Category:dc

November 11, 2016

We The People

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Public Art Fund installation, 2014, image: James Ewing via PAF

I have been thinking a lot about [among other things, obviously] context. How much the time, place, history, experience, and state of mind influence our experience with an artwork.

I think of my encounters with Vermeer's View of Delft, and of reading about Lawrence Wechsler's crucial visits to Vermeers in The Hague while covering Bosnian war crimes tribunals at the International Criminal Court. Art provides solace, sanity, respite, and sometimes, it makes difficult truths known, quietly and powerfully, to those who seek, sometimes through what Berger calls, "a felt absence."

A lot of people I see are turning to art for some of these same things right now, trying to grapple with the devastating results of the US presidential election. Which might be nice. But I can't help thinking of a work I liked immensely, but which now feels all but unbearable.

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Fridericianum install shot by Nils Klinger via CAD

The Public Art Fund brought some to New York in 2014, but Danh Vo began showing pieces of We The People, his full-scale replication of the Statue of Liberty, at the Fredericianum in Kassel in 2011. That show's title, JULY, IV, MDCCLXXVI, came from the tablet in the Statue's hand.

Oddly, I didn't remember the press release for the show being this explicit:

the sculpture is dissected into its individual parts and thus abstracted. In his recreation, Vo concentrates on reproducing the thin copper skin (the iron scaffolding supporting the figure is missing), which gives WE THE PEOPLE a special fragility. The broken icon, the destroyed allegorical figure of Libertas, forms a strong counterpoint to the massive materiality.
Maybe it's the difference between abstraction and reality. Or their collapse into each other. A felt absence.

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I cannot explain how I didn't catch this when I saw it many months ago, but re-reading Steve Roden's blog post about his return to painting after a year-long hiatus, this completely floors me:

Recently, I have also been obsessed with a photograph of two seemingly insignificant pieces of wood about the size of the inner part of a closed fist. The photograph appeared in an auction catalog, and I was fascinated to discover that these seemingly ordinary, or pathetic objects were pieces of George Washington's coffin, and as such, their presence transcends their objectness.
Probably! But right now it is their objectness that I'm obsessed with.

October 3, 2016

More Aaron Kuriloff, Please

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Aaron Kuriloff, Two Pillows, 1963, image and caption from Walter Hopps' Boxes catalogue, Dwan Gallery, 1964, image: aaa.si.edu

In his Dwan Gallery catalogue essay, James Meyer calls him "a now-forgotten trader in readymades," but I recognized Aaron Kuriloff's name from Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959-1975. Judd reviewed Kuriloff's April 1964 show at Fischbach Gallery for Arts Magazine. He did not like it, dismissing the artist's lightly assisted readymades as domestic misfires done better by George Brecht.

Now that I've seen some pictures, though, I'm kind of intrigued. For Boxes, the February 1964 group show organized by Dwan Gallery director John Weber, Andy Warhol sent three Brillos and a Heinz Ketchup, scooping the Stable Gallery by a month. And Kuriloff sent Two Pillows, 1963 [above], in which blue ticking-covered pillows were inserted in a blue-painted wood shelf.

No wonder Judd didn't like it. I bet Haim Steinbach would, though. And Mark Stahl, who had a similarly promising-but-brief career with similarly found objects in the 1980s.

No less than Brian O'Doherty liked Kuriloff's work, too. He reviewed the Fischbach show for the Times:

Both these shows, one [George Ortman] turn­ing symbols into objects, the other [Kuriloff] objects into symbols, make a new cross‐roads where the traffic is getting heavier --a cross‐roads at which Jas­per Johns originally planted his painted flags, breaking our reflex responses to the most loaded of symbols.
I'll add some more images of Kuriloff's works from 1963-67, the only period I've been able to find so far, and let's just have a fresh look.

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Aaron Kuriloff, Three Switches, 1963, Thibaut Gallery, image via nyt

The Times has at least two other reviews of Kuriloff's work, both illustrated. In December 1963, he was in "Hard Center," a group show at Thibaut Gallery organized by Elena and Nicolas Calas. From Brian O'Doherty's review it sounds like it focused on the recontextualization as art of mass or consumer objects, an early example of Pop getting in formation. And the artist list shows just how far Pop has shifted since: Robert Breer, Nicolas Calas, Kuriloff, Walter de Maria, and Robert Morris. There's a catalogue out there somewhere.

