Fred Sandback installation at Proyectos Monclova, DF, via @monclova
It’s like how when you learn a word you start hearing it everywhere.
Fred Sandback installation at Monclova via Evan Moffitt for @frieze
I’ve been soaking in a lot of red and blue lately.
Gucci S/S17, image via ann_caruso’s ig
Webdriver Torso as found painting system, via
What to do with it? Turn over the decisionmaking to found or chance operations?
Webdriver Torso as found logo system, via
Appropriate? Outsource? Abrogate? Collaborate? Engage? Every strategy has its own context. Or rather, the context is mutable (too).
Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire installed in the space it was created for, the US Pavilion at Expo67 in Montreal, image via jack masey’s book
I made a repetition of Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire recently, with the help of some excellent painters. It’s 18 feet high and 8 feet wide. For now.
Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Fantasia, 1940
At Chop Shop at SPRING/BREAK, collectors will reconfigure Newman’s red and blues to suit their own compositional and spatial needs. The results might be Newmanesque, or they might be something totally different.
Study for Chop Shop Newman, 2016
I was psyched to write about it, but now I’m kind of unnerved to see what people will actually do. What if they chop up the whole thing and cart it home? In big pieces or small ones? A lot or a little? What if they do nothing? Alan Solomon called Voice of Fire “virtually unsalable.” We shall see, but I think I have solved that problem.
Photomurals in the 1900-1918 section of Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968, Metropolitan Museum, 1969, image: The Met
It’s been a while since I’ve written about them, but photomurals still have a wide, quasi-artistic place in my heart. And so it’s great to run into them in the most unexpected places.
Like in Holland Cotter’s story of seeing the Met’s botched attempt at racial appeasement, the 1969 exhibition, Harlem On My Mind.
I knew the show was controversial, and that black artists had rallied against it and similar flawed, tokenist shows in the works at the Whitney. But I never knew what the Met actually showed: basically, no art, just 2,000 photographs. Which, to the Met, in 1969, were emphatically not Art.
Which is not entirely fair. The show was conceived by the Met’s hot new director Thomas Hoving, a former NYC Parks Commissioner who had been known, as Life magazine put it, as a proponent of “be-ins, love-ins, traffic-free bike rides, Puerto Rican folk festivals, and happenings.” Harlem on My Mind was seen as a way to make the museum relevant to African American audiences, but also to bring the stodgy institution into the contemporary cultural discourse.
The show was curated by Allon Schoener, and designed by Harris Lewine and Herb Lubalin, who basically tried to remake their popular 1967 Jewish Museum show, Portal to America: The Lower East Side, 1870-1925, but for Harlem, circa 1900-1968. The show was explicitly didactic, a one-hour experience immersed in what Bridget R. Cooks, in her 2007 study of the exhibition, “a multi-media extravaganza.”
In this sense, it hearkens back to World’s Fair pavilion modes, or the immersive photo exhibitions of Edward Steichen-era MoMA, including the WWII shows and, obviously, Family of Man. Never mind that Roy deCarava and Gordon Parks, who’d actually been included in Family of Man, boycotted Harlem on My Mind, and then mobilized against it.
Anyway, the point is, there was a context for this show, several contexts, in fact, including for how the exhibition was designed, and what the experience of it was intended to be. And those contexts, especially the activism and protest the show engendered, have displaced the content and form of the show itself. The content was a paternalistic, problematic mess, in so many ways a failure, but the form was apparently successful–and is now lost and mostly forgotten.
phenomenal photocube totem columns in Harlem on My Mind: Cultural Capital of Black America, 1900-1968, Metropolitan Museum, 1969, img: The Met
Here are some of Cooks’ descriptions:
Various wall layout designs were used throughout the galleries to display more than 2,000 photographs. Some walls held large-scale black and white photomurals eighteen feet in height and of varying widths.
Some walls were used dramatically as dark screens for projected images of Harlemites and street scenes from slide projectors suspended from ceiling tracks. Four-sided columns displayed photographs of Harlem buildings, streets, and residents in both formal portraits and informal community scenes. Some columns, topped with large photo-text cubes, stood over ten feet high in selected galleries as if they were free standing sculpture. Several of these towers highlighted notable Harlem figures such as elder resident Alice Payton “Mother” Brown and Billie Holiday in their respective decade galleries.
