I've written before about the "clean and presumptively powerful" design of various government letterheads I've come across in my recent archive diving.


And I must not be doing it right, because my searches for the expansive survey of the history of such official design, and for the comprehensive sourcebook containing the thousands of seals and emblems of various government agencies and offices keep coming up empty.


I mean, Total Information Awareness, right? Somebody must be keeping a list. Anybody? Bueller?

So I'm reduced at the moment to random click trains through Wikipedia, or to search diving in the digitized collections at the National Archives. Not very productive.

Though it has yielded some nice finds. Nothing spectacular, but then, that's kind of the point of these designs. Up top, the United States Information Agency, once part of the State Department. That's the director's office letterhead there, with the smaller seal.


What I really like, in addition to the undesigned design, is how all the rest of the information is handled. Though a zip code does pop up occasionally, there's almost never a street/mailing address. Or maybe there is; "Department of State comma Washington" would probably get you or your letter there in 2011 as easily as 1898.


But it's the way information accretes, the way the document functions, that's kind of cool, too. The tiny instruction for answering and the reference number on the upper left of this 1922 Dept. of Labor letter, for example. And all the stamps! Check out that received stamp: not just the date, but the time, too.

Anyway, I made a little flickr photoset of a few examples I've found. I'm looking forward to having my scattered, amateur enthusiasm swamped by the exhaustive review of government logo and letterhead design that some expert has already compiled. And then we can start talking about what I'm looking at this stuff for.

Previously: The Great Letterpress of The United States

Oh, RO/LU, you are so awesome for posting this.


9 Artists/ 9 Spaces was a public art exhibit organized in 1970 for the Minnesota States Art Council, while the Walker Art Center's new building was under construction. The concept of creating temporary, site-specific works was almost unheard-of, but it's since become an international norm of public art practice. The show was organized by none other than Richard Koshalek, who was assistant curator at the Walker at the time, but who is now the director of the Hirshhorn Museum.

From a purely practical standpoint, I'm afraid Peter Eeley is right, 9 Artists/ 9 Spaces "proved in many ways a disaster." If anything, Eeley's list of problems--"works were vandalized; damaged by accident; and shut down by the police for reasons of safety, fear, and improper permitting"--completely undersells the near-total mayhem surrounding the show.

Fortunately, Peggy Weil published what is apparently the first extended history of 9 Artists/ 9 Spaces as part of a larger exploration of public art. It is truly incredible.

Just one incident: William Wegman wanted a large vertical image to be rendered in horizontal format, so he proposed a large billboard painting of Minneapolis's Foshay Tower on its side. The work, unfortunately titled What Goes Up Must Come Down, was installed on the U of M campus. Only no one notified the campus police of the project, and they freaked and called the FBI, who "showed up at Koshelek's office the next morning to inform him that they'd read it as a bomb threat and dismantled it."

Wegman himself posted about the 40-year-old show on his blog
a couple of weeks ago, after being contacted by the Walker; the billboard is apparently featured in a new tapestry created for the museum by Goshka Macuga. In fact, digging around a bit, almost the only info online about 9 Artists/ 9 Spaces seems to come from Weil and this Macuga project.

Whatever happened on the ground at the time now seems frankly awesome and entertaining; the very idea that public art could instantly provoke a wide range of heated responses seems almost quaint. But of course, such bemused hindsight requires an idealized, incomplete grasp of the political and cultural context of the show; the idea of bombings and long-term occupations of parks in St. Paul sounds positively surreal, but it happened.

The failure, really, is ours, for not remembering, knowing, studying, and learning from this rather spectacular-sounding show. Someone get me Koshalek on the horn!

Peggy Weil's history of 9 Artists/ 9 Spaces, 1970-71, organized by Martin Friedman and Richard Koshalek [, via RO/LU, who has other links and pictures]
What Goes Up Must Come Down [wegmansworld (!!)]

