February 2012 Archives

Shadow

And here I am barely able to keep up with The New Aesthetic.

Meanwhile, TNA honcho James Bridle is cranking out other awesome projects left and right, and works like this one, Shadow, which, yes, please, very much.

Shadow, 2012, via STML's flickr]
STML, James Bridle's portfolio site [shorttermmemoryloss.com]
The New Aesthetic [new-aesthetic.tumblr.com]

February 28, 2012

Delirious Ningbo

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I've been busy as all get out, and only now do I realize I haven't actually posted here for a few days. I blame Twitter.

Anyway, I'm not a real believer in the Pritzker Prize, except when it's totally awesome, like right now, when they just announced Shanghai-based Wang Shu as the winner of the 2012 architecture award.

Since last night, when LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne tweeted the news, and promptly began livetweeting Wang's lecture at UCLA, I've been trying to think where it was that I first discovered what's probably the architect's most significant work so far, the Ningbo History Museum.

Wang indeed seems like one of the smartest, most sensitive practitioners of architecture in China right now. I say seems, because I really don't know what's going on on the ground, below the Western starchitect marquee projects from CCTV to that awful opera house, to that other awful opera house to that Steven Holl Ground Zero-in-Beijing mess, to that one housing development where everyone was brought in to make a Shigeru Ban house on spec? I remember Alvaro Siza telling about designing a building in Guangzhou back in the day, and visiting it as it neared completion, only to find out when he returned for the ribboncutting that the developer client had hurriedly doubled it without telling him.

And then everything else seems like generic futureschlock, and a wholesale disregard for history that'd do the Cultural Revolution proud. And then there was Koolhaas's presentation on the Pearl River Delta which envisioned all of Hong Kong as basically the future Lower East Side/Astor Place of a massive, 100-mile-wide New York City on the South China Sea.

So that's my context, with nothing but raw spectacle with a modernist/internationalist veneer.

And then Wang's Ningbo History Museum, which is surfaced with several million reused bricks, laid in patterns of the laborers' devising, literally built from the rubble of the past it displaces--and repackages as museum content.

Wang turns out to have trained on construction and renovation teams, giving him an unusual sensitivity to material and process as they express themselves in form and space. I found myself nodding when Hawthorne compared him to Koolhaas, but then I thought, yeah, well, maybe the Koolhaas of Delirious New York, not CCTV and Put Me On The Cover Of Time Magazine. If anything, after this most recent OMA/AMO Venice show about the threat of History, Wang might be the anti-Koolhaas.

Anyway, I'm just rambling here without a plan, only because Wang Shu seems pretty amazing; his projects and proposals bode well, not just for China, but for the world with a modern China in it; and because I want to post one of Iwan Baan's many illuminating photos of Wang's built work. This one is the dramatic, hidden interior courtyard of the Ningbo Museum.

And thanks to Brian Sholis, who points to a nice collection of Wang Shu project images and information on the Pritzker Prize's own media site [pritzkerprize.com]

February 20, 2012

'Collectors Are My Power Base'

It's well worth looking at the fuller context of that awesome Jeff Koons blurb about abstraction and luxury being the guard dogs of the upper class. [most recently tweeted by @berfrois] It comes from a late 1988 interview with Brooks Adams and Karen Marta, who were then working under the name Burke & Hare, which was published in Parkett 19:

I try to be effective as a leader. I'm very interested in leadership. I think that my own work has been helping to direct a dialogue, and it's been participating in it for quite some time. I'm anteing up the pressure and trying to increase the stakes continually. I've found that collectors are my power base. You know, I'm able to work as a function of thier support of my work. I think that they have to have some interest in debasement and its political possibilities, even for their own use. I mean, it really has to be for their own use. I think that I give them a sense of freedom. I don't think that I'm debasing them and not leaving them a place to go. I'm creating a whole new area for them once they're feeling free. I see it as my job to keep the bourgeoisie out of equilibrium letting them form a new aristocracy.

I think it's necessary that the work be bought, that I have the political power to operate. I enjoy the seduction of the sale. I enjoy the idea that my objectives are being met. I like the idea of the political power base of art, but it's not just a money thing. It has to be a total coordination of everything, and money is a certain percent of it, maybe 20% of it. Look, abstraction and luxury are the guard dogs of the upper class. The upper class wants people to have ambition and gumption because, if you do, you will participate and you'll move through society into a different class structure. But eventually, through the tools of abstraction and luxury, they will debase you, and they will get your chips away from you.

1988 was right after his Banality show, the Complete Spot Paintings of its day, which opened, outrageously, in three galleries at once in New York [Sonnabend], Berlin [Max Hetzler], and Chicago [Donald Young]. But it was before Made In Heaven, it was before he basically went bankrupt--and nearly took Deitch with him--making his balloon dogs and whatnot. It was a Koonsianism several orders of magnitude less intense that the Koonsianism we see today.

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Jeff and Felix sittin' in a tree. P-A-R-K-E-T-T

His political interpretation also resonates with Felix Gonzalez-Torres' discussion from 1994:

At this point I do not want to be outside the structure of power, I do not want to be the opposition, the alternative. Alternative to what? To power? No. I want to have power. It's effective in terms of change. I want to be like a virus that belongs to the institution. All the ideological apparatuses are, in other words, replicating themselves, because that's the way the culture works.

February 18, 2012

Max Ernst Staring Contest

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Of the many extraordinary photos of Max Ernst and his sculptures that Michael posted at stopping off place this week, this is my hands-down favorite

My guess is Thomas Houseago has stared long and hard at this thing as well.

image from Max Ernst: sculptures, maisons, paysages at Ecole des tueurs [stoppingoffplace]

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Last year I picked up this extraordinary photograph, and then didn't have immediate results researching it, so I put it away until now. Then, wow.

NASA launched the first Project Echo communications satelloon in 1960 to much fanfare, but the 100-foot diameter inflated Mylar sphere's actual performance as a reflective signal relay fell short of predictions. Echo IA launched in 1960 and stayed aloft and visible from earth until 1966, but it partially deflated within a few weeks, which weakened its reflectivity. And the drag of such a large object decayed its orbital speed in ways that made it an unreliable relay.

Soon after Echo II's launch in 1964 by NASA and Bell Labs, the US Air Force began pursuing a next-generation technology with one of its leading military contractors, Goodyear Aerospace: the grid sphere.

The grid sphere satellite was designed, near as I can tell, by Goodyear Aerospace engineer Howard Barrett. The 30-food diameter sphere of rigidized, laminated aluminum wire was embedded in a UV-sensitive plastic, which would photolyze, or disintegrate, after inflating in space, leaving the open grid sphere intact. The sphere was calculated to produce a backscatter reflection signal more than 5x as powerful as the Mylar solid sphere three times its diameter, and would be immune to its puncture, deflation, and solar radiation drag effects.

