I really don't know what else to call this, and there's nothing I can think to say about it, except that I came across these two press photos, shot many years and miles apart, of men jumping up to touch a new sculpture.
The first, from 1961, shows Atlanta mayor William Hartsfield testing a mobile in the terminal of the airport that would eventually bear his name. It's for sale here from Historic Images:
The second shows an unidentified office worker in the sunken plaza of the McGraw-Hill Building, part of the Rockefeller Center expansion finished in 1972, trying to reach the tip of Athelstan Spilhaus's sculpture, Sun Triangle. It's for sale here:
The photo has no date, but Sun Triangle was installed in 1973, which matches those folks' look. Better known as a scientist than as a sculptor, Spilhaus aligned the sides of Sun Triangle to align with the sun on the equinoxes and solstices. He was also the guy behind the balloon that crashed in Roswell in 1947.
I recently came across this photo of Louis Kahn's "Monument To The Six Million Jewish Martyrs," which, I had no idea. And it was to be built in New York City, Battery Park, to be exact, and was perhaps the last best chance for an apparently serially disastrous effort to build a Holocaust memorial in the city. Ultimately, of course, the city did get the Jewish Memorial Museum in the 1990s, in Battery Park.
There is no doubt a story to tell about the tumultuous history of that process. And I'm sure someone has already written a decisive history of how people attempted to grapple with the Shoah and Holocaust as history, and how and when those concepts took hold. Because they're absent from the contemporary discussion of this memorial. But what really sticks with me is the story and particulars of Kahn's memorial design, and how resonant it seems with memorials followed it.
Kahn was recommended by an Art Advisory Committee [via Philip Johnson] that had been brought in in 1966 to help the Committee to Commemorate the Six Million Jewish Martyrs solve their seemingly impossible charge: creating a suitable memorial to genocide. The NY Times' architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable complained that the previous designs were full of "wrenching angst" in which "the agony and the art were almost too much to bear."
In an age that has made a flat mockery of conventional memorial values and platitudes, Mr. Kahn's solution is a cool, abstract, poetic, powerful and absolute statement of the unspeakable tragedy. It could rank with the great works of commemorative art in which man has attempted to capture spirit, in symbol. for the ages.
And in case you needed any more reminder that memorials are as much an expression of the time they're created, not just the history they mark, here's Huxtable's final judgment:
The generation that lived through the time and events the monument proposes to commemorate will never forget them. We have that memorial seared in our souls.
The generations that are innocent of this kind of totalitarianism and ultimate tragedy will find no monument meaningful. That is one of the anachronisms of art and history in an age of violence.
This memorial could work, as art and as history, and as a lasting expression of the human spirit. In a nihilistic, value-destroying society, that is no mean artistic accomplishment.
Yow, no Summer of Love here.
Kahn's Monument was to consist of seven 10x10 squares, 11 feet high, made entirely of elongated, cast glass brick, and arranged 2-3-2 on a 66-ft square grey granite plinth. [His original design, presented to the Committee in 1967, called for nine 12x12x15 squares in a grid. I think the switch to 6+1 was a way to Judaize and particularlize the memorial's content.] The translucent bricks meant that the blocks would change with light, weather, and the presence and movement of people around the site. Only the center cube would be inscribed and accessible; as Kahn put it, "The one, the chapel, speaks; the other six are silent."
I think Kahn's 1967 proposal is at least one of the earliest, if not the first, deployments of Minimalism in a memorial context. Or maybe Post-Minimalism is more accurate, since Kahn's evocative forms and their deliberate emotional and experiential evocations were anathema to the objective Gestaltism of orthodox Minimalism as it was being argued out at the time.
If the history of using a Minimalist formal vocabulary for intractable memorials typically began with Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial, then Kahn's Monument pushes it back 15 years--to the conflict-torn heart of the Vietnam era. And though it wasn't realized as he envisioned, Kahn's proposal was influential. It's the best explanation I can see for for the use of glass block in New York State's disappointing Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Water Street in lower Manhattan. [That memorial's plaza siting was probably also influenced by Huxtable's unequivocal condemnation of the Battery Park site for Kahn's memorial, an insurmountable criticism which probably doomed the design she praised so highly.] More directly, though, Kahn seems like a direct progenitor for the two most prominent Holocaust memorials built in Europe to date.
Kahn's formal references to the silenced, the room-scale, and the bookshelf-like bands of glass brick are all echoed in Rachel Whiteread's Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, where a ghostly library of books the city's murdered Jews will never write stands on a plinth in a public square in Vienna. Whiteread's memorial has obvious precedents in her own sculptural practice, and I've never seen her mention Kahn as an inspiration, so it's entirely possible that these resonances are natural and widely held, and which the artist and architect arrived at separately.