Thomas Lawson's 2010 interview with Andrea Bowers is like five kinds of great. It concerns the works in her show at Susan Vielmetter in Los Angeles, "The Political Landscape." Bowers' story of making a video piece about activist and Bush-era public land auction-saboteur Tim deChristoph has some nice critiques of the Earth Art Boys. And it's surprising how surprising so many of the reactions were to her immigration- and border-related drawings.


But I can't not post a bit of the discussion of the centerpiece of the show. Titled No Olvidado - Not Forgotten, the 10-foot-high, 23-panel mural/drawing contains the names of several thousand people known to have died crossing the Mexican-US border:

AB: Yes, it's a hundred-foot drawing.

TL: And it is set up as a memorial, it's a very grand piece. Let's talk about it. Since it is monumental, it presumably required a different way of working?

AB: Right. I worked with a graphic designer and several assistants. It resulted from a conversation with an activist, Enrique Morones. He founded an organization called Border Angels. They started off in I think '86, providing water and blankets to people crossing the border.

TL: And many die in the attempt--are they killed out there in the desert, or do they die from exposure and thirst?

AB: It's both, but in many cases nobody knows. A lot of people die from dehydration or temperature, but there are also people who are killed. So Enrique collects names of anyone who dies migrating from Mexico to America. He actually has about ten thousand names. He finally admitted that the group of names he provided to me, a list of four or five thousand, is only up to the year 2000.

I've always been making memorials in one way or another, but memorials that I thought would never be made, or memorials that were kind of impossible to make. I'm fascinated by the Vietnam Memorial in DC, and how listing names functions in general. An important part of what I do concerns this documentary-type collection of information.

A Story about Civil Disobedience and Landscape: Interview with Andrea Bowers []


You stumble upon something that Google doesn't know anything about, and you post about it, and then a while later, the other handful of people wondering about the same thing eventually email you, and you try to figure this stuff out together.

Thus it is that the Verne Blosum Fan Club is proud to welcome the Greensboro Chapter to the table.

The other day, a curator from the Weatherspoon Art Museum contacted me after seeing my 2010 posts about the pioneering Pop Art painter Vern Blosum. Because it turns out the museum which is affiliated with UNC-Greensboro, has a Verne Blossum painting, Twin Expiration, above, from 1962.


I first found out about Blossum when his parking meter painting, Violation was illustrated alongside Andy Warhol in a 1963 Washington Post article about Alice Denney's foundational Pop Art show at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art.

Then it turned out MoMA has a Blosum parking meter as well, Time Expired, purchased for them in 1964 by Larry Aldrich. [No, I'm not typing it wrong, his name shows up in contemporary sources with both one s and two, with an e and without.]


The Weatherspoon discovery [for whatever reason, their collection database has not been indexed by Google] comes on the heels of another out-of-the-blue email from some folks in California. Seems they'd come across Vern Blosum in the catalogue for Pop Art USA, a 1963 exhibition curated by the Pasadena Art Museum's own John Coplans. That Blosum, titled 25 Minutes.


Clearly, there's a theme, and I'm not just talking about parking meters. 25 Minutes was apparently lent by the L.M. Asher family. Betty Asher was one of the major collectors and supporters and curators at LACMA for many years. Just phenomenal. And her son is Michael Asher.

The Weatherspoon's Blossum turns out to have been donated in 1981 by Robert Scull, probably the most famous [or infamous, depending] Pop Art collector of them all, in honor of Virginia Dwan, who has had a long, generous relationship to the museum.

For an artist who seems to have mysteriously disappeared from the art world, Vern[e] Blos[s]um sure left behind, not just an intriguing body of work, but also an incredible body of collectors.

The work continues.

I know what it is, and what it's for, and where it is, and what what. But still.

In a year when politicians' considerations of art have had considerable impact on art, artists, and the art world, it is fascinating to consider the official guidelines [pdf] for the Congressional Art Competition.

Founded in 1982, the Congressional Art Competition offers high school-age artists in each congressional district the chance to have their work exhibited on Capitol Hill, or in their representative's offices, for an entire year.

Each entry must be original in concept, design, and execution and may not violate any U.S. copyright laws. Any entry that has been copied from an existing photo (other than the student's own), painting, graphic, advertisement, or any other work produced by another person is a violation of the competition rules and will not be accepted. Work entered must be in the original medium (that is, not a scanned reproduction of a painting or drawing).