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Aaron Kuriloff, A Laundry Bag, installed in 1965 at The Four Seasons, image: nyt

In 1965 Kuriloff is mentioned in a benefit sale/exhibition held at the Four Seasons. It seems kind of a mess, frankly, and the Times report doesn't do it much justice, just sneering at now-acclimated art audiences not rioting over Pop Art. Kuriloff's A Laundry Bag was just that, mounted against a green background, with a label, Erased de Kooning Drawing-style. Priced at $500 for mental health charity, it's not clear if it sold.

July 24, 2016

Tantas Sombras

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Teresa Margolles' La Sombra, installed at Echo Park Lake, photo: Carolina Miranda/LAT

Teresa Margolles has contributed a memorial to Current: LA Water, the "public art biennial," which started last week. La Sombra (The Shade) is near Echo Park Lake and looks to be the most significant and prominent work in the program, which runs, incredibly, for less than a month.

La Sombra is a six meter-high...pavilion? Awning? Structure? In her onsite report for the LA Times, Carolina Miranda calls it an installation, a memorial, and a monument. It looks like it's made of concrete, but if it's going to disappear in a couple of weeks, I suspect it's gunnite or stucco sprayed on a plywood box.

Which hurts. Margolles created La Sombra as a memorial to 100 Los Angelenos murdered with guns in the last 18 months. The sites of these killings were visited, washed, and the water re-collected for use in mixing the concrete. This circulatory element echoes Margolles' previous works which incorporate the water used to wash corpses in the morgue in her home city of Juarez.

La Sombra is a stark, powerful form that draws people to it, especially on a hot, sunny day. In this way, perhaps, the deaths of these hundred people might yield some comfort to the living. Maybe family and friends can come sit under it. Maybe people will be motivated to act against gun-related violence.

"I wanted [La Sombra] to be on the scale of what has happened," says Margolles in the Times. "I wanted it to have presence."

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Donald Judd, One of 15 Untitled Works in Concrete, 1980-84, 2.5m x 2.5m x 5m, Chinati Foundation, image via wiki

The scale and presence of La Sombra are indeed notable. It seems quite large. It looks like it could be concrete-Judd-in-Marfa-fields-size, but it is actually 4x that. It has an architectural presence and is not slight. It feels like about the right scale for 100 people. Maybe it is even the size of 100 people standing within it, I don't know.

Memorials use scale to convey their meaning. Some memorials, like for the people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing and the AA77 crash at the Pentagon, use a cemetery-like field of individual-scale objects-chairs and benches, respectively-to represent the dead. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World Trade Center Memorial, meanwhile, incorporate individual names into a larger, holistic experience of loss. nodding to a larger, shared sense of mourning, of a community, a nation. It really depends on the scale of death, whether it is thousands (58,195 or 2,977), hundreds (168 or 184), or one.

By remembering 100 otherwise unrelated deaths with one La Sombra, Margolles appears to have found a new scale for memorialization: a memorial unit that modulates between societal tragedy and individual loss. [I just remembered that the Pentagon Memorial actually called the benches "memorial units".]

There were not just 100 people killed in LA with guns in the 18 months Margolles bracketed; there were 975. Even if it was just because of the prohibitive the logistics of washing down all those murder sites, the artist knew her temporary memorial alone could not account for that "scale of what has happened." She'd need nine more La Sombras, just in LA. With an average of 55 people being killed each month, that's another La Sombras every two months.

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Imagine these 3-meter tall Judd concrete sculptures at Chinati are actually 6-meter tall Margolles La Sombras, each commemorating 100 people killed with guns. image: chinati.org

And now scale them up. There are 30,000 gun deaths in the US-half a Vietnam War or ten September 11ths-each year. Margolles' La Sombra could be the optimal form and size for memorializing the people killed by gun violence across the country. But some details would need to be worked out. How far back in time do we go? We could need thousands of La Sombras right from the start. Seems impractical, at least at first.

