Sforzian Resistance

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I confess, when I heard parts of downtown DC were blocked off yesterday morning, my first thought was how this might affect my driving to the National Gallery.
But the composition and placement of this RESIST banner by Greenpeace makes this the most masterful work of art of our new era. Better even than the styrofoam copy cake. Scott Sforza could not have done it better himself.

Untitled (Republican Years), 2017

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Untitled (Republican Years), 2017, nine empty jumbo frames, installation photo: @davidnakamura
Pleased is not the right word, but I will announce the installation of a site-specific work, Untitled (Republican Years), in the West Wing of the White House this afternoon.
The title is a reference to a 1992 stack piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Republican Years) (below), to which it bears a resemblance.
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Felix’s is, of course, an endless number of prints.
This work consists of nine empty frames for the large, official photos known as “jumbos”, lining a staircase north of the Oval Office. The wall normally contains ten jumbo frames, but one has been removed. Personally, nine still feels like too many. One feels like too many. In any case, tomorrow the work will no longer be on view.

Monday Update:
Indeed, the work is gone. [via @davidnakamura]

On Study for Untitled (Trust), 2017 –

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installation shot, 2017, image via @juddlegum
Just when I thought Sforzianism was obsolete, and my ambivalence about designating politically charged stacks as works was abating, a cadre of Trump Organization staffers dressed the set of Donald’s press conference with six stacks of manila folders containing paper.
The folders were unlabeled; some, if not all, papers appeared to be blank; no reporters were permitted access to any of it. Trump described the tableful of paper in folders as a portion of the many, many documents he’d had to sign to create the trust that would hold his companies when he becomes president. His sons would manage the trust. That is about all. It is unprecedented, unaccountable, and almost certainly unconstitutional, and yet the existence of these stacks of unviewable, unknowable, possibly entirely blank paper furthers the likelihood that this trust fiction will proceed, with all the entirely foreseeable outcomes. This is an extraordinary effect for such an abject object as manila folders.
If this were a work, a Felix Gonzalez-Torres-style stack, I’d imagine it would be shown on a black-draped table. There’d be an ideal height, or number of paper and folders as seen here. But as the paper would be symbolically linked to Trump’s businesses and addressing the conflicts his businesses pose, I guess the supply could be infinite. Felix used the word endless, but I think that word is one of the reasons I’m not really sanguine about designating this right now.
UPDATE: Oh wow, more stacks. A stack of that Time magazine. Or, a stack and a bundle. This one falls somewhere between Felix and Robert Gober. via @mattmfm
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Previously, mentioned: On Study for Untitled (Thick List)

On Study for Untitled (Thick List)

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I saw this picture by Rey Baniquet in a “best photos of the day” roundup at The Guardian yesterday. The caption read, “MANILA, PHILIPPINES/ President Rodrigo Duterte shows a list of police and government officials allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade during a forum with local and foreign businessmen”. The original photo’s actually wider.
Two things that struck me about the photo. One is the framing, which turned out to be taken from amid a tableful of glasses, and which reminded me of the video of Mitt Romney dissing the 47%, which was made surreptitiously from atop a catering bar. The other, more important thing is the list itself.
Googling around for more information, I kept coming across what the Philippine press called a “thick list” that Duterte had been circulating to the army, the legislature, the judiciary, implicating an untold number of people in the drug industry.
This event involved the Wallace Business Forum, a private business consulting group that advises international companies on doing business in the Philippines. Duterte spoke for two-plus hours at a dinner at the Malacañan Palace on December 12. The transcript and video of his speech are available online.
Duterte discussed the illegal drug industry, including three or four, let’s go with four million, “drug addicts,” as a national security threat. Then he mentioned the reported killings by his government:

You know, this is the drug industry. Sabi ko nga eh [I said, eh] you worry about the 3,000? Dead? A third of them during police encounters, I don’t know about the rest. And you do not worry the drug industry?