I can't believe that's what went down, however, with Peter Eisenman and Richard Serra. From its central formal device--passages between impenetrable, figure-dwarfing blocks--to its title, Memorial to the Six MIllion Murdered Jews of Europe, Eisenman and Serra [who subsquently removed his name from the project] had to have been very familiar with Kahn's proposal, and with the politically fraught development process that spawned it.
Several shots of Carol Walmsley ["Carol Walmsley likes her job."]
and her Colorado Artrek big rig, a museum-in-a-semi that she drove around the state, bringing exhibitions and educational programs to citizens beyond Denver.
Which is perhaps inspired by the NEA's 1971 project, Art Fleet, which was supposed to take masterpieces around to the people in trucks and inflatable dome pavilions. But which never happened.
Meanwhile, back in Denver, there are other party pics, including lots of shots of festive hats from the 1951 Mad Hatters Ball. This one looks postively Calder tin can Christmas Tree-esque:
And to close it out, here's a Jan. 1987 shot by Brian Brainerd captioned, "Celebrities ponder art at the Denver Art Museum." And yes, that is then-museum director Richard Teitz with/near Ted McGinley with Shawn Weatherly, at a pivotal moment in their careers between Revenge of the Nerds and Married With Children and Police Academy 3 and Baywatch, respectively:
As pioneers in the medium, Ada and Giuseppe know how awful shipping containers can be as built spaces, and they are very skilled at countering the geometric claustrophobia. The diagonal slices of the window and mezzanine are somehow unexpected and obvious, and they really work nicely shoehorned all into and against Breuer's building.
Which is kind of a bummer, because, where's it going to go when the Whitney decamps for the meatpacking district? As an object, it has its own validity, but it really does get a lot from its crazy site, and that tension will be lost when it is plopped down on some trustee's rolling lawn.
And don't look at me to buy it: the Whitney Studio's just one more in a series of post-museum modularhouses I am not collecting. Besides, I think stacking the bedroom containers on top of the Whitney Studio would ruin its cube-y goodness.
They were inspired by shrapnel marks left in the V&A museum's western facade after the Second World War. "It's something that always fascinated me and Ed on the way from South Kensington tube up to the Royal College when we were students, and so when this project came up we thought it was a nice way to reference that," explained Jay Osgerby at the opening.
Which, of course, immediately brings to mind the facade of JP Morgan's former headquarters, 23 Wall Street. The building was damaged by an explosion on Sept. 16, 1920, that was believed to be carried out by Italian anarchists. A donkey cart laden with 100 lbs of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron window sash counterweights exploded at 12:01, killing 38 and injuring more than 143 people on the street and in the building.
Morgan refused to repair the shrapnel marks, which are still visible on the pink marble Wall St. facade to this day. The building, long vacant, is currently being marketed as a retail site, perhaps for a department or Apple store.
It's UN Season in New York, and the streets are filled with people enjoying the sun, and squeezing through these flat-out gorgeous NYPD barriers. Seriously, I mean, Tony Smith, Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Beverly Pepper, Anselm Kiefer, Janine Antoni, Scott Burton, Robert Gober--you see where I'm going with this? I mean, Rachel Harrison--I'd love to make a Rachel Harrison-style version of these. That would be awesome. and so much more manageable, too.
So the next thing would be a Cow Parade-style celebration across the whole city. These barriers could become a vibrant platform for artists the world over, and highly collectible, too. Munny dolls-meets-street security furniture.
I've been wanting to write about Color Fuses, Milton Glaser's 1974-5, 27x672-foot gradient mural in Indianapolis, all week, ever since Richard McCoy's great Art21 post about the GSA's restoration of the work's 34 monochrome sections, and the realization, finally, of Glaser's original lighting effects.
Besides my well-documented fascination with monochromes and gradients, I found myself intrigued by Glaser's stated purpose for the mural, which wraps around the stark, ground-level loggia of the Minton-Capehart Federal Building, designed by local modernist eminence and Philip Johnson alumnus Evan Woollen. Glaser wanted to create "a mural that would express a spirit of openness and thus a new sense of government."
The architect, for his part, hoped the mural would help make the building feel "cheerful, disarming, fresh, welcoming, and inviting." Which is, let's face it, a helluva thing to hope for your Brutalist, concrete, ziggurat superblock.
[Walking around the building on Google Maps gives a nice sense of the mural in daylight, including the backside, which is across the parking lot, and the bluish south end, which is largely blocked by privacy wall around the building's daycare center. Even ignoring the unfortunately undulating wall--an out-of-place motif picked up by the single, sad wave of shrubs on the building's strip of security plinth grass--the Minton-Capehart can only be my second favorite example of brutalism and daycare, way behind the playground on the plaza of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building.]