Speakers camouflaged in large cylinders, hung throughout the galleries, delivered Harlem street sounds and music to visitors. Films and videos were interspersed through the galleries to provide further information, and a closed-circuit television showed the real-time activity at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem. Photographs punctuated with text were suspended from the ceiling to create billboard-like visual timelines that marked important national events, such as the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, 1954. The exhibition was designed to provide a one-hour experience for each visitor. [emphasis added for awesomeness, awesomeness, and lol srsly?, respectively.]
Though some art critics bailed, calling the show sociology, not art, Grace Glueck weighed in:
To this viewer, there is something terribly American about “Harlem.” It panders to our penchant for instant history, pack- aged culture, the kind of photojournalistic “experience” that puts us at a distance from the experience itself. Instead of the full, rich, Harlem brew, it presents a freeze-dried Harlem that does not even hint at flavor.
Harsh, but admit it, the Harlem-cam had it coming.
Anyway, I want to make these photototems now, or rather, see them exist again. I’d hope not, but I think they’d be all kinds of problematic all over again if I made them. I just hope they could exist again, as the alluring, outraging failures they were. Because they do feel terribly American to me, too, and terribly New York. I think a trip to the Met’s archives is in order.
What I Learned From a Disgraced Art Show on Harlem [nyt via @JenGraves]
Bridget R. Cooks, “Black Artists and Activism: Harlem on My Mind (1969)”,
Amer. Studies, Spr. 2007 [pdf floatin’ around on project muse, go get it! oh wait, blackcontemporaryart has a clean link and the abstract all ready]
Amazing, how did I never know this? Gio Ponti designed a business pavilion and auditorium for Time-Life in 1958, and it’s still there, perched mostly out of view on the north side of the 8th floor setback of 1271 6th Avenue. It’s covered with crystalline facets and triangles on the roof and terrace [though the photo above also seems to include some overpainted elements. Also it was flipped, so I fixed it.]
Dubbed “the most versatile and complete business-meeting facility in Manhattan,” the pavilion was commissioned by Henry Luce at the instigation of his wife Clare Boothe Luce, who wanted to make Ponti a thing. Writing about a 2010 show of Ponti in New York curated by Germano Celant, Suzanne LaBarre described the pavilion as “the closest thing to a playground a stark, midcentury office building had seen: green-and-blue marbleized floors; saucers and brass strapwork in the ceiling; obelisk sconces; and a smattering of irregular nooks, foyers, and bars.” Green & blue marbleized floors? Yow. Sounds like proto-Memphis to me, and makes me curse black and white photography.
Gio Ponti Time-Life Pavilion/Auditorium, on the north side of 1271 6th Ave, looking S/SE on bing
Unfortunately, LaBarre reports that Ponti’s interior has been destroyed and remodeled two times over. [The top two images come from Esoteric Survey’s extraordinary survey of the 1958 Time-Life Building’s interiors, from the likes of, basically, everybody.] Time is out of or leaving the building this year, so who gets the Ponti?
What is most surprising to me, though, is the similarity of Ponti’s design to the Unfinished Business Pavilion, created in for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. In an attempt to head off Soviet criticism of the US’s discrimination against African Americans and the civil rights protests it spawned, the State Dept. and USAID asked Luce’s Fortune Magazine to create a pavilion addressing ‘the Negro Problem.’ Fortune creative director Leo Lionni’s three-part design moves from the “chaotic crystal” of the past to the bright happy square future where children of all races play together in harmony. Which was considered such an insult to the segregationist Dixiecrats in Congress, they demanded Fortune close the pavilion as soon as they got wind of it.
Which is interesting that in color and form, Ponti’s pavilion most closely resembles the chaotic crystal section, or vice versa. Maybe Ponti’s came first, and Leonni used it as a stand-in for the shameful past we were all trying to overcome. Anyway, this warrants further investigation.
Time-Life [esoteric survey]
Gio Ponti’s New York [metropolis]
Previously, related, and devastatingly, depressingly timely: The Unfinished Business Pavilion, by Leo Leonni
None of Your ‘Unfinished Business’
Thirteen Most Wanted Men overpainted and covered by tarp, 1964. Photo: Peter Warner, via Richard Meyer’s Outlaw Representation
From the amount of attention it gets, you’d think Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted Men was the biggest art deal at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. And it wasn’t even there for more than a couple of days.