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“You want a visual thing? Okay. This is the drug industry of the Philippines,” he said, as he had the list brought to him. This occurs at around 36:30.
The top of the stack is filled with a grid of headshots, like a yearbook. And like the Time magazine issue listing a week of US gun fatalities which Felix Gonzalez-Torres used to create his 1990 stack work, “Untitled” (Death By Gun) [below]. That list included 460 people.
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Duterte says the list in his hand contains 6,000 people. While flipping through the list, he tosses of names and titles, mayors, judges, generals, in a way that makes it sound like he and everyone in the room knows them.
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Duterte’s stack turns out not to be all photos, though. That is only the first deck. Several binder clips appear to break out the drug industry roster by region. The stack looks to be about 1000+ pages, more than two reams, for sure, maybe the clips throw it off a bit. Let’s say the ideal height [sic] is 15 cm.
I am wrestling with how, and whether, to make a work out of what is apparently an active kill list being circulated by a government. The visual, formal, even content reference is immediately clear, but the parameters are not. And neither are the possible implications.
On just a formal level, is the stack a single work, with no takeaways, or is the deck the data, which gets laid out into a larger grid, then turned into a stack? I feel like Duterte’s grasp on the entire stack gives me that answer [one work], even though it contradicts the typical Felix stack format. But of course, so did Felix, who created one stack, “Untitled” (Implosion), 1991, as a single unit comprised of 200 screenprinted sheets. So it’d be a single work. Maybe it’d be a publication. Maybe you print it out and save me the hassle.
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And maybe it’s not the kind of thing that you do casually, or at least while the killings are ongoing. Or maybe not the kind of thing I should do as a white guy. Duterte’s mention of 3-4 million more reminds me of Chris Burden’s The Other Vietnam Memorial, 1991 [above], which mashed up names from a Vietnamese phone book into 3 million anonymized stand-ins for the real, unheralded dead. The people in the Philippines are real, and they have their own names.
It also reminds me of the million-who-knows people on the US’ no-fly list, about whom we know almost nothing except some part of the government deemed them a national security risk. And there are lists of known communists in the State Department, suspected homosexuals in the US Government, climate change scientists in the Energy Department, Muslim Registries, the list of lists goes on.
I tweeted yesterday that I don’t really know why I do these works; that ambivalence and uncertainty was brought to the fore by this photo. So until I think it through a bit more, I am really not comfortable right now with enshrining or recontextualizing Duterte’s “thick list” as an artwork. Even though it is, as the president himself said, a very important “visual thing.”
previously, somewhat related: Better Read #008: Death By Gun

Untitled (Shenanigans), 2016, Installation View

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Untitled (Shenanigans), 2016, chainlink fencing, US flags, ratchet tie-down straps, LED strips, Ford F-250 Crew Cab. Installation view: Palm Beach

It seemed so much funnier when Cady Noland did it.
Maybe not funny, but at least it didn’t freak you out. Noland’s artworks drew from the raw aesthetic landscape of late 20th century built America to shed light on uncomfortable truths about patriotism, violence, commercialism, waste, the American psyche.

But it did it in an art context. Whatever it was, or however dark or unsettling, it was still [just] art. You could walk away from it.

Or wake up from it, like a bad dream.

Now there’s a white nationalist bigot in Florida trolling Muslims, and protesting Hillary Clinton and her treasonous supporter citizens by building a lock-em-up protest cage in the back of his pickup truck. No voter shenanigans, he says on Twitter: Trump landslide or in the cage ya go.

My instant impulse, or maybe it was a coping mechanism, was to make a Noland reference. Then as I got ready to post this thing here, and declare it a work [as one does around here], I got cold feet. The reality of this person and his anger and hatred and poisonous rhetoric and not-idle threats piled up, and I reconsidered. This is literally not-helping, I feared, it is making-worse.