Artwork must adhere to the policy of the House Office Building Commission. In accordance with this policy, exhibits depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature are not allowed. It is necessary that all artwork be reviewed by the panel chaired by the Architect of the Capitol and any portion not in consonance with the Commission's policy will be omitted from the exhibit. The panel will make the final decision regarding the suitability of all artwork for the Congressional Art Competition exhibition in the Capitol.

a href="">An Artistic Discovery: The Congressional Art Competition [ via, thx @artisphere]

What's that, dear? Oh, nothing, just some legendary but unknown drafts for the first film adaptation of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, by veteran Hollywood screenwriter Benjamin Hecht.

After reading various references to the early 60s script, Jeremy Duns decided to go looking for it, and whaddyaknow, there it was, sitting in Hecht's archive, which is at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Apparently, in the intervening decades, no one had ever bothered to actually look for it:

[T]hese drafts are a master-class in thriller-writing, from the man who arguably perfected the form with Notorious. Hecht made vice central to the plot, with Le Chiffre actively controlling a network of brothels and beautiful women who he is using to blackmail powerful people around the world. Just as the theme of Fleming's Goldfinger is avarice and power, the theme of Hecht's Casino Royale is sex and sin. It's an idea that seems obvious in hindsight, and Hecht used it both to raise the stakes of Fleming's plot and to deepen the story's emotional resonance.
It's exactly the kind of mind-boggling, serendipitous archive find that keeps me going on this Johns Flag hunt, even when the more skeptical part of me is saying, "Seriously, how could Jasper Johns' first flag painting have been stolen, and missing, and then resurface in his own dealer's office, and then disappear again, and no one knows where it is or even what actually happened to it?" But the more I dig and ask around, the more I find that, though plenty of people gossiped or speculated, almost no one has ever actually searched for it.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION/APOLOGY/&C. Ha, ha, I guess if I think about it, yeah, my meant-to-be-exciting-thrill-of-discovery-in-uncharted-archives anecdote below could make actual archive professionals cringe. And I guess I didn't think of that. OR mean it as any kind of criticism of the way the AAA works, just the opposite, in fact.

Fortunately, Barbara Aikens, the Chief of Collections Processing at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art took the time to correct some inaccuracies and clarify some of the wrong implications in my account. Which, I didn't really-- I mean, it was really meant to be kind of an amusing offhand story, not a transcript, which-- Anyway. My bad.

A few trips ago, while researching at the Archives of American Art, I opened a white cardboard box, indistinguishable from all the others on the outside. But instead of the neatly labeled, acid-free folders, I faced a mishmash of giant envelopes, ragged edges, and old, manila folders. And a rubber banded brick of old AmEx bills. And some matchbooks. What a mess. It was more time capsule than archive.

In the middle of a sheaf of clippings and tear sheets, interviews and reviews and feature articles about Robert Rauschenberg, I came across an odd little card. No, it's a transparency showing an Apollo alnding capsule. No, there's three. Blue, magenta, cyan, waitaminnit, this is taped together by hand. It's an object, maybe even a work, made of layered transparent sheets, similar to Rauschenberg's editions made from multiple sheets of plexiglass. Shades (1964) is one; I have a similar set of plexi discs somewhere from 1970-1, in a boxed set of multiples titled, Artists and Photographs. Here you go: Revolver.


The other day, i recognized that space capsule image as the one in the Hirshhorn's big Rauschenberg screen/painting, Whale, which is also from 1964. Maybe Bob sent that little objet home after a studio visit or something. But should it really be in here, in the archives, hanging out with greasy-fingered riff-raff like me? Maybe I should say something.

A couple of folders later, I carefully extract a large, tattered, manila envelope with something about a group show or benefit scribbled on the outside. The first thing I pull out is a signed Jim Dine drawing. Then another. The next one is an Oldenburg. I pull out a piece of black paper, which turns out to be a chalk drawing. A little dust gets on my hands. At which point--I mean, fingerprints, right? I'm totally busted--I call the attendant over with a hearty, "Uh, did you know there's a bunch of original art in here?"