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image via National Museum of the US Air Force

I've found mention of both 2-foot and 14-foot diameter grid sphere models, and another image of this 30-foot test inflation. Good gravy, did they really just inflate it using that tiny, leaf blower thing? I think it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that when it launched in 1966 from Vandenburg AFB on an Atlas rocket, the grid sphere satellite became the second-most beautiful object ever put into space. Between July 13, 1966 and May 24, 1968, when Echo IA burned up in the atmosphere, there were two satelloons and this open grid sphere, all orbiting the earth together, in Minimalism's awesomest group show.

Which would be cool enough on its own. And then Andy Beach sends me this.

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It's Nicholas Mangan's 2008 photo of Ed Grothus's Doomsday Stone. Grothus was the atomic technician-turned-anti-nuclear peace activist-and-retail-icon who ran The Black Hole, the legendary military/scientific surplus store in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Grothus died in 2009 without being able to realize his decades-in-the-making Doomsday Stones memorial, a set of massive black granite obelisks carved with warnings in 15 languages about the destructive power of nuclear weapons.

The obelisks I'd heard about, but not this insanely awesome 1-meter, 1.5-ton, black granite sphere, which rests alongside them in a shipping container in Grothus's backyard. Mangan:

In late 2007 Ed went to the Art in Public Places board in Los Alamos to offer them his monuments for public display. They rejected them stating that 'they couldn't think of anywhere in Los Alamos where they would fit in'. They backed up their rejection by claiming that Ed was not an 'Artist' according to their set of definitions and requirements.
There is something about a prophet in his own country here. Grothus's Doomsday Stones are art in every sense of the word, and his work is an artistic practice of the highest kind, and should be recognized as such.

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Large Red Sphere, Walter de Maria, 2010, permanent installation at Kunstareal, Munich, image: e-flux

The self-proclaimed art world ignores Grothus at the peril of its own credibility and relevance. If it's just a matter of the research not being done, let's get on it. If we need to inflate the critical balloon to give Grothus's reputation the structure it is obviously meant to have, let's start blowing. From his quixotic minimalist megalomania in the desert [Heizer, Turrell, De Maria] to his performative taunts in high Catholic regalia [Klein], to his fantastical historical dumpsterdiving [Dion], Grothus is Los Alamos' own Simon Rodia. It's just a question of how long it'll take everyone to realize it.

Look, I don't care if you ARE Domus and you have Paola Antonelli herself as a judge; it is no small thing to call your design competition Autoprogettazione 2.0:

Autoprogettazione 2.0 is an invitation to consider the potential of a diffused, localised manufacturing network combined with the self-build ethos proposed by Mari for the future of furniture design. It is an open-ended process that seeks to leverage the combined intelligence and talent of the design community and collaborative, open-source networks. Selected projects will be exhibited by Domus in an exhibition exploring the future of manufacturing hosted in Palazzo Clerici, one of Milan's most prestigious palazzi.

The submission deadline is 27 March 2012.

The categories are table, chair, lamp, and storage, and the designs will be judged in part by how awesomely they exploit the fancy CNC and 3-D printing setups in the FabLab.

Frankly, it sounds interesting and on the up and up, but all a bit out of my league. And anyway, I don't quite get how these new, cutting edge technologies are really the optimum solution for the space's adaptable, quick & dirty, utilitarian, functional program. Not to be a curmudgeon about it, but my gimmicky meter is redlining right now.

Call for ideas: Autoprogettazione 2.0 [domusweb.it via, uhm, I forget. remind me?]

4/14 UPDATE And we have some winners. Nice stuff. You quiero El Gringo. For all the fab FabLab capabilities, it looks like plywood is still the go-to material for knock-together utilitarian furniture. [via @cityofsound]

February 14, 2012

Jonathan Monk Paperweight

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No amount of waiting in line can help me now. This awesome, bronze, iPhone-shaped paperweight by Jonathan Monk is sold out. I'll console myself with the knowledge that had I heard about it in time, the goofy name would probably have been a dealbreaker anyway.

Call Weighting Paper, Jonathan Monk, ed. 12 +3 proofs, plus two boondoggle copies [onestarpress.com via artistsbooksandmultiples via stoppingoffplace]

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Untitled (for Parkett), 1994 image via phillips de pury

I've been wondering how Felix Gonzalez-Torres' billboard edition, Untitled (for Parkett) was playing out in the real world. How many of the 84+15+? copies still existed? How many had been installed? Installed and destroyed? Have any been installed and preserved after its permanent site traded hands? Or are most/all of them like mine, still sitting in the box, rolled up, and "incomplete," waiting? Waiting for what? The perfect wall in the house you'll never leave? The market to rise too high to ignore?

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Untitled (for Parkett), 1994 image via christie's

What I already knew: seven examples of Untitled (for Parkett) have come up for auction, the first in 2000, and at least three of them didn't sell, including one example that was missing its certificate. The sales prices, $4,000, $10,000, £6,600, are pretty low in the Felixian scheme of things. More importantly, though, they're low in relation to real estate, even to high-end wallcovering; if someone were to install the billboard, and then sold the space where it resided, the market value alone--or in combination with the reassurance that eh, whatever, there are a hundred more--is not enough to aid its preservation.

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Installation shot, 149 Books, 1994, image via julie ault's felix gonzalez-torres

Untitled (for Parkett), then is almost doomed by its own nature to exist in a state of fungible incompleteness, or worthless realization, or inevitable destruction. Any billboards that do get installed permanently somewhere will only exist until the paper fades, or the loft is sold, or the kitchen gets remodeled. And then it'll be gone.

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installation view, London, 2001, all images from here on via parkett

I contacted both the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation and Parkett. Allison Hemler, the Foundation's Director of Archives and Communications did some investigating, and found very little information indeed. There are almost no records of the status of the 84+15 editions, with the exception of #19, which was permanently installedat the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide. [Interestingly, it's not listed in the collection database, though another Felix piece is. It's apparently been included in three exhibitions between 1998 and 2009. I've emailed the Gallery for any information or images, but haven't heard back. UPDATE: And a spokesperson told me the work was not in the 2009 show, and is not installed, but is "in the Gallery's works on paper archive." So. So I guess there are no known permanent installations of the work right now, despite those being, of course, the only kind.]

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installation view, MoMA, 2001

The "several exhibition copies" mentioned in the catalogue raisonne turns out to be just four. Triumph Productions, the Manhattan outdoor advertising printer which created the original 8-panel silk screen is still going strong, but neither the Foundation nor the Estate before it has ever reprinted Untitled (for Parkett) for exhibition, and there are currently no practices in place for doing so.

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installation view, dublin, 2002

So unlike many, even most, of Gonzalez-Torres' other works, which are endlessly reproducible and renewable, Untitled (for Parkett) has a finite and dwindling existence. Unless it is installed and preserved in those sites. Which is possible. A billboard preservation network could emerge. These mostly private spaces could become the sites of public pilgrimage. Assuming they were ever private to begin with. From a 1991 interview with Bob Nickas:

Someone's agenda has been enacted to define "public" and "private." We're really talking about private property because there is no private space anymore. Our intimate desires, fantasies, and dreams are ruled and intercepted by the public sphere.
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installation view, venice, 2003

Though it has apparently never been written about specifically, Untitled (for Parkett) is mostly seen in reproduction, and in exhibitions. The Foundation's exhibition history lists 14 shows, including eight exhibitions where it's not clear if the billboard was shown, or just illustrated: three were at commercial galleries, one was organized by the Sammlung Goetz, and two were at museums. In addition to the three shows in Adelaide which included a single print, the billboard was installed in six exhibitions. I'd add a seventh, the 1997 Whitney Biennial; I remember it installed in the lobby, with the curtain of light strings, Untitled (America), hanging in front of it.