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But after a couple of days of looking, and thinking, and seeing this guy’s gesture/threat circulate, I came to see this as important. Or at least real. Relevant. This bigot’s sculptural move was atypical, even perhaps unique, but it is a datapoint in a network, a churning system of political hate. These images are of a physical object manifesting the digital flow of right-wing ideas and imagery across Twitter and Facebook. It’s a post-Internet avatar of Trumpist America.

Looking at it, now I wonder: is this how Noland saw, how she read, how she felt, when she made her works? Did she dream of making toxic, dystopian, American flag-draped cages, only to wake up and find the dream was still there? And wasn’t even a dream?

Sforzian Boardwalk

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Hillary Clinton speaking at the closed Trump Plaza in Atlantic City July 6, 2016, image: philly.com/Tom Gralsh
I missed this while I was out of town, but Hillary Clinton hit a Sforzian jackpot when she gave a campaign speech on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, in front of the closed and failed Trump Plaza Casino.
Carl Icahn owns the building now, and the vestiges of Trump’s failure are literally written on the wall, providing a readymade Sforzian backdrop.
Or two. According to Amy Rosenberg’s report at philly.com, the Clinton campaign had originally wanted to stage their event a block inland, with the casino’s de-Trumped tower in the background, but it would have blocked traffic to Caesar’s. So they wedged in to a less optimal but still effective corner of the boardwalk, the ghosts of T-R-U-M-P lingered on the classy, glassy marquee.
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same, this time via Asbury Park Press/USAT/Tom Costello
If you don’t count his kneejerk tweets blaming anyone else for his business’s failures while crowing about skating out of bankruptcy with a wad of investors’ dough, Trump’s reaction came Thursday. The Press of Atlantic City reports that the traces of Trump’s name were removed “for good” from the boardwalk facade. “Black paint has been applied to cover up any mention to Donald Trump.”
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Untitled (Trump Plaza Black) Nos. 1-3, 2016, paint on panel, collection: Trump Entertainment Resorts/Carl Icahn, installation photo via Press of Atlantic City
Actually, from Jack Tomczuk’s (or Michael Ein’s, I can’t tell) photos, the traces of Trump’s name were not painted over, but were covered by painted panels. Five black monochromes were affixed to Hillary’s Sforzian corner, and to the fenced off boardwalk entrance, where the ghost of Trump’s made up crest remains visible but illegible.
The exhibition will remain on view at least through November. I would be stoked if you visit it and post photos.
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Untitled (Trump Plaza Black) Nos. 4 & 5, 2016, paint on panel, each in two parts, collection: Trump Entertainment Resorts/Carl Icahn, installation photo via Press of Atlantic City
Hillary Clinton takes on Trump in A.C. [philly.com]
Faded ‘Trump Plaza’ removed after Clinton appearance [pressofatlanticcity.com]

Sforzian Recycling

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image of yahoo tv via @thegarance
Those who don’t build a functioning campaign organization, including media and advance teams, are doomed to recycle 15-year-old Sforzian Backdrop techniques.
Yahoo’s Garance Franke-Ruta rightly called this “the most passive-aggressive work of campaign advance” she’s ever seen. This extraordinary wide shot of the scene comes from her Yahoo colleague Holly Bailey.
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image via @hollybdc
Alumisource is in Monessen, PA, down the Monongahela from Pittsburgh, but this backdrop is straight out of the early Sforzian playbook. I’m not sure if we’re ready for a GWB election renaissance, or, frankly, if that kind of schtick even still works.

Play It Where It Lies

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I have tried to avoid the Sforzian analysis of this election. It feels like we’ve moved, or morphed, or devolved, or fallen, so far beyond, away, from the days of cannily placed powerpoint backdrops.
Sometimes, though, attention must be paid. As when comedian Lee Nelson threw a bucketful of Nazi golf balls at Donald Trump’s Scottish golf course press appearance.
Trump, who multiple sources confirm literally studied and embraced the speeches of Adolf Hitler-he kept them on his nightstand-was “surrounded by Nazi golf balls.” Nazi golf balls. Nazi. Golf. Balls.
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From The Journal:

After around ten minutes, Trump campaign operatives decided it might be a good idea to start clearing them away – and set about scooping them up with a few of his branded baseball caps.