No, she did not, but yes, that happens, because, in fact, budget, priorities, low demand, &c., &c, some of this collection's boxes had not been processed yet. I was probably the first person to even look through this box since it had come in over 25 years earlier. She gave me a stack of acid-free paper to slip in between the various drawings, and I decided that, though it looked like a blast, the stuff in the packet was obviously not related to my research--at the very least, if Johns' Flag had been stuffed inside, I would've seen it--so I put it all carefully away.

I guess I'm just saying, there's stuff out there. And no one's been looking for it, so get cracking.

UPDATE I thought I was being helpful by not identifying the collection I was using here, but of course, Barbara knew right away what it was: the Alan Solomon Archives. The Solomon material had come into the AAA in waves, and the unprocessed box had actually entered the Archive in 2007, not, as I misunderstood, 25+years ago.

The presence of art, drawings, sketches, etc., while not a collecting goal of the Archive, is also not unheard of, and such material typically remains in accessible within the collection, where it is to be handled with care.

Barbara points out that while I made it sound like there I worked through a stack of acid-free paper, in fact, I only inserted three sheets between a couple of drawings. This is true. I was given a stack, but after replacing the works I'd taken out, I figured I'd leave the rest of the handling to the professionals, and so I closed up the box.

On the point of processing, I can't do better than Barbara's statement:

On average, we process and preserve about 500-700 linear feet per year; this includes writing full and detailed electronic finding aids that are available on our website. In addition, we are the only archival repository in this country that has a successful ongoing digitization initiative to digitize entire archival collections, rather than just selected highlights from collections. To date, we have digitized well over 100 collections, totaling nearly 1.000 linear feet and resulting in 1.5 million digital files. Archival repositories from across the country regularly consult with us on our large scale digitization methodologies, work flows, and infrastructure.

I would hate to think that users will think less of our major efforts here at AAA to increase access to our rich resources, or, worse, think that we do not care about the stewardship of collections. It is one of our ongoing mission goals and we devote considerable staff resources to our processing work. However, the work is never done to be sure.

And thank you for it. And for the clarifications. Carry on.

Casino Royale: discovering the lost script [ via daringfireball]

March 9, 2011


Is there a tumblr for awkward Twitterstream juxtapositions? Because there oughta be.

Screen shot 2011-03-09 at 2.22.05 PM.png

February 19, 2011

I've Got Mail

I order so many random books, usually from random independent or used booksellers on Abebooks, that don't arrive with anything like the robotic precision and up-to-the-minute email notification of Amazon, that I never know what's come in the mail until I open it. And sometimes I've forgotten what I even ordered.

Today's haul was exceptional, though:


Centerbeam is the 1980 report/documentation for a project that, as far as I can tell, was the largest contemporary public art event ever undertaken on the National Mall: Centerbeam and Icarus, a collaborative experiment/performance organized by MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, under the direction of Otto Piene.

Centerbeam was unveiled at documenta 6 in 1977, and restaged on the Mall in the summer of 1978. It involved video, lasers, giant inflatable sculptures, smoke machines, sound art, a technotopian extravaganza that was apparently a raging success, but also, from the pictures, might have been a hot mess. Not that those are mutually exclusive. Anyway, I thought I'd bought this book a year and a half ago when I first wrote about Centerbeam, but I had not.


The catalogue for the Musee d'Orsay's Leon Gimpel exhibition arrived, from Italy, and wow, it's beautifully produced. The images that get widely reproduced are some of the most arresting, but just a quick look makes me very excited to study Gimpel's work more closely. The text is only in French, which probably means it won't get the US distribution presence it deserves. [It looks so easy to buy on, though.]


And last, whoa, what an incredible surprise: Enclosure 3: Harry Partch? What the hell is this? Experimental composer Philip Blackburn is the last in a series of Partch devotees who labored to publish the visionary composer/ex-hobo's archive. Most of the Enclosure series is video and audio of performances of Partch's music, but Enclosure 3 is a dense, daunting, but engrossing facsimile edition of the notes, drawings, clippings, photos, manuscripts, and correspondence Partch kept for himself. It looks utterly fantastic.

