paintings at Art Basel [below] didn't help, and neither did Kassay's dealers' assertion that the paintings, a suite of eight, would only be sold together--and to a museum--for somewhere around EUR250,000.

Jacob Kassay: Untitled, 2011 / Art Unlimited / Art Basel 42

It's hard to counter this narrative; or to wonder how much discourse around Kassay's work is critical backfilling prompted by dealers or other vested interests. And I think Schad captures the difficulty well, questioning the conceptual underpinnings of Kassay's show in the face of his monochromes' unambiguous, materialist beauty:

I get the impression that the center of L&M's show, a large work on paper placed on rough 2 x 4 studs with a ballet barre positioned in front, is Kassay's attempt at giving us what may be a position, although that its orientation towards giving the show a conceptual reading also does a disservice. The work is ineffective, pitching a now typical rough D.I.Y look that is often misconstrued for sincerity and humility. Work like this neither sincere nor humble, but instead uses tropes of sincerity and humility as a cop-out for rigorous thinking. I have to admit, that Kassay's center piece looks grad-school and virtually destroys the mood of refinement and elegance created by the smaller works.

I can't fault Kassay entirely for this. After all he is young, and perhaps the impulse is to bring a little resolution and a little art history positioning to a practice that is probably more at home in explanation-less experimentation and straight ahead aesthetics. With the ballet barre, suddenly we are allowed to think of performance, of metaphor, of the history of Rauschenberg, his performative collaborations, and his white paintings, the idea of a monochrome as blank surfaces or "landing strips" for dust, light and shadow


Schad's identification of the monochrome as Kassay's field of bold engagement is right-on, but I think his skeptical de-emphasis of the artist's reference to Rauschenberg, the conceptual and the collaborative is a mistake. These may turn out to be central elements of Kassay's practice.

From the L&M press release:

This installation conceit engages Kassay's interest in artist collaborations such as Rauschenberg and Johns designing sets for Merce Cunningham performances and an abundant history of multi-media collaborations. It evokes these ideas, but also takes into consideration the gallery as a place for practice, repetition and the natural gradients provided by the light, the white walls and the work itself.
Which, hmm. There's a crossed up analogy there--sets and performance vs barre and practice--which effectively conflates gallery show with studio practice [all puns presumably intended].

I didn't want to be all Johnny one-note, but since he/they mentioned him first, I can now point out that the paradigm Kassay's debut on the art world stage most closely resembles is not Ryman or Klein, or even Rauschenberg, but Johns. Rauschenberg's 1953 Stable Gallery show of white and black monochromes was more scandale than succes, and he fought the unserious bad boy image for many years, while Johns' work was hailed--and sold--right out of the gate. And while flags and targets might stand out, most of Johns' earliest exhibited works [1957-58] were monochrome paintings.

And though Rauschenberg's reputation as a dance collaborator is well known, somehow Johns' image of painterly solitude persists [at least for me], even though he was deep in the mix. Here's a quietly remarkable comment Johns made in 1999, while discussing the creation of the artists-for-artists-oriented Foundation for Contemporary Arts, which he still heads:

In 1954 I had helped Bob Rauschenberg a bit with his Minutiae set, his first for Merce Cunningham, and I continued to assist him with most of his stage work through 1960. We were friends with Merce and John Cage and saw them frequently. In 1955 there was an evening of Cunningham/Cage performances at Clarkstown High School in Rockland County where we met Emile de Antonio. In 1958 de, as he was known, Bob and I formed Impresarios Inc. which financed and produced the 25-year retrospective concert of John Cage's music at Town Hall in New York.
I guess this is all an aside, but the Walker is preparing Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg, a show this fall of their Cunningham archive holdings which, at least in the title, doesn't consider Johns' collaborative role. Not that the Walker ignores Johns' dance work; they have his Duchampian set structures for Walkaroundtime, after all.

henry codax, installation view, via carriage trade

So what's this got to do with Kassay? Are his only collaboration references in his L&M show? In fact, he's apparently got another show up right now which takes the model collaboration and the issue of individual artistic creation and authorship head-on. Andrew Russeth reports that Carriage Trade's current show, an exhibition of monochrome paintings by the fictitious artist Henry Codax, is actually a joint project of Kassay and the minimalism-inflected French Swiss conceptual artist Olivier Mosset.

And now that you mention it, in May 2010, before any of the auction madness, Kassay opened his show in Paris with a collaboration as well. Iconic minimalist trumpter/composer Rhys Chatham performed at Art Concept, with a pair of Kassay's silvered paintings as a backdrop. Watching video of the gig [Here are parts 2 and 3, total runtime is about 55 minutes.], I'm struck by how the paintings function as screens, reflecting the movements of the small, otherwise invisible crowd.

For the two previous summers, at least, the Paris-based Chatham loomed large in New York. His landmark composition, A Crimson Grail, an orchestra for 200 electric guitars, was rehearsed and rained out at the last minute in 2008 as part of Lincoln Center's Out of Doors series. It was finally, triumphantly performed the next year. Andrew Hultkrans recounted the euphoric experience for Artforum.

In September, Primary Information is releasing a limited edition LP of the Kassay performance, with an additional work, under the title, Rêve Parisien. And in October, Kassay is having a show at the ICA in London, which is apparently still operating. For the moment, Eleven Rivington is surprisingly not mentioned in ICA's brief bio of Kassay.