But there was actually other art in the fair, and organizer Robert Moses was not into it. Countries could show art if they wanted, of course–Italy brought Michelangelo’s Pieta, and Franco’s Spain brought some El Greco. But Moses rejected petitions for a dedicated art exhibition at the fair, and he intervened in at least one other situation besides Warhol’s to nix art that attracted criticism. I’ve dug around a bit in the New York Times’ coverage of art and the fair, mostly from the cranky conservative critic John Canaday, and it has broadened and definitely complicated my view of the era, the venue, and the outsize parties involved.
If you do nothing else, read Canaday’s various acidic takedowns of the consumerist banality and kitschy circus of the World’s Fair, and how Art shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath. His column, “The Fair As Art,” tries to stretch the definition of folk art to cover the what we’d now recognize as late capitalist spectacle, and it’s interesting how he can’t quite get the nascent Pop Art movement to sync up with the populist source of its content.
No, first read about Canaday’s Feb. 1964 evisceration of the announcement that Tomorrow Forever would be the “theme painting” the Hall of Education. The landscape was filled with the trademark Big-Eyed Children of Walter Keane, the Thomas Kinkade of his day, who, it turned out, couldn’t paint a fence, and instead passed his enslaved, abused wife’s paintings off as his own.
This extraordinary profile of Margaret Keane in The Guardian yetserday led me to Canaday’s review. [Tim Burton’s biopic of Keane comes out in a couple of weeks.] But the piece also says that “Stung by the review, the World’s Fair took down the painting.” Actually, Tomorrow Forever never made it into the fair. Robert Moses intervened almost immediately after Canaday’s attack, more than two months out from the opening, saying, “The fair does not censor exhibitions except in cases of extreme bad taste or low standards. This was such a case.”
[Ouch. Moses’s willingness to boot one reviled painting makes his central role in the Case of the Destroyed Warhol Mugshots seem all the more plausible. For his part, Warhol praised Keane and his outsized commercialism. LIFE Magazine asked Warhol about Keane in 1965: “It has to be good,” he said. “If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.”]
Anyway, Warhol’s World’s Fair piece can’t have been too much of a surprise. Though his name is misspelled, “13 Wanted Men” is mentioned by title in a NYT report from October 1963, “Avant-Garde Art Going To Fair”. The other nine artists Philip Johnson commissioned are also listed, and I realized I never registered that Ellsworth Kelly had been involved. But he produced a work on painted aluminum.
And here it was. Untitled at the time, Kelly’s 18-foot curves projected from the wall of the New York State pavilion, where they were installed next to James Rosenquist’s mural, which was next to Warhol’s. Except the Rosenquist is either covered or gone in this Nov. 1966 photo from World’s Fair enthusiast Randy Treadway. So is Robert Indiana’s EAT, which was on the right of Kelly.
A bunch of the NYS Pavilion pieces ended up in the Weisman collection at UMinn., but in 1967 Johnson apparently donated the Kelly to Harvard, where it was known as either Two Curves or Blue Red. In 2001, a campus-wide survey of culturally important objects found “Blue Red” on the side of the parking garage at Peabody Terrace. The super was about to repaint the deteriorated sculpture with Rust-o-leum when conservators intervened. The Google Streetview image from this summer [above] shows it looking much better.
Nayland Blake just posted this on his always eye-opening tumblr Knee-deep in the Flooded Victory. Abstract in Concrete is a 10-minute short film by John Aravonio, which pairs reflections of neon signs in the rain puddles of Times Square with a jazz/classical score by Frank Fields. The date given on this recent YouTube upload is 1954. And it is credited to the United States Information Agency.
Which is just nuts.
One thing I noticed while researching Warhol’s World’s Fair commissions, is that the US Pavilion in Montreal had this sweet photomural of the moon.
both images by USIA’s Jack Masey
And it also had this sweet photomural of the moon. I can’t tell which came first or why.
Bogart, image via CHarstad
I think the way giant photos–of the moon and the stars alike–were used alongside giant paintings and giant graphics in the World’s Fair exhibition was one of the most advanced levelings of these supposedly distinct image hierarchies.
I’ve really got to get into the USIA Archives for this stuff. Actually what I need to do is get Jack Masey on the phone while I still can.
If I ever get a PhD it will be in the US Pavilion at Expo67 as a gesamtkunstwerk. So much going on there, and in my years of fascination and study of it, it just keeps on giving.
