Actual Size

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Michael Heizer, Munich Rotary, 1970, transparencies and projectors, installed here at LACMA in 2012, but on view at the Whitney through Apr. 10, 2016

Michael Heizer talked about Munich Depression (1969) and Munich Rotary (1970) with Heiner Friedrich and the Whitney folks, and Interview Magazine is ON it.

HEIZER: I have a genius friend named Maris Ambats, whom I talked to about making a projector to project an image at the actual size. The deal was to let the camera be a translator between reality and a replicated reality, which means making the photograph as big as the thing itself. So here it is. It gets squeezed down through the camera, and then it's blown back up to the same size.

...MANCUSI-UNGARO: And the first time you showed Munich Rotary was in 1971 in Detroit...

HEIZER: Sam Wagstaff [who was then the curator of contemporary art at the Detroit Institute of Arts] introduced photography to the modern-art market. He liked photography so much he wanted to show it in the grand hall in this classical museum. It's a big, big classical building--it's like the Louvre inside with huge rooms. He put my piece in this huge 200-foot room. It was really good, and it was intended to be a photographic offering, a photographic artwork. Wagstaff had the nerve to do that. The trustees wanted him to remove that sculpture of mine he exhibited, too, and he resigned because of it. But he had the nerve, and he believed in it. He was right. It's become so insidious. Photography is everywhere now. Back then, it wasn't an art-world technique. But, the thing is, you can't separate the film derivation from the real thing. Munich Depression and Munich Rotary are different works of art, but they come from the real thing. So you can't escape it.

DE SALVO: You can't uncouple them.

HEIZER: No point in trying to.

This hits a lot of buttons for me, first because of what's not really discussed: the full-scale photomurals of boulders Heizer showed alongside Munich Rotary at LACMA in 2012, in a show called "Actual Size." [Actually, Munich Rotary is or has been called Actual Size: Munich Rotary, too.] This felt like a photo representational rebuke of MOCA's 2012 Land Art show, which Heizer refused to participate in.

But it really all makes me rethink how photography operated in this era as both a mode of art production, and as a means of circulation. The difference between the image and what it depicts, photography's built-in distortions of "the scale of the world," as Sontag put it.

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Destroyed Richter Painting No. 013, 2016, installation shot

The double distortion by photography and the market is what drove me to make the Destroyed Richter Paintings. I want to experience the difference (or the similarities) between a photo of a painting (or a jpg of a 4x5 slide) and an actual size reproduction of that (image of that) painting. Some have size info attached, but at first all the Destroyed Richter Paintings dimensions were extrapolated from the painting in them, and the studio space they inhabited. While figuring this out, I definitely considered conceptualist folks like Joseph Kosuth or Mel Bochner when I looked back at these issues, but Heizer and his photos were unknown to me. I sure look at them now, though.

And apparently I need to look at Audubon, too, who insisted on illustrating his birds life-size, and letting the printing people just deal. William S. Smith discusses Audubon and Actual Size in Art in America, and looks at scale and representation as analogs for control:

Heizer's actual-size photographs of Munich Depression establish control over the context in which they are viewed--a control he could never assert over the site on which it was made. Photographs of variable scale can be reprinted, republished, circulated and annotated in popular magazines. But the actual-size works have to be seen in person in a setting where the placement of the projectors can be tightly controlled. They are photographic oddities, resistant to reproduction and circulation. This resistance, too, comes at a cost, because it makes the work, conceived supposedly in innocence of "commercial and utilitarian concerns," entirely dependent on institutions with the resources and space that Heizer requires.
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Huh, this installation view of Michael Heizer's "Actual Size" show at LACMA in 2012 is really about the museum. Broad wins again. via x-traonline.org

This is not to just hitch my wagon to whatever 60s star is riding through town. I am actually in the middle of sending out photos of the Destroyed Richters, and unless it's a flagrant installation shot, the works keep ending up looking like the photos. I find myself stuck in this same representational gap, in a hole, I have dug for myself. But at least I am not alone. While looking around for photos of Heizer's "Actual Size" show, I realized they are really all about LACMA, and their giant pavilion. And though all those megaliths are presumably still where Heizer photographed them 46 years ago, the work that's inextricably coupled with Munich Rotary, Munich Depression, created on an active suburban building site, was destroyed within months of its completion.

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Michael Heizer's Munich Depression, May 1969, Perlach, Munich, Germany

Michael Heizer by Heiner Friedrich [interviewmagazine]
One to One [artinamericamagazine]

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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first published: April 1, 2016.

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Untitled (Damaged Richter Poster), 2010-2016

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