So I'm inclined to believe that the project went down a little differently at the time, a time when the GSA had revitalized and professionalized its Percent For Art program under the 2nd Nixon administration. [A distracting sop to the elites, he figured.] It's not clear, for example, whether Glaser came to the project under the new system, as a world-class, committee-reviewed pick, or the old way, in which case he would have been suggested by, and thus, subsidiary to, the architect.
But then watching the GSA's video of the original/new lighting scheme, which adds slow ripples [undulations!] of light/dark around the building, I immediately thought of art. Specifically, Paul Sharits, who had been making painting-like, flickering, multi-projector, monochrome film installations for several years already when Glaser created his mural. [Writing about Sharits' 1972 piece, Soundstrip/Filmstrip, Rosalind Krauss said it "muralizes the field of projection."]
Paul Sharits' Shutter Interface, first shown at ArtPark in NY in 1975, here at Greene Naftali in 2009.
And I wondered about the different ways art functions, and is treated, both at the time and through the lens of history and criticism. Partly because I'd never heard of Glaser's mammoth mural before. Or of any other art he's made. It seems to fall into this population of things people commissioned, made and showed, that are/aren't/look like/function as art, which are [happen to be?] made by designers. And which are excluded from consideration within the context of art and art history. And politics is at the center of this boundarymaking.
I don't know yet how to make sense of Glaser's mural, but I bridle at what I instinctively feel, that despite its awesomeness and Glaser's immense influence, Color Fuses is somehow a less significant work because it's art by a designer. Or art for the government. Or art the architect will put up with. Especially when I read Glaser's intentions for the piece, which, by 1974, transparency and a new form of government were certainly on a lot of peoples' minds.
And finally, last night, I found Hillman Curtis's video profile of Glaser on Brainpickings, where the designer talks about art's role in culture. It's "benign" and "pacifying," he says, and succeeds best when it creates "commonalities" by which "the likelihood of us killing each other is diminished."
Again, I don't think that perspective has been very prominent in the art world discourses of the day. It could be dismissed as hyperbolic, an at once idealistic and yet embarrassingly low bar. And yet, lately, the polarization in our cultural and political spheres make me wonder if not throttling each other is actually something we'd do well to focus on. Even if pacification by painting undulating rainbows on government buildings is not the best role demanded by the times for art.
I'm really trying to get this writing thing done tonight, but I just have to point out that Richard Smith's photo of the Secret Service's six-mile perimeter fence at the RNC in Tampa is awesome. It's like if Christo and Serra were cellmates and Cady Noland was their baton-wielding guard.
This anniversary marker is located in the quarter-acre Watson School Historic Park in Bodega. An outdoor vitrine contains an installation photo by the artists onto which was added the following text:
September 10, 1976
On September 11, 2001,
the Board of Supervisors of the
County of Sonoma selected this
site to commemorate the contributions of
Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
the Running Fence
possible. This art
project consisted of:
42 months of collaborative efforts with ranch property owner participation, 18 public hearings,
3 sessions at Superior Court, an environmental impact report and the temporary use of the hills, sky, and ocean.
Rising from the Pacific Ocean south of Bodega Bay the 19 foot high 24.5 moile long Running Fence ran west to east,
following the rolling hills of Marin and Sonoma counties to the Colati ridge.
[Format and italics original.]
Watson School Park is currently listed as closed for renovation. It is not known whether the marker is affected.
Meanwhile, in December 1976, the County Landmarks Commission in Sonoma designated Pole #7-33 as Historic Landmark #24, and installed a bronze plaque [above] that reads:
CHRISTO'S RUNNING FENCE
September 10 through September 21, 1976
A majestic work of art, 18 feet high 24-1/2 miles long, which extended east-west, near Freeway 101 at Cotati on private property of 59 ranches following the rolling hills, crossing 14 roads, through the town of Valley Ford, and dropping down into the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay. Conceived and financed by Christo, Running Fence was made of 165,000 yards of heavy woven nylon fabric cut into panels 18 feet wide by 68 feet long, hung from a steel cable strung between 2050 steel poles set 62 feet apart. Each pole was embedded 3 feet into the ground and braced laterally with guy wires and earth anchors. The lower edges of the fabric panels were secured to the bottom cable. All parts of the structure were designed for complete removal and novisible evidence of Running Fence remains on the hills of Sonoma and Marin Counties today. This pole #7-33 was erected permanently by Christo at the request of the citizens of Sonoma County to commemorate this historic event.
The County's landmark information lists the site as "containing steel pool [sic] from original art installation."
It's been installed on his Topanga Canyon compound for a while, but Chris Burden's Small Skyscraper (2003) will be on view in Pasadena, at the Armory Center for the Arts. Its dimensions, 35 feet high, with <400sf of floor area, were determined by the LA County zoning regulations for the largest structure allowed without a building permit. The work arose out of bureaucratic frustrations Burden faced when trying to construct a studio on the rural property he bought in 1991.