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installation view, 2010, singapore

But three of the six shows, including the debut exhibition in 1994, one at MoMA in 2001, and another in 2010 at Singapore's Tyler Print Institute, are Parkett collection shows. Parkett's ever-growing collection of artist editions is basically on constant world tour. It's traveled to at least seven additional venues. Their installation images are interlaced throughout this post in reverse chronological order. They show that billboard at every venue. And why not? Besides the Jeff Koons balloon toy, it's one of their most ambitious, awesome editions.

Here's the complete [I think] list: 149 Books, New York (1994); Louisiana Museum, Denmark (1996); MAK Center, Los Angeles (1997); London (2001); MoMA, NY (2001); Dublin (2002); Venice (2003); Kanazawa, Japan (2009); Singapore (2010); Seoul (2011). Ten installations, almost every one with different dimensions and site specific quirks, which should make reinstalling a single exhibition print impossible [as well as unauthorized].

So is Parkett churning through actual numbered editions? The A.P.'s? An undeclared stack of exhibition copies? They haven't gotten back to me, so I don't know. But that's 15 installations total.

Felix did discuss the edition, , or an early conception of it, anyway, with Joseph Kosuth in 1993:

JK: This goes from the earlier idea of the collector as someone who buys knickknacks to the idea of the collector as patron. It's a certain kind of leap that has more tod o with intellectual engagement and less to do with reducing art to nice little things in the apartment.

FGT: You know, someone once asked me to make an edition of prints. But I thought, why make an edition, why make a print? The world doesn't need any more prints by artists. So I said no. But then I thought about it, and I said, well, why don't we push the limits and do a billboard? The conditions are such that you can only show it in public. You have to show it in public.

Obviously, he decided to push the limit in a different direction. When Kosuth lauded his embrace and tweak of a "traditional form" and context, Gonzalez-Torres responded:
Well, my first reaction was a very predictable Leftist reaction which more and more I am questioning and finding very static and self-defeating. At this point I do not want to be outside the structure of power, I do not want to be the opposition, the alternative. Alternative to what? To power? No. I want to have power. It's effective in terms of change. I want to be like a virus that belongs to the institution. All the ideological apparatuses are, in other words, replicating themselves, because that's the way the culture works. So if I function as a virus, an imposter, an infiltrator, I will always replicate myself together with those institutions. And I think that maybe I'm embracing those institutions which before I would have rejected. Money and capitalism are powers that are here to stay, at least for the moment. It's within those structures that change can and will take place. My embrace is a strategy related to my initial rejection.
I can't tell if the market-based capitalist system is failing to realize Untitled (for Parkett), or succeeding in preserving it, in bulk, unrealized and incomplete, for the future--or both. But it is certain that Felix has successfully infiltrated Parkett, which is busy replicating his work together with their institution.

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this one. Untitled, 1991, Site #21: 504 W 44th St.

One of the formative artworks in my life is set to re-appear this month. I saw one of the giant black & white billboards of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres' empty bed in the city in 1992 before I realized it was part of MoMA's Projects series. Billboards were supposed to promote something, to give you information, I thought, not to leave you wondering. Wondering what the hell is being sold here, what something as private and messy as a bed is doing on a billboard.

When I next walked into MoMA, though, and saw the same billboard, and read curator Anne Umland's brochure for the show, I realized my encounter was exactly the kind of "illogical meeting" Felix had intended:

Rather than clipping something from the mass media and repositioning it within the clean smooth space of a work of art, he makes the photograph of the bed the informational fragment, and collages it into the broad and varied pattern of the contemporary urban landscape.

The artist has explained that by "taking a little bit of information and displaying this information in absolutely ironic and illogical meetings," he hopes to reveal the real meaning of issues. The juxtaposition of an image that we are inclined to read as private and a space usually conceived of as public is what Gonzalez-Torres would describe as an "illogical meeting." When we call something illogical, we are essentially saying that it runs counter to our expectations.

Umland also wrote, "Much of Gonzalez-Torres' art questions what we mean when we describe something as private or as public."

This public/private aspect of billboards kicked off a 1993 discussion between Gonzalez-Torres and Joseph Kosuth, both of whom, it turned out, had created billboards that, as Felix put it, "can only be shown in public. They're privately owned but always publicly shown."

[Kosuth:] ...there were very few people who wanted to spend their money without getting some 'goods', you know.

FGT: Well, you opened the way for other artists. People can buy these billboards, but they have to put them in public--they have to rent a public space. It's like buying edition prints, except that you have to put them up on billboards. It's also doing a service to the collectors because they don't have to put the works into storage!

Never mind that fabrication and the monthly cost of renting adspace far outstrips any storage cost. I think Felix's point with his billboards was that he was fine delivering collectors the "goods"; but to see the goods, they have to print them up and install them in public.

All except one.

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For every Felix billboard, the owner gets an image, a certificate, and the right to fabricate and install it in public any time. But for one billboard, Untitled (for Parkett) [above], Felix created his own "illogical meeting," a work which thwarts the very expectations he set up for the rest of his work.

Felix created Untitled (for Parkett), in 1994 for, as the parenthetical says, Parkett's editions series. The abstraction-like image is a black & white photo of sand churned up by footprints. It was published in an "edition of 84, 15 a.p., several exhibition copies," and produced the same way as his other billboards are [or were, anyway], as giant silk screened sheets of Appleton coated paper that get tiled and pasted up like wallpaper.

But when they do, that's it. They're permanent, can't be moved. Can't be taken down and reinstalled. As the lot description in the Phillips catalogue last month that got me thinking about this in the first place put it,

This piece is not complete until installed. The installation site will be its permanent location until the piece is destroyed.
Now, this is not news to me. As it turns out, I have this edition. I have several, in fact, which I bought hoarded precisely because I knew that they were one-time deals, and that, like most New Yorkers, I was not expecting to be in my apartment forever. I figured I'd move someday, maybe even into a place where I could fit a 3x7-meter billboard. Then who knows, maybe I'd move again, or at least rehang the place, and so I'd need another, and so on, and so on...

But the Phillips language struck a chord in a new way. In 2007, Christie's explained the piece a little harshly: "This work should be displayed in only one location; removal will destroy the piece." But that's easy, just never remove it. And anyway, that's after it's installed, in some distant unimaginable future. Phillips, though, pointed out the weird anomaly of Untitled (for Parkett), which is that the work, as it exists, as it's being sold, as I have it, in fact, is incomplete.

Suddenly, I'm not a steward preserving the work; I'm an obstacle impeding its realization. And so is everyone else who bought the work, only to keep it rolled up. The people who hold it in statis, retarding its potential, and keeping it viable and exchangeable in the marketplace.