Make America Great Again Filled With Nazi. Golf Balls.
OH PROTESTER BONUS: Nelson was also the guy who showered corrupt FIFA head Sepp Blatter with money [thejournal.ie]

Say You’re In If You’re In

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Wolfgang Tillmans is worried about the impending vote for the UK to remain in the EU. So he and his studio assistants created a set of posters to encourage people to stay in, and especially to vote, and to register to vote. UK voting registration must be completed by June 7.
After they were released yesterday, I tried to find a printer in the US who could easily handle an A1 (33×24 in, roughly) size. So far, nothing. I need to print them out before the vote, though; if it goes awry, I don’t think I’ll have the heart to make a memorial set.
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I also tried to find anyplace that can confirm that Wolfgang’s parents are Polish and Spanish. He grew up in Germany, and I always understood he was German-in-London.
There are a couple of atmospheric landscapes, and some of the posters are now-classic Tillmans abstraction, but most of them are straight-up text, a new direction for Tillmans’ practice. Text are images, though, so it’s really not that far afield. The most intriguing poster for me is #24. It’s completely blank.
It’s probably the one that most closely mirrors my feelings about the EU’s right-wing turn lately; I just haven’t known what to say. And it boggles my mind that the Britain and Europe of my generation are creating such an existential crisis for themselves.
Read Wolfgang Tillmans’ letter and download and circulate the posters [tillmans.co.uk]
UPDATE: So I emailed Wolfgang’s studio to find out the story behind the blank poster, and the next day they replaced the pdf file. The new poster bundle includes two new posters, and the monochrome is gone. So now we know. And that original 4.21 pdf is vintage/collectible.

Elizabeth Warren, Filtered

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I know she’s not in the White House rn, but the tasty pixel pattern in this picture of Elizabeth Warren on Talking Points Memo caught my eye this morning. Until I noticed it was on her podium, too. And it’s also on the edges of her hair and hands. So it’s a Photoshop filter applied with a quick and somewhat dirty mask. Weird.
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TPM doesn’t give a photo credit, but I searched up the original. Looks like it was taken Saturday, Sept. 19 at the 2015 Massachusetts Democratic Convention by Dave Roback of The Republican [please, oldest joke in Springfield, I’m sure].
That is what digital projected video looks like in 2015. And anyway, those pixels aren’t even pixels; it’s the moire pattern from four-color offset printing. Which has been used to approximate visible RGB pixels on a television screen.
Have I already thought about this image more than whoever hacked this thing together, or whoever decided to use it? Or was there a moment of contemplation, a decision, to make an image look more retro? And if so, did it involve someone who’s possibly too young to have seen either moire or visible pixels?
Why Wall Street Is Howling Over The Big New Reform Coming Down The Pike [talkingpointsmemo]
Sen. Elizabeth Warren blasts GOP presidential candidates with fiery speech at 2015 Massachusetts Democratic Convention in Springfield [masslive]

Sforza, Heizer. Heizer, Sforza.

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If I had to make a list of photo ops I could never imagine, Michael Heizer standing alongside Pres. Obama and Sen. Harry Reid would be right up there. And yet here we are.
Heizer, along with LACMA director Michael Govan and others, gathered to celebrate the designation of the Basin & Range National Monument, which protects 704,000 acres of Nevada wilderness, ranchland, and Heizer’s decades-long project, City, from oil extraction or encroaching development.
Spiral Jetty‘s on 10 acres. Lightning Field‘s on a few thousand, plus DIA’s bought up 9,000+ surrounding acres to protect the view. With 700K plus a high-powered entourage at the White House, it’s as if Heizer has out-Earthworked all the Earthwork artists with the biggest Earthwork on Earth.
[via @RepDinaTitus]