And I am stoked for the Queens Museum’s show, opening to day, on Thirteen Most Wanted Men, Andy Warhol’s short-lived commission for the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. It sounds amazing, with an impressive amount of archival research and new understanding.
I haven’t seen it yet, but I have been bothered by a line that’s cropped up in several reviews of the show, which makes me think it’s not accidental, calling the 13 Most Wanted Men panels “Warhol’s only public artwork.”
This characterization only holds up if you define public art so narrowly as to make it irrelevant [which is something that happens to public art a lot, actually, but that’s not the point here.] Warhol exhibited work in at least three World’s Fairs in a row–1964 in New York, 1967 in Montreal, and 1970 in Osaka. And the first two were commissions. In fact, I’d suggest that the New York and Montreal projects are so similar, that they really should be considered together. Warhol’s Expo 67 works suddenly feel like a direct response to the controversy in 1964. When faced with the prospect of wading into another political conflict over his subjects, Warhol chose to depict himself.
In 1964, Warhol painted 25 panels–22 with mug shots, 3 blank/monochromes–on 4-foot square masonite panels. The images came from an internal NYPD pamphlet that gave the piece its title: 13 Most Wanted Men. These were painted over in aluminum house paint within two days.
Thirteen Most Wanted Men overpainted and covered by tarp, 1964. Photo: Peter Warner, via Richard Meyer’s Outlaw Representation
Later they were covered with a large tarp. They have since been lost or destroyed. In his incisive history 2002 book, Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art, Richard Meyer quotes John Giorno’s story about the origins of Thirteen Most Wanted Men, and that the mug shots came from the gay cop boyfriend of another painter, Wynn Chamberlain. 1 [No one’s mentioned it, but I assume this is all in the Queens Museum show. Right? And the show will surely explain why Philip Johnson told Warhol in 1963 not to talk about the sources of the paintings? Johnson, who surely knew as much about power, rough trade, and a man in uniform?]
Warhol painted 25 panels with Robert Moses’ headshot, taken from Life magazine, as replacements. Philip Johnson rejected them, and they are also now considered lost or destroyed. [This photo is by Mark Lancaster, who helped Warhol make the Moses panels and much else. There’s a great interview with Lancaster at warholstars.org.]
During the Summer of 1964 Warhol reused the screens to create paintings on canvas of the 13 Most Wanted Men, which Lancaster cropped and stretched. Nine of these are currently in the Queens Museum show.
In 1964 he began making the Screen Tests, which were inspired both by the Thirteen Most Wanted mug shots and the photobooth pictures Warhol began using in 1963. He created Most Wanted series of women and boys as well.
Warhol visiting Expo 67 with the de Menils, that’s John de Menil at left, not Buckminster Fuller, as some online sources would have it. image via menil.org
In 1967 curator Alan Solomon commissioned Warhol to make large paintings for the US Pavilion at Expo 67. Warhol created eight giant Self-Portraits. They are 6-feet across and based on a photo by Rudy Burckhardt. Six of them were installed in Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, above Jasper Johns’ Dymaxion Map. Four of them are visible above, in a photo taken during Warhol’s visit to the Expo with John & Dominique de Menil. The one on the lower right is now in the Tate Modern.
If the Thirteen Most Wanted Men censorship was really as concerned with vice, power, and the homosexual gaze as Meyer argues, then Warhol’s uncensorable Self-Portraits read like an act of defiance. For his 2nd World’s Fair, Warhol didn’t shrink from political conflict; he met it straight on and came out on top.
1 Update: I just came across a story by Luc Sante about Thirteen Most Wanted, which he published in 2009. It is, I assume, a fictional encounter with a retired NYC policeman who had the idea for a Ten Most Wanted list stolen from him by a fellow cop, who became lovers with a young Warhol, and then years later, while guarding the World’s Fair, saw his Most Wanted Men idea stolen again by his ex. Hmm. I think someone had better talk to John Giorno.
photomurals and satelloons to the left, painting to the right. image: USIA via Jack Masey’s book, Cold War Confrontations
With Barnett Newman in the air recently, I began looking back through the greg.org archives, and I found this 2009 post about the art and space objects at Expo 67, which is a great read, if only for the smackdown delivered by NY Times critic John Canaday.