UPDATE Ultimately I'm glad I ended so abruptly; maybe it was enough to spur Andrew into action. He reminded me of the collaboration I'd forgotten, the one which had finally pushed me over the colabo-writing edge. From Karen Rosenberg's NYT review of this year's so-called Bridgehampton Biennial, where the backyard is strewn with Lisa Beck's satelloon-lookin' sculptures, and the front yard features a 1964 Ford Galaxy awaiting "an 'artist's renovation' by Servane Mary, Jacob Kassay and Olivier Mosset." Those shiny silver balls'll throw me ever' time. [Of course, this show also brings up Bob Nickas's role in launching Kassay's work into the discourse. This is at least the third Nickas-curated show to include Kassay. Dance with the one who brung ya.]

Busy? Oh, yes! But never too busy to turn someone else's PDF into an artist book!

When @borthwick tweeted this yesterday morning about "a spectacular calibration failure at Google Books" where "Beautiful, digital errors become art," I knew I'd have to do something.


Because as it happens, The Great Picture had me thinking about ways to make a silver gelatin print of the beautiful Google Books scanning distortion I stumbled on last year [above]

The one that turns out to be similar to--a found, readymade version of--Daphne, Sigmar Polke's handmade photocopy distortion artist book from 2004.

images from Polke's Daphne via stopping off place

Then as soon as I clicked through, and saw that it was the whole book, well, my course was set.


According to Google Books, the book was scanned at the Bavarian State Library in Munich on December 15, 2008, a little over a year into their massive digitization initiative.

The title of this distorted-beyond-all-recognition-and-come-out-the-other-side-as-art book is is Wohlgemeynte Gedanken über den Dannemarks-Gesundbrunnen, which translates roughly as Well-meaning Thoughts on Denmark's Mineral Waters.

But [much to Geoffrey Nunberg's continued consternation, I'm sure] that title turns out to be as glitched up as the pages themselves. According to rare booksellers, Wallerius's two-part book is actually titled, Hydrologie, oder Wasserreich, von ihm eingetheilet und beschrieben: nebst einer Anleitung zur Anstellung der Wasserproben: wie auch dessen Gedanken vom Dannemarks-Gesundbrunnen,, or Hydrology, or Water Kingdom, divided, and described by him: in addition to a manual for the use of water samples: and also his thoughts on Danish mineral waters..

Hydrologie was originally published in Swedish in 1747, and Wallerius worked closely with Denso on the German translation. But, kind of hilariously, that's not important now.

Google Books has remade Hydrologie into something entirely its own, and it's awesome. Wohlgemeynte Gedanken is a beautiful, revealing mix of inadvertent making-of documentary and algorithmic abstraction. Reiner Speck's insight on Polke's photocopied Daphne seem relevant here:

Process is revealed, over and over again. Motifs accumulate page after page, as do small graphic cycles. The printed dot, the resolution, the subject, and the speed all determine and are determined by the apparently unpredictable and often impenetrable secret of a picture whose drafts are akin to the waste products of a copying machine. Even if the motifs in this book provide but a brief insight into the artist's hitherto secret files and archives, it is still a significant one.
Even more significant when the artist in this case--Google--has also been very reluctant to disclose the secrets and mechanics of its archiving process.


In fact, between the time I started this post last night and this morning, Google Books has removed the distorted copy of Wohlgemeynte Gedanken from its site. In its place now is a plain scan, low-res, but entirely legible, and a digitally generated cover image [but with the same, mangled title]. A side-by-side comparison [above] shows the same underlying scans, which means the distortions--and the fixes--all happened in post.


It also means I'm glad I grabbed the full PDF when I did. And that I formatted it, created a cover, and made it into a print version. Instead of the distorted black and white cover Google Books [still] shows online, I went with a beautiful full-color shot of the gold-stamped leather binding.


Obviously I'm still waiting for the proofs to arrive, so it may change, but right now Wohlgemeynte Gedanken über den Dannemarks-Gesundbrunnen is available as a 283-page, 6x9 paperback facsimile edition. I'm trying black and white first, because an all-color version seemed prohibitively expensive. But then again, what's the market? Color may yet be the way to go.

The book also includes Google Books' 2-page boilerplate foreword explaining what they wish would happen with scans of public domain books. Which is adorable.

2015 UPDATE: As the folks who bought the original 2011 edition can attest, the proofs turned out to be slightly underwhelming, losing some of the visual impact of Google Books' original. But then no one was really buying it that often, so no biggie. But a few weeks ago I went back to see if I could improve the formatting of the book, and now it looks much better. A full-color option may still come, but in the mean time, the 2015 printings are the way to go.

Buy a print gopy of Google Books' original Wohlgemeynte Gedanken über den Dannemarks-Gesundbrunnen for $16.99 []
Joanne McNeill's Kantian view of Distorted Scans on Google Books []
I'm guessing JWZ's post was the ur-source []

distorted diptych from Google Books' scan of Nouvel Manuel Complet du Fabricant et de l'Amateur de Tabac
Daphne, as photocopied by Sigmar Polke

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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

find me on twitter: @gregorg

about this archive

Posts from August 2011, in reverse chronological order

Older: July 2011

Newer September 2011

recent projects, &c.

Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
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Social Medium:
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Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
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Madoff Provenance Project in
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11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
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Chop Shop
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eBay Test Listings
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It Narratives, incl.
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Standard Operating Procedure
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
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YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
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"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
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HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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Canal Zone Richard
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
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