Where should they be placed? Do we combine them all into one sprawling site, like an AIDS Quilt of concrete, an ever-growing Holocaust Memorial for a slaughter we refuse to stop? I think a La Sombra site could take into account the hundred people it memorializes within a city or perhaps a state, without getting too granular with your data; you wouldn't want them to pile up and stigmatize a neighborhood, though having a few together could totally work.

Spread them out at least a bit. Though maybe a city or state could decide to stack them up in a public space, magnify their presence, so the absence of the dead can't be ignored. Of course, you'd also want to avoid gamifying them, having them treated as kills to be racked up by violent forces in society, or even just a run-of-the-mill gun-toting psychokiller. They need to stay present in the landscape, but also just ominous and uncomfortable enough to prick the consciences of we who remain.

An artist's imposing new monument at Echo Park Lake honors Angelenos killed in violent crimes [latimes]
Current: LA Water, LA's Public Art Biennial, runs through August 14. [currentla.org]

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"Untitled" (Republican Years), 1992

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"Untitled" (NRA), 1991, collection: Astrup Fearnley Museet

25 years of this.

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Wrigley's, 1937, Charles Green Shaw, Art Institute of Chicago, image: poulwebb

The banner on J.S. Marcus's WSJ story about American painting in the 1930s is Charles Green Shaw's Wrigley's, which is in the Art Institute of Chicago collection. Also, it is awesome.

With its unafraid abstraction mixed with proto-Pop, it reminds me of Gerald Murphy's paintings from the 1920s. Shaw and Murphy both enjoyed privileged, Manhattan-based, continental lifestyles that involved painting, and according to Adam Weinberg's 1997 exhibition brochure, they were friends in Europe.

But his AAA history doesn't mention Murphy at all. Shaw didn't get into abstraction until he came back to New York, well after Murphy stopped painting. And Shaw doesn't seem to have been very involved in the artist community of New York in the 30s, despite having a couple of gallery shows, and being on some committees at The Modern. He was more a writer.

Which makes it tricky to gauge the quality/influence/familiarity of his work. It's nice, some of it, like Wrigley's, even looks great, but it doesn't seem to have been important or impactful. The historical upside is limited, is how it feels. This, even though he was apparently friends with Ad Reinhardt. I guess it's complicated?

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Still, it's good to see this photo of a pack of gum sitting on a postcard, which looks like source material for the painting. It's among the digitized collection of Shaw's papers at the Archives of American Art. As the larger version of the image so ably informs us:

AAA_shaw_charles_wrigley_photomontage.jpg

Maybe it's hard to put an emphasis on Shaw's painting because he had so much else going on. He wrote for the New Yorker, did slim books of verse, cranked out some children's books, took photographs.

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Charles Green Shaw, photo of NYC harness store, c.1940s?, collection aaa.si.edu

We might call Shaw an artist fluent in multiple mediums today, but his is the kind of peripatetic practice that we're conditioned to look askance at when we see it in the past. Or maybe it feels like he did not take much of anything seriously, except for mixing drinks. Maybe it's because he was rich and a "bachelor" in a time and art world where that didn't help?

I don't really know, but I like the work.

Oh here we go. In 2007 Roberta Smith also called him peripatetic and wondered, more clearly than I, about his legacy. His group of well-heeled colleagues, the American Abstract Artists, who were abstract when abstraction was un-American, "were often called -- and not always benignly -- the Park Avenue Cubists."

When he died in 1974, Shaw left his art to a surprised friend, the collector Charles H. Carpenter, who became its posthumous shepherd. A bunch of paintings went to the Whitney, and the Art Institute bought Wrigley's. And apparently, he's been an overlooked American minor master ever since.

Charles Green Shaw papers [aaa.si.edu]
Charles G. Shaw's artist page at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery [michaelrosenfeldart]
[nyt]

May 27, 2016

Monochrome House

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Study for Monochrome House Red, 2016

I'm consistently amazed at the photos in real estate listings, which turn someone's private space and life inside out and propagate it across the web, where it just stacks up. It makes the case for real estate staging and swapping out all your belongings that much stronger; the photos may be intrusive, but at least they're not intruding on you.