Though the Armory Center's website calls it "quasi-legal," noting that the outbuilding exemption Burden used has since been changed. And it's not clear that his "hypothetical domestic use" or "added design features, such as a low roof parapet" ever complied with the code in the first place.
Once it crosses his property line, then, instead of this function-based envelope pushing, Burden's transgressive interest transmutes into the sculptural. As he told Helen Stollas for The Art Newspaper,
At first, they [i.e., Burden and the architects Linda Taalman and Alan Koch, who approached him about showing an unrealized architectural project] considered developing it into an actual habitable structure, with sliding glass doors and a one-man elevator. "But I pulled back from that. I like it as more of a sculpture in the shape of a building," he says. "It's in that grey zone it; it could be a building, but when Mr Inspector comes knocking you say, 'Well, that's not a structure, it's art.'"
Which neatly mirrors an actual legal battle being waged at the same time in Southport, Connecticut, where the local historic district filed suit claiming that the 40-ton concrete & rebar sculpture collectors Andrew and Christine Hall had installed on their waterfront property constituted a "structure" and thus required a [love this] "certificate of appropriateness." [The State Supreme Court agreed with the town's argument that it had jurisdiction because the sculpture "is 'affixed' to the land by virtue of its own 'multi-ton weight' and the force of gravity" (emphasis added for awesomeness). The Halls removed the sculpture, loaning it to a 2007 Kiefer exhibition at Mass MOCA.]
Burden's building code experiment also serves as a nice, East Coast-West Coast, LA throwdown to New York's OG, the grandmaster of all zoning envelope illustrators, Hugh Ferriss.
The Four Stages, Ferriss's 1922 renderings of the Zoning Code of 1916, not only revealed to architects and developers how New York's first skyscraper regulation constrained the size and shape of their projects; they predicted the city's envelope-maximizing future.
Which is nice, because Burden says there's talk of bringing Small Skyscraper to New York. He told Stollas that there are actually two extruded aluminum-and-2x4 Small Skyscrapers now: the California one, built for a 2003 exhibition at LACE and since installed in Topanga; and a European one, installed for ten days in Art Basel in 2004. "Since it was cheaper to just buy new materials when the work was shown in Switzerland, rather than ship the existing work over."
Look, I'm as stoked as the next guy to see Burden's sculpture, but why would any exhibition of it be predicated on the mere existence of two of them? Will it ever be cheaper to transport a Small Skyscraper than to build it locally? No. So why not build it? Why not build a hundred of them, a thousand, all over the place, a distributed city of Small Skyscrapers, wherever the zoning allows?
Or why not turn them into a platform, use Small Skyscraper's beautiful, minimalist, economical form to map out the invisible bubble of unregulated space and use across the country? Just type in your zip code, and the Small Skyscraper website will automatically generate plans for you to build the biggest permit-free structure/sculpture/structure/sculpture possible in your jurisdiction, too. Marin's would be a doghouse, invisible from the street, while Houston'd be all hey hey, how big you want it? [If you get sued or fined, though, you're on your own.]
Perhaps, we imagine, after a confrontation with the authorities, Burden's audacity might be accepted as his own business and, as our fantasy continues, we hear the sounds of construction in backyards citywide as hundreds, even thousands of small skyscrapers rise into the sky, turning the city into a latter day San Gimignano.
The reason Burden says "there is some talk of bringing them to New York" has less to do with Ferriss or LA or architectural libertarianism, and everything to do with the fact that there are now two Small Skyscrapers. And, because, as "Burden adds, when installed together, they somewhat resemble the Twin Towers."
Add Damian & Cosmas' importance to Joseph Beuys and his renaming in 1974 of the then-new World Trade Center towers after the twin physician saints to the list of things I did not know about but probably should have.
[Hirst] is named after the patron saint of doctors (usually spelled Damian), who, with his twin brother Cosmas, performed the first surgical transplant when he grafted the leg of a Moor who had fallen in battle onto the stump of a white Christian knight. This operation, depicted on altarpieces in the saints' many churches, can't be consigned to the antique glory hole of weird Catholic legend, for it was crucial to Joseph Beuys's dream of revolution: a vision of inter-racial fusion, of the resurrection and reconciliation art can achieve. In one of his works, Beuys eerily renamed the two towers of the then newly built World Trade Center after the brother saints: did he do so in some wan hope that the towers could be transfigured into instruments of good?
Beuys, needless to say, is second only to Duchamp in importance to the current philosophy of making art.
Needless to say, I would have known if only I'd been a little more faithful in my Brooklyn Rail reading. Because that's where I found David Levi Strauss's thorough, if slightly Nostradominous, discussion of Cosmas und Damian, Beuys' multiple [?] based on a 3D postcard of the Twin Towers.
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