I was already into satelloons and photomurals and World’s Fairs as odd, underconsidered contexts for art when it registered that Alan Solomon had curated a whole painting show for the US Pavilion in Montreal. He basically asked all the artists for work that could be hung vertically, would hold up visually in a giant geodesic terrarium, and would pretty much only be seen from an escalator. And that’s what he got.
Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire is there in the upper right corner, looking really small between the Lichtenstein and Johns’ Dymaxion Map. Which just goes to show you, because here it is in the National Gallery of Canada, which bought it in 1989.
A work of confounding scale. And not without its charms. It’s not my favorite Newman, but I like Voice of Fire. It looked great in Ann Temkin’s Philadelphia retrospective. And last night, I wondered what it’d be like to live with. Because at 8′ x 18′ it is pretty unwieldy. In principle it’d be nice to have 20’+ high space at home to hang it freely. But that kind of room is really a gallery, even if your breakfast nook is just through the door.
So barring that, you could turn it sideways, which is how Newman painted it. If 12×25 is too long a run of uninterrupted wall for you, though, you’re stuck. And so I wondered about cutting it down.
We sure don’t cut up paintings into saleable parts like they used to. Like they did with altarpieces [hello, Piero at the Frick] where everyone on his Grand Tour got to take home a panel or predella.
Even barely a hundred years ago, Manet’s heirs were chopping up the uncomfortably political Execution of Maximilian into more marketable groupings. And look, now most of it’s in the National Gallery [of England].
I’m not saying there’s no contemporary precedent: Gerhard Richter cut a squeegee painting into 64 little ones. And this BMW Rauschenberg campaign reminds us that Aaron Young painted dozens of panels at once at the Armory that one time, with the motorcycles.
I’m just saying maybe it’s not enough. We could do more. I understand Voice of Fire is very well known in Canada, and that the National Gallery’s purchase of it was controversial. So should Canadians ever face an arts crisis where, say a Taliban- or ayatollah-style regime takes over that is decidedly unsupportive of the kind of painting Newman practiced, I’d think cutting it down and dispersing the painting would be far better than burning it. Or bombing it, Buddhas-of-Bamiyan-style, out of existence.
Or maybe it’s just the populist thing to do. Voice of Fire would suddenly be much easier to display in a modest home. Or several, actually.
To start, you could cut it two ways: in quarters [above] or in slices [below] slices. Each approach yields four attractive, wall-filling pieces, each 4×8.5′, that preserve the original proportion while making a rich, full allusion to Newman’s overall composition. Reassembling such a group for an exhibition 500 years from now would be trivial.
You could also cut it into 8 pieces, roughly 4×4, almost easel-size. Voice of the Fireplace. But then it seems like you’d be losing a lot to the stretchers. So, what, you’d mount the pieces? Frame them? I imagine you’d get a mix of decor decisions from the various owners. Which, yes, no, I haven’t thought through the pricing and sales strategy yet. This is really just starting out.
I’ve been wanting to write about Color Fuses, Milton Glaser’s 1974-5, 27×672-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.
image: google maps
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.
Which would be interesting to know, because another benefit of not blogging about immediately, is reading Alexandra Lange’s post about how modernist architects [occasionally] recognized that their severe forms might [just sometimes!] have needed a bit of humanizing.
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.
The clearest example of this is the US Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, the geodesic sphere designed by Peter Chermayeff and his exhibition firm Cambridge Seven Associates. Which had both spacecraft and satelloons and flag-like, Ellsworth Kelly-like supergraphics, and giant, commissioned paintings from the likes of Barnett Newman, Warhol, and Johns.
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.
Restored & Renewed: Milton Glaser’s 1975 Artwork, “Color Fuses” [art21.org]
Color Fuses’ Mural Restored at Minton-Capehart Federal Building [gsa.gov]
Art Matters To Architecture [designobserver]
I hate when I lose the context of something, it’s like I”m no better than a tumblr around here, minus even the traffic.
Anyway, this image of The Latest Photo Mural Equipment is from somewhere and some time in the past. The image of the back of this photo had a caption scrawled on it, “Photography Equipment
An emulsion, melted,
brushed on wall,
latest in murals.”
Also a note that it was to run across two columns. So it is from a magazine. In any case, the idea seems to have been to paint the emulsion, then project an enlargement of a negative on it, exposing and developing it right on a wall surface. Which seems amazing, and also right tight with my theory [sic] about a connection between photomurals and large-scale, postwar painting.