There's another way, though.

While flipping quickly through the listing of a nearby house, I was stopped by an extraordinary artwork on the dining room wall: a bright red monochrome. Which, what?

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Study for Monochrome House Beige, 2016

Scroll back, and there is a beige monochrome in the living room. The master suite has two monochromes in different shades of blue. Except for a couple of posters in the rec room, in fact, all the art in the house is monochromes. It looks fantastic.

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Study for Monochrome House Blue #1, 2016

Way better than the "Art Panels" offered by that NY stager last year, which I think are basically giant sheets of gatorboard, the merest ghosts of actual objects.

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Nothing. Meh. Keep scrolling.

No, these monochromes can really hold their walls.

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Study for Monochrome House Green, 2016, this one has a serious Prina vibe

Kudos to the photoshop artist who devised this solution for the seller, who did not care to have his actual-and, for DC, surprisingly not insubstantial-art collection blasted out to the world in such an exhibitionistic/voyeuristic way. And if the seller, or the eventual buyer of the house wishes, I'm glad to realize the whole houseful of monochromes in time to close the deal.

May 11, 2016

Free As In America

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The thing about Cassandra was she was right.

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In the Summer of 1990 Michèle Cone talked with Cady Noland about the intimations of violence in her works:

Michèle Cone: Practically every piece I have seen of yours in group shows or in your one-person shows projects a sense of violence, via signs of confinement -- enclosures, gates, boxes, or the aftermath of accident, murder, fighting, boxing, or as in your recent cut-out and pop-up pieces -- bullet holes.

Cady Noland: Violence used to be part of life in America and had a positive reputation. Apparently, at least according to Lewis Coser who was writing about the transition of sociology in relation to violence, at a certain point violence used to describe sociology in a very positive way. There was a kind of righteousness about violence -- the break with England, fighting for our rights, the Boston Tea Party. Now, in our culture as it is, there is one official social norm -- and acts of violence, expressions of dissatisfaction are framed in an atomized view as being "abnormal."

Cone: There are clear references to extreme cases of violence in the United States, Lincoln and Booth, Kennedy and Oswald, Patricia Hearst, etc. . . .

Noland: In the United States at present we don't have a "language of dissension." You might say people visit their frustrations on other individuals and that acts as a type of "safety valve" to "have steam let off." People may complain about "all of the violence there is today," but if there weren't these more individual forms of venting, there would more likely be rioters or committees expressing dissatisfaction in a more collective way. Violence has always been around. The seeming randomness of it now actually indicates the lack of political organization representing different interests. "Inalienable rights" become something so inane that they break down into men believing that they have the right to be superior to women (there's someone lower on the ladder than they) so if a woman won't dare them any more they have a right to murder them. It's called the peace in the feud. In this fashion, hostility and envy are vented without threatening the structures of society.

And so it is that in the Summer of 2016 Anheuser-Busch InBev has announced that, for promotional purposes, from Memorial Day until the US presidential election in November, it is renaming and relabeling Budweiser, its flagship beer, America.

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Budweiser bottles and cans are prominent elements of many of Noland's works, from small baskets and milk crates of detritus to the epic 1989 installation, This Piece Has No Title Yet, where six-packs of Budweiser stacked 16 high line the walls. Noland saw already that Budweiser was America. Or that it inevitably would be.

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Bloody Mess, 1988, carpet, rubber mats, wire basket, headlamp, shock absorber, handcuffs, beer cans, headlight bulbs, chains and police equipment, dimensions variable

And so as a tribute to Noland's foresight and to America's future, I am honored to announce Untitled (Free As In America). For this series I will replicate any Noland sculpture that uses Budweiser, using America cans or bottles, and I'll do it for cost. The series will be available during InBev's America campaign, and will obviously be subject to the availability of America brand cans, bottles, and cartons.