As this description I missed in 2010 shows, Phillips's language of incompleteness seems to come from Parkett themselves:

According to the publisher, Untitled (For Parkett) employs the materials of industrial advertising which are not meant to last indefinately [sic]. The Billboard is not water-proof. Marks and imperfections in the printing are a natural result of the printing process and are part of the image. Bubbles or wrinkles remaining in the paper after installation are an expected and acceptable part of the finished work. The billboard is designed to be installed either indoors or outdoors. Like most of the artist's works installation is an integral conceptual part of the work, and is considered incomplete until then.
Not only are you depriving the work of its destiny by not installing it, it's not going to last anyway.

And that auction catalogue blurb turns out to be just about the longest thing anyone's ever published on Untitled (for Parkett) before. So I started poking around a bit. [to be continued]

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image: ragoarts

A couple--wow, almost three--years ago, when I was deep in my IKEA colabo phase, I posted a roundup of explanations for why Verner Panton's melamine-on-MDF Vilbert chair didn't sell that well when Ikea launched it in 1993-4.

Now, on the occasion of Rago's upcoming auction of five Vilbert chairs, with an estimate of $3-4,000, another version of the chair's origins has come to my attention: that the Vilbert was a limited edition, a low-production collaboration with a high-profile designer, dreamed up by Ingvar Kamprad as a brand enhancer, like Karl Lagerfeld's H&M collection. In this scenario, selling only "about 3,000" Vilbert chairs worldwide was not a failure, but part of the plan.

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In any case, despite a lot of onesies selling--or not--for far less, I will guess that Rago hopes its set of five is worth twice the EUR 1600 Quittenbaum got for six Vilbert chairs in 2006. Perhaps someone with a chairless Guyton/Walker breakfast nook will prove them right.

UPDATE: the chairs sold for $2,875.

First, Happy Birthday, Mr. Richter.

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Destroyed 1964 Richter painting, image from Gerhard Richter Archkiv via Spiegel

I don't know if Joerg knew at the time he first tweeted about it--he is plugged in and German, so who knows?--but I certainly had no idea when I picked up on the topic of Gerhard Richter "destroying" paintings by painting over them. But it turns out that the 74 paintings listed as "[DESTROYED]" on Richter's website are only a fraction, barely half, of the paintings he's actually destroyed so far.

In an interview with Ulrike Knöfel for Spiegel, Richter talks about the 60 or so photo-based paintings he destroyed in the 1960s during a very self-critical period of his career. Not to worry, though, because, being Gerhard Richter, he photographed them first

These photos, most of which were never published, are now either in the Gerhard Richter Archive in the eastern German city of Dresden, where the painter was born, or in a box in his studio in the western city of Cologne. They are testaments to his refusal to compromise.
Mhmm. Though the ambivalence/regret/equivocation Richter expresses in the interview reveal that a refusal to compromise is not automatically a win. Couldn't he have just put them away and not looked at them for a while instead?

None were apparently included in Richter's first catalogue raisonne, the source for his website's "[DESTROYED]" list. And many appear to date from the earliest phase of his recognized work, 1962-4. Oh but wait, his much-discussed 1962 Hitler IS online, described as "believed to have been destroyed."

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Hitler, 1962, image via gerhard-richter.com

That seems like a new category, loaded with ambiguity. I like it much better than "[DESTROYED]" or even "Richter painted over this work in ___. The painting is now entitled ____." Which, it turns out, has another example:

Today, Richter says he's surprised at how many works he continued to destroy after the 1960s. Perhaps he will return to one motif or another, he adds, noting that "otherwise it would be a shame." One painting, in particular, comes to mind. It was painted in 1990 and shows two young people standing in front of Madrid's Museo del Prado, Spain's national art museum. However, two years later, he painted over this work, turning "Prado, Madrid" into "Abstract Painting, 1992."
Which, yeah, there is no Prado, Madrid in the CR, and there are at least 279 Abstraktes Bild done in 1992, so, this'll take a bit of digging. I'll update the post when/if I find it. [I'll have to do an update post anyway, because I've already found at least two other overpainted paintings.]

This painting over thing is one thing. The other, which I'm kind of fascinated by now, is the relationship between painting and photography as it plays out in these destroyed paintings. Which, of course, still exist as the artist's photographs. It's like Barthes' Camera Lucida; they're gone, but not. I can't tell if this is Spiegel's interpretation or reportage:

Still, since his urge to destroy some of his paintings also made him feel uneasy, he photographed them before doing so.
But someone has to have already looked at this backup, insurance, documentary, archival, post-mortem, forensic, ghost aspect of the way these two mediums intertwine. Right?

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Photo of destroyed Gerhard Richter painting, 1960s, by Gerhard Richter, image: Gerhard Richter Archiv Dresden via Spiegel

Meanwhile, the obvious thing--and isn't that what I'm here to point out?--is to recreate these destroyed Richters. Whether you paint the archival photo, crop marks and background and all, in a meta-Richterian gesture, or just try your darnedest to bring their destroyed, painted subjects back to life, I'll have to figure out. But paintings based on a painter's photographs of paintings based on photographs? What's not to love?

It'd be trivial to the point of meaninglessness to just print the Spiegel jpgs on canvas, or to order them up from Chinese paint mills. But I'd be interested to see just how much more meaning could be gleaned by painstakingly copying them by hand. Even if the answer is very little, that's still an important datapoint.

His Own Harshest Critic | A New Look at Works Destroyed by Gerhard Richter [spiegel.de via bigthink]

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image of the front page of the Feb. 26, 1942 LA Times, via framework.latimes.com

Back in 2007, this blog experienced a notable conceptual shift, when I found myself writing about things, works of art, I guess, that I wanted to exist, not those that actually existed.

An early example: a historically accurate re-enactment of the "wigwam" of searchlights photographed by the LA Times on the night of Feb. 23, 1942, the infamously hapless false alarm/gun battle/freakout known as the Battle of Los Angeles.

Researching along those searchlight lines led to the discovery of other awesome but implausible subjects for artistic reincarnation, such as the fantastical "dazzle lights" camo apparatus of legendary British camo officer/magician/bullshitter Jasper Maskelyne. And of course, Frosty Myers' great arc light pyramids, first assembled in the four corners of Tompkins Square Park.

Yes, well, I guess we can move the Wigwam from the list of things I have to re-create someday to the list of things that have, in some way, at least, been re-created.

syfy_la_wigwam_latimes.jpg

Last year, some guys from SyFy replicated the searchlight Wigwam in the desert for a bogus investigative show called, "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files." They were apparently trying to reproduce the flying saucer-shaped object caught in the apex of the beams in LA Times' photo, which has apparently been cited as evidence of a military UFO coverup. Really.

The Times' TV critic Ed Stockly had all the details. Including the show's complete lack of interest in checking the actual photo, or the negative, both of which are in the Times Archive at UCLA. And which show clear evidence of being altered. The UFO is Whiteout. The beams are painted, the skyline is inked. The whole thing was retouched to make it reproducible for the printing presses of the day.