Oh, there’s a datestamp: Jan. 29, 1946.
This interior shot of Fuller/Sadao’s US Pavilion at Expo67 almost has it all: installation view of the giant paintings Lichtenstein, Newman, Warhol and Johns made for Alan Solomon’s American Painting Now; plus a giant photomural of the moon, perfect for posing in front of.
There’s another photomural, earthrise from the moon, on the other side, which was a backdrop for the lunar landscape diorama. You can see it in Carl Harstad’s photo:
And the satelloon-like weather balloons were just out of both pictures’ edge. Fortunately, Bob Charlton’s mother captured them below:
The underside approach for the lunar platform has this awesome installation [image from fan train’s flickr], a series of panels or canvases with abstracted elements of the American flag. It’s a little Ellsworth Kelly, a little Helio Oiticica, and a little Richard Lippold at Lincoln Center, all rolled into one piece of exhibition filler created, I assume, by Cambridge Seven.
This other photo from Carl Harstad of the Hollywood section of Cambridge Seven’s exhibit features, what? I don’t know. I’d guess it’s left over from Joseph Manciewicz’s disastrous Cleopatra shoot, in front of a giant, multipanel headshot of Humphrey Bogart.
Cambridge’s exhibition carried the overall title, Creative America, and I think it very successfully steamrolled everything–paintings, photomurals, dioramas, film props, spaceships, cultural effluvia–into a single, unified, spectacularized drive-by aesthetic experience. And it was all done by and for the US Government. As I go on about reconsidering ‘non-art’ things like photomurals and satelloons in an art context, I keep coming back to the Expo67 pavilion. At one point, it was all art, or something like it. And vice versa.
[note: I’ve seen it elsewhere, but I took that top photo from former USIA design director Jack Masey’s powerpoint deck on the history of postwar World’s Fairs, which he presented last October at the National Building Museum. I’m about to listen to his archived talk now.]
Instead of jumping to the first search result, Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” button should go to something tangentially related but certifiably awesome and probably better than what you were looking for in the first place. For the first datapoint in fitting that algorithm, I submit this post from The Bowery Boys about the “World’s Greatest Photo-Mural,’ as proclaimed by the New York Herald upon the dedication on December 14, 1941 [!] of the Defense Bonds Mural in Grand Central Terminal, New York City, USA.
At 96×118 feet, and covering the entire eastern wall of the station’s Great Hall, it was certainly the world’s largest photomural to date. [Only an Axis appeaser would point out that it’s actually six photomural elements installed in a larger, non-photographic composition.]
The mural was created by the Farm Security Administration’s Information Division, the legendary New Deal documentary photography propaganda unit run by Roy [no relation to Ted] Stryker. The three main photocollaged panels depicted what America was defending: Our* Land, Our* Children, and Our* Industry. [* Offer apparently not valid for non-white Americans, as the NAACP pointed out in protest letters to the FSA.]
Classic racial exclusion notwithstanding, I was most amazed that a giant war bonds photomural in Grand Central Station was the government’s instant response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. And I was also wrong. According to a contemporary report in Time Magazine, the FSA photo staff spent three months designing and fabricating the massive photomural. Which should be evidence enough for the conspiracy theorists who suspected that Stryker and his puppet FDR had been planning to get the US into war all along. But it turns out the Treasury Department had already begun its defense bond campaign in 1940, and that the government marketing masters at the FSA had already been enlisted in Treasury’s bond-selling campaigns.
Which seems odd, that a Depression-era tenant farmer resettlement program would morph into a historically ambitious documentary project for rural America, and then into a war bond marketer, before becoming the military propaganda operation for D-Day. Odd until you hear Stryker’s longtime assistant Helen Wool describe Stryker’s vision of the FSA’s photographic mission in a 1964 interview for the Smithsonian:
[I]n that drastic difference he still stuck to the same type of basic idea, that America is America and that’s all there was to it. We had psychological warfare films, and we had displays, and we had defense bond things, and everything else. But, underneath it he was selling America as it should be sold. [emphasis added because, obviously]
So what does the 3-months making of the world’s largest photomural entail? Fortunately, the snap-happy photographers at FSA like Edwin Rosskam and Marion Post Wolcott documented the process, in a group of 53-70 images now at the Library of Congress:
I’ve had Michelle Kuo’s interview with Robert Breer [artforum, nov 2010] open in my browser tabs for months now, ever since Steve Roden posted about his incredible little toy Float, which was sold at MoMA’s gift shop in 1970, at the same time one of Breer’s original Pepsi Pavilion Floats had been liberated from Expo’70 in Osaka and set loose in the Abby Aldrich Sculpture Garden. [A PDF of The Modern’s Aug. 25 press release for the piece, titled Osaka I, said the toy Floats would be sold for $7.95, or two for $15,” in the Museum’s Christmas Shop.]
