August 2014 Archives

Now that I've read up on it, and on the philosopher's harrowing last days, I think I experienced the Walter Benjamin Memorial in Portbou, Spain the only way it really should be experienced: by total accident. Which is almost impossible.

We'd been visiting family in Provence, and one of the kids, the one who has been taking Spanish, not French, was wanting to go somewhere they spoke her language for a change. Plus, they wanted to go to the beach. Relenting, I pulled up the last town I knew in France, Banyuls, and looked to see what, if anything, was across the border.

The answer was Portbou. Google Maps said it was 3.5 hours away; we figured we'd drive to Spain for lunch and a couple of hours on the beach, send a postcard, and head home for dinner. Extraordinary traffic which had the autoroute backed up for several kilometers before the border, and the caravan of caravans winding along the 1.5 lane coastal mountain road, easily doubled our drivetime, and we arrived in Portbou starving and almost late for lunch.

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We quickly parked in a massive tunnel-turned-one-way parking lot, and wandered back through town to find any open cafe. And that's when I spotted the Walter Benjamin information panel. It turned out to be No. 2 on the town's four-stop Ruta Walter Benjamin, the Hotel de Francia, where Benjamin and his fellow refugees stayed after sneaking across the Spanish border in September 1940. And where he, where, well, as the panel puts it, "What happened over the next few hours is a striking illustration of all of the tragedy of barbarism."

This town has erected a plaque in front of the hotel where Benjamin killed himself.

Well this is getting complicated: The Trouble With Donelle Woolford [dis]

August 15, 2014

l'Autre Jetée

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We went exploring the Camargue today, and came across these giant mounds of salt being processed south of Salin de Giraud, which looked a lot like the ones in Doug Aitken's app, commissioned by Maja Hoffman's LUMA Foundation in Arles. It turns out to be next to some evaporation fields which are the color of The Great Salt Lake at Rozel Point, the color which inspired Robert Smithson to choose the site for his most famous work. This panorama shows these two artists' fields together for the first time.

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The obvious thing, then, is to combine the two landscapes, creating a spiral jetty out of mounds of pure salt in the pink evaporation ponds. It won't last, of course, but that's what entropy's all about, and public art. To the extent such a word is applicable in this site and situation, the LUMA Foundation is the obvious partner and platform to make this Phantom Spiral Jetty appear.

This popped out at me while reading the Christopher Williams catalogue, The Production Line of Happiness (yellow edition, btw) last night:

"Christopher Williams, On Paris (detail), 1985; Cibachrome, Ilford Cibachrome II Paper CRC .44M; 10 x 14" (image size), 17.5 x 21.5" (framed size); The Image Bank -- Morton Beebe"2

...

2 Caption from a poster produced by Galerie Crousel-Hussenot, Paris, France, for the exhibition, "Stephen Prina, Mark Stahl, Christopher Williams," 1985 [p.36]

There was no image anywhere in the book, but in his essay Mark Godfrey discusses the show, one of a series of group shows in 1984-85, and the photo diptychs Williams produced for them:
In 1984, for his contributions to a set of group shows in Paris (at Galerie Crousel-Hussenot), Ghent (at Gewald), Amsterdam (at De Appel), and New York (at Marian Goodman Gallery), Williams juxtaposed a reshot Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of an execution by bayonet in Bangladesh with a photograph of the city where he was exhibiting, produced for the tourist industry and sourced from local image banks. When the four works were brought together in a group show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in 1985, Abigail Solomon-Godeau wrote that Williams's "insistence on site-specificity, both in a geographic sense (the city represented by the tourism photo is changed to represent whatever city the work is exhibited in) and in an institutional sense (the work is conceived to call attention to the museological "frame") militates against the neutralization of the works' politics by the art institution that houses it." [p.79]
There was nothing on Google, but the New Museum's awesome digital archive has installation shots of Williams' works in the show, "The Art of Memory / The Loss of History," which was curated by William Olander.

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Here is how On New York II [sic, I'm sure the actual title's 10x longer] was installed [see archive.newmuseum.org for larger images and details]. Those look like 10x8 to me, tbh, not 10x14. Here's a pairing of stock tourism photos the New Museum's calling On Amsterdam / On Paris. Fine, maybe that is 10x14.

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Anyway, it's the Paris installation that caught my attention, and that's what I'm trying to imagine. So these thin frames, these deep mats, and these two images side by side:

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a rephotograph [!] of a Dec. 18, 1971 photo by AP correspondents Horst Faas & Michel Laurent [this 2012 tribute page to Faas has a shot from a different angle of a different guy bayonetting the same guy in the plaid shirt. It doesn't take Errol Morris to realize the scene is extended and complicated, and the presence of the photographers is not neutral.]

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and a glittery night scene in a café on the Champs-Élysées, by Morton Beebe. The red awning makes me think it's Fouquet's, just south of the Georges V metro entrance, unless there was a café across the street, where the Louis Vuitton store is now.

It didn't occur to me until I started putting together this post just how sparse the online information is about Williams' work and history, but also how fragmentary any of it is. The New Museum's online archive is extraordinary and almost unprecedented in its scope and accessibility, especially for an institution of its size. And yet there is so much of the work and the experience that is not captured, so much that must be interpolated from these documentary traces. From the titles to the dimensions to the catalogues, checklists and installations, Williams's exacting practice indexes and exposes the limitations of the archival view, and thus, of photography and history.

Which had nothing to do with why I'm writing about this at all right now. It was the name Morton Beebe, the photographer of the Image Bank picture for Paris, which caught my eye. Beebe sued Robert Rauschenberg in 1979 for copyright infringement for using one of Beebe's images in Pull a Hoarfrost series print on silk. Beebe himself and the copyright industry professionals have cited the case regularly over the years as a victory against appropriation. [I wrote a couple of posts about Beebe v. Rauschenberg in 2012. Apparently I was the first/only person who'd ever requested the actual court documents. Which makes it even worse that I still haven't written my final post on the case. It's on my list, though, I swear!]

I was ready to concede that Beebe's presence in Williams's work was a coincidence, but then I remembered Beebe's battle was the opening anecdote in what turns out to be the first substantive coverage of photo-based appropriation, a 1981 article in ArtNEWS by Gay Morris titled, "When Artists Use Photographs: Is it fair use, legitimate transformation, or rip-off?" And I can't believe that Williams, of all artists who use photographs, would not have noticed.

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.

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about this archive

Posts from August 2014, in reverse chronological order

Older: July 2014

Newer September 2014

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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