In the Times' LA history blog, Larry Harnisch gets all Errol Morris on that photo's ass, posting seven long times about it. [Take it from one who's learned the hard way, Larry, strings of minutiae-filled posts are not enough to make a blogger Errol Morris.]

battle_of_la_negative_latimes.jpg

Meanwhile, Scott Harrison's examination of the Battle of LA and the negative issue at the LAT's photoblog, Framework is plenty for me. Plus it has better images. The original negative, above, is quite beautiful as is, and it is now on my list of negatives to visit in Los Angeles. And I think I will add printing it old school to my list of projects.

Original post mentioning the wigwam of lights

February 8, 2012

Douglas Gordon On Painting

Got posts stacked up like flights at LaGuardia, but I can't get past these paintings by Douglas Gordon [right?] coming up at Christie's London sale next week.

douglas_gordon_ptgs_93.jpg

They're 1-m square monochromes of acrylic housepaint with a text and date that's a reference to a work by another artist. Gordon did these particular paintings around 1993, the same time he was working on his awesome, breakthrough film installation, 24 Hour Psycho. Which, in retrospect, makes it a tough year for a Douglas painting to get much attention. But yet they kind of nagged at me.

And then as I found one of the only discussions of Gordon's paintings, in a 1993 interview with Thomas Lawson for Frieze, it sounded slightly familiar. But of course, I'd not noticed it much, if at all, at the time. Here's part of that discussion, which segues so nicely from the one project to the other:

DG: The idea is that these paintings, the way I imagine them, do have a 'transcendental' aspect, although I hate that word. Part of the background here is the whole range of 'endgame' painting theories, you know, like the Peter Halley/Sigmar Polke/Gerhard Richter positions, and also the Last Exit stuff that you wrote. These 'thinking' painters were important to me, partly because of the whole fuss about 'Glasgow Painting' in the 80s.

The paintings that you have seen have come about as a result of the attitudes and strategies that I had developed through working outside of a studio; you become steeped in a research, which isn't based on physical materials.

I was in a show in New York a while ago, and it turned out that the space was the old Betty Parsons Gallery. So I did some research on the place and started making lists of the paintings that had hung on those walls during the 40s and 50s. I ended up making a series of paintings that related directly to these works by people like Ad Reinhardt and Ellsworth Kelly. But although this series came out of a response to a situation, the thing about painting in general is that it satisfies a desire to make work free of a specific context.

TL: I think I'm hearing you admit that you actually make paintings on spec, just like a studio painter would?

DG: Yes. You've found me out. But my premise is to take the field of painting as a context in itself - you know, you say the word 'painting' and hundreds of expectations or prejudices come to mind. It's obvious that my interest in painting is not so much in the practical, physical side, as in the idea of it.

I'm interested in the fine line between my intentions and the perceptions of others; that moment when someone encounters something and realises that there is more to it than meets the eye. I'm interested in the moment when someone opens the letter, recognises that it is for them, and starts to wonder why they got it, and what it really means. The same can happen with these paintings: someone sees the piece that uses the title of a Baldessari book and thinks, well, yes Brutus did kill Caesar. But in 1976? And isn't this the title of another artwork, by someone else, somewhere else, and so on? I would say that all of the work plays with recognition and expectation in this way.

TL: Is there a particular pay-off with the paintings if you crack the code, or is it enough to know generally that these texts refer to works by other artists not on show here? Is it enough to know that there is a clue, without needing to know what the clue is?

DG: I don't think there's a particular pay-off. People who don't recognize the text as a title to a specific piece of art can still have a certain intrigue to play with. If you didn't know that Slow Motion 1969 refers to a piece by Robert Morris, I think you can still find something that will resonate. Maybe people who aren't trapped in an art history background can find more.

TL: Do you fetishise your material? Are they well made stretchers, well prepared linen grounds, and all that?

DG: I don't make a big deal of production values. The paintings simply have to be clean and pragmatic so that there is nothing about them to distract from the ideas they contain. I use available materials and choose colour from a standard household paint chart. I just want the paintings to appear as neutral grounds, no drips, no spots.

TL: I don't know. By the time you get done they'll be agitated with blobs and cross hatches, and you'll be talking up a storm about expressivity.

DG: Probably. Working with shaped canvases, and everything. The paintings are an important project for me, alongside the other things. I'm interested in the 'big' media. All those traditions with too much baggage. For instance, I've been interested in film for a long time. I always wanted to make an epic as my first film - a real movie, not Super 8 or anything. I thought it might be interesting to take an existing film and re-make it. I wanted a picture with a story which was very familiar to a broad audience; so I started to work with Psycho. What I decided to do was alter the narrative of the original by making it 24 hours long, and without sound.

Sounds crazy, but it just might work!

Hello, It's Me! [frieze]
Feb 16, 2012, Lot 241: Douglas Gordon, five paintings, est. £50,000 - £70,000 [christies]

February 7, 2012

R-Money, R-Problems

r-money.jpg
R-M-O Oh my heck! N-E-Y

This awesomely remixed version of this AP photo [by Gerald Herbert, below] from a campaign event in Elko, Nevada last Friday makes me marvel at the many lost opportunities for Sforzian hacks in the past.

800_romney_ap_120204.jpg

I mean, why should wire service photographers have all the fun? But then I read all the way through the Democratic Underground forum thread where the Photoshopped version first appeared, and where dozens of armchair politicos oneupped each other with their media acumen:

Mark D.
63. Romney is an anagram for R Money
As this photo made me realize that.
Tweet what I'd said-go viral with it.

JI7
43. a quick or even long Glance still looks like "money"
if i was adivising them and saw this i would have recommended against it.

illinoismike
59. Something else
What bothers me more about this picture is that all the participants are male and white. That doesn't seem to bother Mitt at all!

silverweb
3. Is that real?
Ohhhh, please-please-please-please let it be real so we can bury him with it!!!

MrScorpio
74. R. Money, Mitt's new rap name. nt

SemperEadem
19. :: very slow golf clap ::
you couldn't make this shit up.
"r" "money" our money... yep.. can't make this shit up.

[barrage of slow clap animated gifs deleted]

romney_elko_reuters.jpg

And then while trying to find the source info for the original photo, I came across Bryan Snyder's shot for Reuters of the Fisher family waiting to meet The Man behind the curtain, and doing the wave or something.

romney_elko_ap_warren.jpg

And then there was another shot, by another AP photographer, Ted Warren, of the Fishers meeting Romney again. Or for the first time. This is from the front of the flag, where the Fishers had been waiting from the get go--and photographing themselves. And being photographed by Warren in turn.

romney_elko_fishers_ap.jpg

And so somewhere in between these photos, after the event, Mitt put his bomber jacket on, the Fishers got invited backstage, and they got a private [sic] photo-op.

romney_reuters_elko_sign.jpg
Y? Because we like you!