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Chicken in a Basket, 1989, "twenty-seven elements, wire basket, rubber chicken, boxes, bottle, flags, baster, bungee and beer cans", offered for sale this afternoon at Christies, image via Skarstedt

I am obviously not recreating Nolands a la Triple Candie, but I don't want to merely approximate them, either. So I'll only make pieces based on Nolands whose elements are suitably documented, such as in photographs and auction catalogue copy:

Noland once described America as a gestalt experience...In the case of Bloody Mess, disparate objects, including Budweiser cans, car parts, police equipment, and rubber mats collectively comprise a quintessential American image. These cans of "The Great American Lager," for instance, are scattered to the outreaches of the piece, so as to provide a sort of abstract framework around the inner compilation of a paraphenalia [sic] law enforcement and an uncanny selection of automobile parts.
If substitutions are needed, they will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Every work, in fact, will be devised, specced and costed out individually, in consultation with the collector. So get in touch, and God Bless America.

A-B InBev Looks to Replace Budweiser With 'America' on Packs [adage]

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In 2010 the kid took a weekly studio class at the Hirshhorn with Dan Steinhilber. It was fantastic, but unfortunately, it was the last one the museum offered for non-teens. It was held in the education space in the sculpture garden, a space which could connect under the road to the museum, but for various logistical reasons, does not.

This incredible framed poster from Gerhard Richter's 1987-8 exhibition was there. The painting in it, A B Dunkel, or Abstraktes Bild Dunkel (Dark), (CR: 613-2), 1986, is from what is considered Richter's breakthrough year for squeegee painting. For me, though, it's the gaffer's tape that makes it special.

Now that I have declared it a work, I called the Hirshhorn. It is still there. There are no plans for it at this time. I called the museum shop, which has an endlessly interesting selection of books and exhibition catalogues for sale from the museum's own library, but which does not, it turns out, have any 28-year-old Richter exhibition posters lying around.

It's possible that it's not even a product, but marketing material or signage; I couldn't find another example of this poster mentioned online. So for now, it is ed. 1/1. Plus a study.

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February 14, 2016

Artificial Tuft Of Grass

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Would you believe me if I told you this was Dürer's Great Piece Of Turf and not an altered jpg?

In a fascinating and frustrating essay on aeon, art historian Noah Charney tries to very diplomatically address the fact that major museums are displaying reproductions of major works on paper by the likes of Egon Schiele and Albrecht Dürer. The museums often disclose this non-trivial fact very obliquely, or not at all:

That evening, art forgery was the subject of conversation in the museum's stylish black marble restaurant. The patrons of the Leopold lamented that they could show their best Schiele drawings (the ones that drew pilgrims) only for a few months at a time. The rest of the time they were in darkened storage, to minimise their exposure to light, and reproductions were displayed in their place. Someone from the Albertina sympathised. She explained that Dürer's marvellous watercolours, Young Hare and Tuft of Grass, are shown to the public only for three-month periods every few years. Otherwise they reside in temperature-, light- and humidity-controlled Solander boxes in storage. Had I had the chance to see them?

Indeed I had, and while I had been suspicious that something wasn't quite right about them, I would be flattering myself to say that I immediately knew they were reproductions. Today's printing technologies make it difficult to distinguish high-quality facsimiles from originals, at least not without taking them out of the frame and examining the back (which holds a wealth of clues about an object's age and provenance), or looking at the surface in detail, without the interference of protective glass. In an intentionally shadowy alcove I could sense that something was off, but not exactly what.

"Three months every few years"? Did the Albertina leave the reproductions up when they loaned the originals to the National Gallery in 2013? Wouldn't it have made more sense to just loan the reproductions, and let the originals rest in safety?

I wish Charney would have brought more contemporary notions of reproduction to bear here, beyond a namecheck of Benjamin. And the aeon context doesn't help, teeing up with a clickbaity question "Is there a place for fakery in art galleries and museums?" and soliciting comments with a moot one: "When it comes to art, can a reproduction stand for the original?" When some of the world's leading museums swap facsimiles as a matter of course, the answer is obviously yes. I'd just like to find out more about how they do it.

Is there a place for fakery in art galleries and museums? [aeon.co]
Previously: The Great Piece of Merch

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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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