Kuo’s is one of the best interviews I’ve seen with Breer; most never got past the basic, “how did you get into animation?” “So you lived in Paris on the GI Bill?” chestnuts. With what is now a terrible lack of urgency, I’d made a few attempts to track down Breer this year, in hopes of following up with him about what he’d probably consider the least important aspects of his creative practice: the commercial work and product design and TV animation [including still unidentified segments on The Electric Company] he would bring up–and then insist be kept separate.
Because Breer’s consistently innovative filmmaking and playfully minimalistic/animalistic sculptures–and the fact that he did his most monumentally awesome art work for Pepsi–hinted at the potential relevance of the work he kept in his commercial closet.
Which, amusingly, is not really the point, except to say I want to find a Float of my own, please.
No, the immediate point is, wow, how awesome is Breer’s 1966 sculpture, Rug? This was the work that introduced Breer’s sculpture to me, at a show that also opened my eyes to the revelatory breadth of his filmmaking. It was recreated for the first time in decades in 1999 at AC Projects. Their small second floor space in off-Chelsea was creeping and crawling with little Breer sculptures, while the Mylar Rug slowly shifted around in place. The other works felt alive, droid-like. Rug‘s movements were creepier, more ominous, like something was alive underneath it.
Good for the Walker, it looks like they acquired the mylar Rug [there are others, in other colors/materials] just this year.
Anyway, while poking around GB Agency, Breer’s Paris gallery, I came across this sketch, dated 8/71, which includes an incredible proposal for a Rug piece made from an American flag. [The text underneath reads, “float flat on floor (flags) + motors”.] The storyboard-like drawing not only ties Breer’s sculptural and animation projects together nicely; the other three sequences–“cloud in sun,” “bushes in breeze,” and “daisies”–help site Breer’s work in observation, duration, and the natural world. Which may have mitigated the political implications in 1971 of something lurking under a crumpled US flag.
In any case, I expect, if not exactly look forward to the day when, this work will be realized for a future Breer retrospective.
What’s the opposite of writer’s block, the thing where you have so much damn good stuff to write about, you’re paralyzed into inaction? Because that’s what I’ve got, and August vacation voids or not, I just can’t help it; I’m gonna blog it all and let Google sort it out.
For example, for all the dome- and Expo-loving going on around here, you’d think by now I would have gotten my hands on a copy of Jack Masey and Conway Lloyd Morgan’s 2008 book, Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War, but no.
As the longtime design director for the US Information Agency, Jack Masey was basically the client, or the producer, of the expo-related architecture, art, media, domes, pavilions, exhibitions, and propaganda that folks like Buckminster Fuller, Shoji Sadao, the Eameses, and George Nelson became famous for.
Cold War Confrontations is a fantastically surfable book, a thick, highly visual memoir of the USIA’s greatest hits. It’s based on the premise that the structured, official propaganda pageants of world expos, culture exchanges and trade shows, played pivotal roles in the course of post-war world history:
At Expos, however, the teams are not playing games; rather, they competed by presenting to the world examples of a nation’s best architecture, technology, arts, crafts, manufacturing, and performing arts. And in so doing, they sometimes, somehow, change the world. [p. 110]
There were many people who believe[d] that to be true. I sort of want it to be true, at least in the same sense that I’d rather see street gangs settle their differences by breakdancing instead of drive-by shootings. Maybe it’s better to see these expos as reflections of the cultures that produced them, or of their aspirations. Because the views expressed therein do not, it turns out, necessarily represent the opinions of the United States of America as a whole, or of their elected representatives and/or government officials.
Case in point: The “Unfinished Business” pavilion, designed by Leo Lionni [!] for the 1958 Brussels World Expo. Holy Smokes, people.