And then Snyder--and Proud Mom--both snapped a photo of Romney autographing the shirt of the most disinterested little Fisher of them all. Actually, look at "E"; his shirt's signed, too.

mitt_bobblehead_elko_ap.jpg

And then there's the kid whose dad--given the BYU hat, I'm gonna guess he's a supporter--drove two hours to the event with a Romney bobblehead [above]. And the shot of Mitt reflected in a thickset supporter's aviator glasses, and the soft focus cowboy hats in the foreground signalling The West.

romney_elko_ap_collage.jpg
via apimages.com

And I realized all these images exist on a hacking continuum between real and faked, homebrewed and happenstance. Whether it's the inkjetting family, the pack of weary photojournalists, the local handlers, or the messageboard trolls, people are just trying to do the best with what they're given. Given all the stars that have to align, and all the fingers in the pie, I guess we should be lucky to get any shots at all.

Pic of the moment [democraticunderground.com via @akaczynski]
Everything else from AP & Reuters via Yahoo News.

I think part of my fascination with Google is the way it is reprocessing the way we see the world. It has its own way of looking, and that, it turns out, is what we see.

Timo Arnall's Robot Readable World goes wide and deep, documenting the "robot eye aesthetic" through an awesome collection of "found machine-vision footage."

Robot Readable World, (5'09") by Timo Arnall [vimeo via city of sound]

superstudio_quaderna_sitin.jpg

Maybe it's because I was reading about Jean-Pierre Reynaud and Superstudio's Quaderna furniture last night, but for the first time, I suddenly noticed the incredible, grid-like mesh gabion fortification and construction system that defines the forward operating bases in Afghanistan: HESCO.

hesco_afghanistan.jpg

The HESCO Bastion Concertainer, obviously just called Hesco, is a galvanized steel mesh cage lined with non-woven polypropylene geotextile, which can be deployed with local fill ten time more quickly than sandbags, and with 90% less manpower.

hesco_raid_scr.jpg

It's light enough to deploy by hand. It folds flat for easy transport. A shipping containerized system called RAID [Rapid In-Theatre Deployment] can be rolled out 1000 feet at a time from the back of a moving truck.

hesco_obs_tower.jpg

It protects against bullets, car bombs, and artillery fire, and it's structural, so you can build with it. It's water- and erosion-resistant, so you can do flood control with it. It's ubiquitous in Afghanistan to the point of invisibility.

hesco_gym_au_lowres.jpg

Which is where it starts getting really interesting. Here is a gym, constructed with Hesco pilings and a flattened out Hesco floor, built at a Hesco'd-out Australian forward gunnery base in Helmand last February.

pallet_table_militaryphotosnet1.jpg

When Hesco meets the ingenuity that produces awesome, homebrewed field furniture knocked together from shipping pallets [above, below]

pallet_lounge_militaryphotosnet.jpg

You end up with an entire Hesco living room set, including sofas, a TV stand and side table,

hesco_lounge_au_lowres.jpg

and club chairs and even a garbage can--all apparently noteworthy enough for a visiting commander to photograph and explain in 2010.

hesco_chair_au_lowres.jpg

It's like the Amerafghan love child of Staff Sergeant Frank Gehry. Admit it, wouldn't you have paid more attention to the war if you'd known the troops were hacking such awesome design all this time? Please send more pics!

HESCO Bastions [hesco.com]
Field Furniture, from the Iraq & Afhanistan theaters [pallet images via militaryphotos.net]
12 February 2010 | Commander Joint Task Force visits Aussie gunners in Helmand Province Afghanistan [defence.gov.au]

rijksoverheid_rood_20120204.jpg

OK, this sanding thing is completely new now.

Before, when I was using the brush, I'd be sanding down drips and bulges around the edges of the panels, and hoping to even out ridges in the brush strokes.

Now that I've sanded my first coat of enamel laid down with the roller, though, it feels totally different. The amount of paint that goes on seems like much less--there are certainly no excess drips over the edges. And the slightly eggshell-y, all-over surface levels out a bit, but not completely when it's dry.

But the big difference are these tiny bubbles, which end up sanding right out, giving the whole surface a pretty smooth touch.

It'd be easier if there were no bubbles, of course. I'd love to paint a coat, have it dry, and see that it's finally the perfect, featureless, skin-like smoothness I want. But the bubbles showed up again in the new coat [above]. Maybe I'm shaking the paint too much, or not letting it sit long enough, when I open it? But such bubbles couldn't transfer from the can to the sponge. I suspect they're coming from the roller, which is probably not saturated enough.

Anyway, it's working. Which is nice.

This is utterly fantastic. It's Quebecois pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin's 1991-4 work for two player pianos, "Circus Galop," and because it occasionally hits all 12 staves or 21 notes simultaneously, it is unplayable by humans.

The boingboing headline is a bit misleading, because though it is being used by the restorer who shot this YouTube video to stress test a player piano, that was not, I think, the composer's intentions for the piece.

Hamelin wrote two other pieces for player piano; all three are included on Player Piano, Vol. 6: Original Compositions in the Tradition of Nancarrow, a 2008 recording released by the obvious leader in documenting the player piano repertoire, the German label MDG.

Nancarrow turns out to be Conlon Nancarrow, an American-Mexican composer who pioneered the avant-garde player piano genre. Having moved to Mexico City after WWII to avoid anti-Communist harrassment in the US, Nancarrow had difficulty finding performers willing or able to tackle his complex compositions. He worked largely in obscurity until the late 1970s, and in 1982, he was the first composer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship.

Eastern German player piano composer Wolfgang Heisig and Jürgen Hocker have been working to publish and perform Nancarrow's works. By threading divergent tempi through his pieces, Nancarrow definitely cleared the unplayability bar, though people have successfully made arrangements of his pieces for live performance by groups of musicians.

So in one sense, unplayable-for-humans is just a side effect, a negative characteristic of composed-for-player-piano music that explores and exploits the mechanistic, analogue medium itself. As Hocker wrote on the YouTube video description of Igor Stravinsky's "Etude for Pianola,"

Original Compositions for Player Piano between 1915 and 1930. In this period composers discovered the superhuman possibilities of the Player Piano. Strawinsky, Hindemith, Toch, Antheil, Münch, Haass and Casella used this new medium, decades before Conlon Nancarrow discovered it again for his ingenious Studies for Player Piano.
Though it's the impossible trance-like fugue passages that blow your mind, Hamelin's piece also evokes the ragtime history of player piano music. Nancarrow's "Study No. 11" above, meanwhile, is clearly in the Schoenbergian, avant-garde tradition.

But it was watching that first stress test video, and realizing it's not technically a stress test, that got me thinking: what would an actual stress-test composition sound like? Are there such things? Compositions driven by functionality, or at least something other than aesthetic or listener experience?

It occurred to me when I kept hearing Hamelin's little ragtime melody over and over, and realized that the keys on that nickelodeon were not, in fact, being tested equally. But maybe they're being tested based on the algorithmically calculated frequency of their use? Would a stress test composition necessarily just bang on all the keys a thousand times, or run scales up and down, or would it proceed in some other optimized fashion? I'm sure these are all parameters that could be fed into a composing program. Not only would the output be unplayable by humans, it'd be uncomposable by them as well.

