Category:dc

February 7, 2017

1971: The Year In Andirons

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The Vermeil Room in the White House as redecorated by Pat Nixon's plumbers, photo c.1992, LOC via Phillips-Schrock

The White House needed renovation and redecoration, and the Nixons were determined to put their mark on the place. By 1969, the French interiors commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy were worn from use. Also they were detested by politicals as reminders of a martyred rival. H.R. Haldeman and new White House curator Clement Conger set out on an aggressive fundraising effort to remake the White House and its collections, a campaign publicly led by the First Lady Pat Nixon. The period room-style appearance of the White House to this day largely reflects Mrs Nixon & co's work.

Based on my Google Books previews of it, this story of "the Dismantling of Camelot" is meticulously told by Patrick Phillips-Schrock in his 2016 book, The Nixon White House Redecoration and Acquisition Program: An Illustrated History.

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Vermeil Room a la Boudin, c. 1964, image: whitehousemuseum.org

Phillips-Schrock's account of the 1971 redecoration of the Vermeil Room on the ground floor of the White House is representative. From a caption of a photo of Boudin's Kennedy-era design: "The room was expensively finished in painted surfaces in blue and white with vitrines lined in white silk. Conger found it offensively French..." [p.74]

From an interview with Conger: "What we have done in 'face-lifting' the Vermeil Room is to change the room from a very dark blue--which is rather depressing--to a light green-gray, the appropriate color as the background for vermeil, which is gold. You use blue with silver, but never such a dark blue!" [p.76]

The room was reconceived as an early 19th century sitting room, with a table at the center "attributed to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe, it was on loan until a donor could be found to purchase it."

An 18th century lighting fixture in crystal with 10 lights replaced the Kennedy chandelier of bronze and blue tole. Further lighting was supplied by four matching sconces and by two candlesticks given by Mrs. Marjorie Meriwether [sic] Post, which were placed on the mantel. The fine Louis XVI marble fireplace was acquired and installed in 1962. [not too offensively French, I guess. -g.o] Within the firebox were a pair of valuable brass andirons, obtained from Israel Sack of New York. When the room was opened to the public, Conger related, "These are American andirons, so called 'in the Paul Revere Manner' with the flame and diamond lozenge--except they are a little more petite and narrow than the heavier ones of this same design one generally sees." [p. 77]
The andirons abide.

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American Andirons in the Vermeil Room, c.2008, image: CSPAN via whitehousemuseum.org

I mention this because I just googled across it. And because 1971 was a busy year for well-provenanced, Paul Revere-ish andirons. It was the same year Mrs. Giles Whiting bequeathed her Paul Revere (Attributed) andirons to the Metropolitan Museum. Interestingly, Mrs. Whiting's Revere-ian andirons did not have a diamond and flame, but an urn and flame finial. Actually, I don't know if that's really interesting at all. Maybe what's interesting about andirons is not the things themselves, but the complicated narratives into which they are enlisted.

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Previously, related: Untitled (Andiron Attributed To Paul Revere Jr.), 2014 [greg.org]

January 26, 2017

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.

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Forrest Bess, The Asteroids #3, 1946, oil on canvas board, via Phillips Collection

In 2014 the Phillips Collection received eight works by Forrest Bess from Miriam Shapiro Grosof, including a set of four paintings titled, The Asteroids (1946). They depict a dream Bess had, and the ceramist Arlene Shechet has put them on view for the first time as part of her museum-wide project, From Here On Now. [The other Bess paintings can be seen in the (Part 2) video here.] Shechet has made work in response to particular works and spaces at the Phillips, and has reinstalled at least five spaces, to absolutely riveting effect.

Shechet's ceramic and cast paper sculptures are variously abstract and referential, and are accomplished on their own, but as catalysts for and participants in dialogue with works from the collection, they appear essential. Shechet has chosen and placed extraordinary works, which should be familiar, but which all feel like revelations, in a way that makes the Phillips spring to life. I'd say she should curate the entire museum, but many of the galleries Shechet did not curate also vibrate with unexpected and fascinating paintings of all eras, from Bonnard, to Ryder, to Robert Natkin? Somehow, yes. With a tribute show of the late William Christenberry's work and Jacob Lawrence's Toussaint L'Ouverture prints, I'd say the Phillips is the most unexpectedly awesome show in town right now.

Now on to Bess.

Download Better_Read_011_Forrest_Bess_The_Asteroids_1946.mp3 [dropbox, 3:10, 4.5mb]
From Here On Now, by Arlene Shechet, runs through March 7, 2017 [phillipscollection.org]

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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]

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:

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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]

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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.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
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Category: dc

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Social Medium:
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Madoff Provenance Project in
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
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