Masey tells a longer version of the story in the book, but here’s a condensed version: in 1956, a team that included Boston ICA director James Plaut consulted with MIT economist Walt Rostow on the contents of the official US pavilion, which was being designed by Edward Durrell Stone. The idea was to emphasize the US’s people and cultural accomplishments. Rostow’s team also called on the US to be frank and self-critical in recognizing its “unfinished business,” by which they meant “soil erosion, urban decay, and race relations.”
Somehow, though the giant, donut-shaped pavilion had room for a Vogue fashion show on water; a proto-Pop, pseudo-combine street sign streetscape; and a giant, aerial photomural of Manhattan installed in a half-pipe [WTF!? I don’t know! We’ll come back to it!]; there wasn’t room to “address ‘the Negro Problem.'” And so somehow [?] Henry Luce’s Fortune magazine became the State Department’s partner/sponsor of a smaller garden pavilion devoted to “Unfinished Business,” and the magazine’s creative director Leo Lionni designed it.
That’s the model above, and it looks pretty damn close to the real thing. Lionni conceived of three linked, raised pavilions, each about six meters long, as a frankly allegorical timeline, in which America’s problems get literally smoothed out. Or as Masey put it, “the content of the interior was also to be conveyed through the exterior.” Which means that the somber, “chaotic crystal” of the past had already given way to the much brighter, Family of Man-colored present. A little more ironing and the square, orderly, utopian future was just steps away. That was the concept, anyway, but that’s not exactly how it turned out.
[to be continued in the morning]
Buy Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War on Amazon [amazon]
Robert Rauschenberg’s massive 1970 silk screen edition, Currents sure is hard to miss. And not just because it’s 18 meters long.
MoMA’s copy from the edition [of just six] has been wrapped around the corner of the second floor galleries for a while now. Which may have helped coax Peter Freeman into bringing out another of the screenprints last week for Art Basel.
But it’s also at the end of the Rauschenberg’s segment in Emile de Antonio’s documentary, Painters Painting [above], which I rewatched recently. Bob unfurls it with a slightly soused, earnestly glib voiceover about how, even though there’s so much information packed into a daily newspaper, most people don’t read it. But if someone spends $15,000 on the info, the artist can get him to pay attention. Or at least not wrap the fish in it and throw it out.
Which is ironic, I guess, because I’ve found that the size and visual uniformity has caused me to stroll by Currents without ever even slowing down. I register it as reworked newspaper content, on a giant roll, just like the real newspaper itself–but I don’t slow down to look closely. I mean, really, at that scale, how much of my time does Rauschenberg really think he’s gonna get?
So maybe it was because I’d just run into Richard Serra moments before in the atrium, or because I came at the work head-on this time, instead of from the side. But I’d never noticed, for example, that there is a news photo of a frontloader bringing a massive fir tree trunk to the Pasadena Art Museum for Serra’s 1970 work, Sawing: Base Plate Template (Twelve Fir Trees)
Above it and to the right, I’d swear that row of tract houses is a Dan Graham photo.
And hey, there’s a story about construction progress on Expo 70 in Osaka, where E.A.T., the collaborative Rauschenberg founded with Billy Kluver, was creating the Pepsi Pavilion, and where Rauschenberg was still thinking he’d show his own work, a plexiglass cubeful of bubbling drillers’ mud called Mud-Muse, which he’d developed with Teledyne for LACMA’s Art & Technology show and the US Pavilion.
If I can spot these now-obvious contemporary art references in Currents, what else must be lurking in there? Was incorporating other artists’ images Rauschenberg’s way of tipping his hat to artists and work he liked, or was he assimilating and subsuming it in his own, sprawling scroll? Was he engaging in a dialogue with the Conceptual and post-minimalist kids coming up or putting them in their place? Or trying to put himself in theirs?
The most intriguing references now, though, turn out to be a little trickier. There are multiple instances of diagrams showing hands throwing the OK sign which remind me of nothing so much as the sign language woodblocks used in the prints at Jasper Johns’ latest show at Marks.
Shrinky Dink 4, 2011, intaglio print, image via
I remember thinking immediately of Rauschenberg when I saw the mirrored newspaper transfer appearing in the upper left of this Johns drawing, Untitled, 2010.
Rauschenberg began using the technique in the mid-60s, and it’s all over Currents. Remind me again how long MoMA’s had their print on view?