Circus Galop [wikipedia]
the 22-page score for Hamelin's "Circus Galop" is available at Sorabji [sorabji-archive.co.uk]
Juergen Hocker's YouTube channel is full of excellent player piano performances by Nancarrow and others [youtube]

on_kawara_date_zwirner.jpg

I don't think Hirst's assistants would agree that spots aren't about time, but Karen Rosenberg's line in her On Kawara review is nice:

Speaking broadly, you could say that one is about time and the other is about money. (Though, as the adage goes, the two aren't all that different.)
Also, I just wanted to post something short for a change.

I also disagree with her kicker, or feel the opposite, rather:

But it's hard to come away from this show without confronting the existentialism -- and fear -- behind these one-day-at-a-time paintings. They remain powerfully connected to Mr. Kawara's other well-known body of work, a series of telegrams sent to his dealer that bore the message "I am still alive." One never worries, with Mr. Kawara, that the art will expire before he does.
On the one hand, the end of Kawara's art is exactly what concerns me, especially this week when artists old and too-young have died. Part of me wants Kawara's Today Series to continue after his death. Why can't someone take it up seamlessly, invisibly, anonymously? Why couldn't a collective or collaborative step right into his shoes without missing a beat?

Didn't Christina Ruiz suggest exactly that for the supposedly endless Spot paintings?

After all, [Hirst] could easily approve the method of production for posthumous spot making so that his heirs can continue to make them until the end of recorded time.
The end of recorded time sure sounds like Kawara territory to me.

I mean, I guess some people know, but what if it turns out Kawara had actually died in like 1985?

Also, I can't believe I didn't make the connection sooner--not that there is one, but why can't there be?--but I've had Jonathan Coulton's song from the end credits of Portal stuck in my head for a couple of weeks now. I'm singing it right now, in fact.

On Kawara Date Paintings in New York and 136 Other Cities, through Feb. 11 [davidzwirner.com]

February 2, 2012

On Jetty Time

Spiral Jetty sign

I've kept quiet and hopeful for six months, but now I think it's time to congratulate Dia Foundation, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College on the renewal of Dia's lease for the Spiral Jetty site; and on the newly announced, three-way collaboration managing stewardship of the artwork. I think it's fantastic, reassuring for those who know and care about Smithson's work already, and encouraging for the many people in Utah and beyond who will discover it going forward.

When I founded The Jetty Foundation in Salt Lake last summer and submitted an application to DNR to lease the state land under Spiral Jetty, I proposed a similar partnership, where local stakeholders would support Dia's stewardship of the work by engaging on the crucial environmental, development, educational, and political issues that impact the Jetty. The Foundation also very explicitly affirmed the importance of Dia's undisputed role as owner of the artwork and the designated steward of Smithson's estate.

I don't mean to claim any credit for creating the solution that DNR developed in its negotiations with Dia. On the contrary, I think the concept of local institutional engagement on the Jetty's behalf has been gaining traction in Utah in the years years since the artwork re-emerged. If the Foundation's proposal encouraged Utahns' vision for a stronger, more engaged future for the Jetty, then the weeks I spent basically lobbying with local politicians, government officials, and other community leaders was well worth it.

I haven't yet decided whether to more proactively engage the growing numbers of people who use Google as medium or subject for their artmaking, or to forge ahead alone, buoyed up by the certainty of my own unequaled, Googly aesthetic and conceptual brilliance.

manbartlett_gregorg_det.jpg
detail of Reconciliation (after @gregorg after thompson after allen [maybe])...
CanvasPeople® probably non-archival inkjet print on canvas
11" x 14"
2012
Signed Edition of 1 (+ infinite unsigned APs), POR

But then Man Bartlett comes up with a sharp, funny project that turns out to relate directly to my lingering anxiety over what I think of, what I make, what I try to get out there, and how well [or not] I do it.

Thumbnail image for blurmoiselles_moma_goog.jpg
study for Untitled (After Google Art Project, les Demoiselled d'Avignon), 2011

So last year--a year ago today, in fact--my immediate reaction to the launch of the Google Art Project was to zoom in on the blurred out paintings that MoMA hadn't gotten copyright clearance for--including les Demoiselles d'Avignon and several other iconic Picassos--and to suggest they must now be painted as Google had--there's no other word--overpainted them.

And then last month, I see that an artist named Phil Thompson had sent screengrabs of the blurred paintings to one of those Chinese painting factories, and has now unveiled the work as his Copyrights project. Which is fine, if not at all how it should be done I'd do it.

But which nonetheless made me tweet about the twinges of annoyance caused by my no-doubt outmoded sense of authorship and originality:

gap_gregorg_tweet.jpg

Which prompted Man to take a screenshot of my blog post, pixel-blur everything but the blurred Google Art Project image, and order a print-on-canvas of it. AND a Chinese painting mill cover version. All of which are for sale, and which are hilarious. Though I will let him reveal the Chinese copy in his own good time. It really is awesome.

Reconciliation (after @gregorg after thompson after...) [manbartlett.tumblr.com]
Previously, painfully related, feb 2011: les Blurmoiselles d'Avignon
nov 2010, because it really does come back to Richter, it seems: Blurmany and the pixelated sublime

Joerg tweeted last night about a "[DESTROYED]" 1982 Gerhard Richter candle painting, and heeyeahsure, I'll look at that.

It turns out though, that the artist's own term is not entirely accurate. Because according to his website, the painting, 2 Candles 1982, (CR 499-3), still exists: "Richter painted over this work in 1996. The painting is now entitled Abstract Painting (CR 837-4)."

richter_CR837-4_4080.jpg
l: 2 Candles, 1982-96 state; r: Abstract Painting 837-4, 1996-, images via gerhard-richter.com

Which would be interesting enough if it were a one-off thing. And no, it appears that Richter has not painted over any of the 73 other paintings listed as "[DESTROYED]". But by 1996, he had already been painting on photographs for a decade. In 1989, in fact, he produced two editions of candle images overpainted with squeegees.

richter_kerze_iii_5294.jpg
Candle III, 1989, ed. of 30+10, image: gerhard-richter

There are at least a dozen other such editions since then which combine photos or photoreproductions and squeegeed abstract overpainting. They constitute a persistent connection between the two seemingly diametrically opposed bodies of Richters' work: photo-based representation and so-called aleatoric, or mechanized, gestureless abstraction. It's a dichotomy that continues to stump even the illustrious Benjamin Buchloh, who laments while writing, at great length, in the latest Artforum: "The question posed over and over again (and which has basically remained unanswered) was how these photographic images could be related to the emerging works of abstraction."

But my bigger point here, which Buchloh also cursorily notes, as does anyone who's seen Corinna Belz's film Gerhard Richter Painting, is that overpainting is central to Richter's abstract practice. In these stills from the scene that appears in Belz's original trailer, Richter very thoughtfully creates classical gestural abstractions:

belz_richter_underptg_1.jpg

Which remind me of nothing so much as the great, underappreciated-until-just-now, large-scale paintings of Willem de Kooning from the mid-1970s.

belz_richter_underptg_2.jpg

It's one of the main reasons I hustled back to MoMA to see the de Kooning show on the last day, after seeing Belz's film, and after getting both the Richter and de Kooning catalogues for Christmas. Because these amazing wet-on-wet structures that Richter laid down

belz_richter_underptg_4.jpg

felt almost like reincarnations of some of the virtuoso brushstrokes de Kooning made in 1975 paintings like Screams of Children Come from Seagulls [check out this dark blue, sideways L from the upper right quadrant, for example]

dekooning_screaming_det.jpg

or the single, epic loop at the center of the Art Institute of Chicago's Untitled XI (1975):

dekooning_untitled_xi_loop.jpg

And then when they're just right, Richter takes his squeegee to them. As if getting erased by Rauschenberg wasn't enough.

But--oh man, I really did just mean to do a quick, "ooh, look, overpainted Richter!" post here--but this is the thing that bugged me so bad about Buchloh's reading: his extraordinarily limited range of references in discussing Richter's work. I mean, it's basically Johns and Stella [Stella!]. And he dismisses Johns on false pretenses. And doesn't mention de Kooning once.

Here's what Buchloh got from Belz's film--WHICH HE WAS IN: some kind of Surrealist theatrical something or other:

Starting the production of each canvas with strange rehearsals of various forms of gestural abstraction, as though moving through recitals of its legacies, in the final phases Richter seems literally to execute the painting with a massive device that rakes paint across an apparently carefully planned and painted surface. Crisscrossing the canvas horizontally and vertically with this rather crude tool the artist accedes to a radical diminishment of tactile control and manual dexterity, suggesting that the erasure of painterly detail is as essential to the work's production as the inscription of procedural traces. Thus an uncanny and deeply discomforting dialectic between enunciation and erasure occurs at the very core of the pictorial production process itself, opening up the insight that we might be witnessing a chasm of negation and destruction as much as the emergence of enchanting coloristic and structural vistas.
Alright, so maybe it's not that wrong. No, it is, because after 20 years working on layers and layers of paint with that "crude tool," Richter has proved, I think, that he has all the control he needs.

Thumbnail image for richter_squeegee_film.jpg

Just as Rauschenberg's erasing were not negation, but creation through another type of mark, I think Richter's squeegee strokes are generative additions to, not killers of, the rich repertoire of markmaking techniques he inherited. Maybe it took Belz's film to show how tightly the squeegee marks are linked to Richter's body and movement. They don't diminish, but magnify; they're full-body gestural abstraction.

For a great illumination of the specifics of Richter's abstract production, I keep going back to Tate Modern conservator Rachel Parker's discussion with blogger Mark Godfrey during the Panorama show:

If we think about the very large scale of Wald 3, we must consider the logistics of one man making this painting. Although Richter probably dragged the squeegee across the wet surface in two separate applications this process must have demanded enormous physical energy. The two resulting squeegee tracks are obvious: one track extends from the top to about 5/8 of the way down the painting surface and the other starts just below this. It would appear that Richter applies the squeegee first to the left side of the work and then drags it from left to right: with both tracks he appears to stop ¾ of the way across for a rest before completion. You can also tell exactly when the momentum of dragging the squeegee across the very tacky surface began to slow down as the drag marks become more shallow. The upper track is characterised by the squeegee having embedded itself more deeply into the paint resulting in slightly sharper surface disturbances and deeper excavations. The lower track has glided more fluidly across the surface creating lighter disturbances. There is undoubtedly an element of chance in the results of this technique: the first track will bear most influence on the final composition whereas with the second track, Richter tries to replicate the same direction, speed and weight behind the squeegee to re-create the same marks in the paint. The compositional balance between track 1 and track 2 in Wald 3 exposes Richter's trust in his materials and intuitive craftsmanship.
I've got more bone to pick with Buchloh's analysis, which ultimately fails to convince because it seems so disengaged, so cut off within the hermetic, Richterworld bubble. But maybe later.

richter_cr858-6_sfmoma.jpg

Because Parker and Godfrey make a very persuasive case, I think, for some of the implications of Richter's overpainting,. In this case, they discussed SFMOMA's 1999 Abstract Painting (CR 858-6) [above] on aludibond panel:

Richter has applied his paint in a similar manner as before, manipulating the paint with a squeegee when the paint is very newly applied, hence its fluid character...Once the paint has dried Richter has taken a sharp wide-head palette knife and gouged and scraped features out of the paint layer, exposing the paint-stained white preparatory layer beneath. The technique creates a hallucinatory effect (are the shapes portals or are they solid elements floating in a multi-dimensional composition?).
These underlying paintings aren't destroyed; they just become something else.

UPDATE: Alright, I'm righter than I knew. There are at least three more overpainted paintings.

richter_townscapes_1-9.jpg
Stadtbild M1-M9, 1968, rearranged into a 3x3 grid, image: gerhard-richter.com

The earliest known example is from the Stadtbild/Townscape series, from 1968. Richter first created a large, 2.7m x 2.7m painting based on an aerial photograph of the center of Milan, which he then cut into nine nearly square paintings, numbered M1-M9. Townscape M8, however, he painted over with grey [above]. Joe Hage, the collector/technologist/uber-groupie behind Richter's website notes:

Townscape M8 depicted what was presumably a detail taken from the same source photograph and was painted over with grey paint later.

...

The series Townscapes M1 up to M9 illustrates Gerhard Richter's engagement in the process of abstraction: starting from a concrete depiction, which was enlarged at first and then cropped, the final image can barely be traced back to the source photograph. The numbering of the single parts of the painting, which do not relate in any way to their initial positions in the original large format, also suggests that any kind of identification is less important to Richter than the painterly process of abstraction.

So in this case, at least, there is currently only the presumption of underpainting, based on the series, the title, and the procedure of its making.

richter_2_blankets.jpg
Hanged and Blanket, both 1988, via gerhard-richter.com

The next example, though, is the opposite. While painting his October 18, 1977 series in 1988, Richter made two identically sized versions of Hanged [above, left], only to partially paint over one and retitle it, Blanket, after the blurred photo-based image that remains visible under the squeegee. The CR numbers show that Blanket [680-3] was completed some time after Hanged [668], with at least two dozen squeegee paintings in between [including two "[Destroyed]" works]. After evoking the "function of a curtain in art history: a painted curtain indicates that a glance is allowed at something that should not necessarily be seen," Hage's note offers an interpretation of this overpainting: "It appears almost as if Richter wanted to shield the events from view, by painting over the second version of the painting almost completely." Which would be true enough in isolation, but which seems to mean not considering the existence of the un-squeegeed version. Which is nevertheless blurred, as if there's a continuum of obscuring and revelation.

The third example comes from the Spiegel story on Richter's destroyed paintings. Ulrike Knöfel writes of a work

painted in 1990 [which] shows two young people standing in front of Madrid's Museo del Prado, Spain's national art museum. However, two years later, he painted over this work, turning "Prado, Madrid" into "Abstract Painting, 1992."
There's no Prado related work mentioned on the side, but there are two Atlas pages of photos from Madrid. I'm still looking through the 279 108 abstract paintings from 1992 to see if I can figure out which one it is. update from a few minutes later: no idea.

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 February 2012, in reverse chronological order

Older: January 2012

Newer March 2012

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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