I think my version was published in 2005, but the copyright is also from 1997, and there's only the barest hint at the process of putting the book together. It's pretty raw. But gorgeous. I'd seen it mentioned on some hip curation webshop, one of those Nieves-type outfits, but when I couldn't figure out which one it was [turns out it was], I ended up ordering it [much more cheaply] via some Amazon merchant.

Well, my copy arrived, it's awesome, and it turns out to have come from Squidco, an "improvised, composed experimental music" specialty shop based in, of all places, Wilmington, NC. Who knew, right? Squidco publishes a lot of writing and reviews of experimental music on Squid's Ear, wow, reaching back to 2003. I had no idea, but now I do, and I'm glad.

During some recent archive dives, I've come across a ton of different letterheads. Apparently, people used to write letters to each other all the time, can you imagine? Must've taken forEVER.

Anyway, one I particularly ilke is the United States Information Agency, which used to organize international tours for art exhibitions. [The USIA also took over sponsorship of the Venice Biennale from MoMA in 1964, the year Alan Solomon curated a group of Pop and abstract painters, including Rauschenberg.] Anyway, there are variations for USIA offices in embassies, but the basic format is the one seen below. This is actually from a 1965 American filmmaker-related memorandum, something to do with the secret plan to enlist Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing. Anyway:


That's it, just the agency name, and WASHINGTON, with a pared down version of the Great Seal of the United States there on the left. It's a basic, agency-wide format used by many government agencies. So clean and presumptively powerful.

I had absolutely no idea, though, about the Great Seal, its history, and how it is still used today. Between Wikipedia and the State Department [pdf], though, there's a fascinating tale. The current die is the fourth version of the original text description--or blazon, to use the heraldic term--approved by the Continental Congress in 1782. It was designed by James Horton Whitehouse of Tiffany & Co. in 1885, and replicated by Bailey Banks & Biddle in 1904. In 1986, the Bureau of Printing & Engraving made a master die from which the current and future operational dies will be created.


The die is for the front of the Great Seal, the eagle side; there has never been a die made for the back, the pyramid side. The setup since 1904 has the Great Seal affixed to a giant, counter-weighted, brass and mahogany press in the State Department. The Seal is used 2000-3000 times/year, for treaties, ambassadorial appointments, and a bunch of other official, ceremonial communications.


Here's how it works:

Sealing of Documents
In the Department of State, the term "Great Seal" has come to include not just the die, but the counter-die, the press, and the cover, or cabinet in which it is housed, as well. These stand in the Exhibit Hall of the Department, inside a glass enclosure which is kept locked at all times, even during the sealing of a document. The mahogany cabinet's doors also are kept locked, and the press is bolted and padlocked in position except when in use. The seal can be affixed only by an officer of the Department of State, under the authority of its custodian, the Secretary of State. When there are documents ready for sealing, one of the officers carries them to the enclosure where the Great Seal is kept and prepares them for impressing.
First, a 3 3/4-inch, scalloped, blank paper wafer of off-white linen stock is glued in the space provided for it to the left of the document's dating clause. If ribbons are used in binding the document, they are run under the paper wafer and glued fast. Second, the document is inserted between the counter-die, with the wafer carefully lined up between them. Third, the document is held in place with the left hand and the weighted arm of the press is pulled sharply forward with the right hand, from right to left. This drives the die down onto the wafer, document, and counter-die, which impresses the seal in relief. The die is then raised, releasing the document and allowing for its removal. When an envelope containing letters of credence or recall is to be sealed, the wafer is impressed first, and then glued to the sealed envelope, leaving the envelope itself unmarked.
In other words, letterpress.


Great Seal of the United States [wikipedia]
The Great Seal of the United States [, pdf]
Related/who knew?: Historically, great seals are signs of sovereignty, while seals and the deliberate ritual of making them have had added legal significance.


A couple of weeks ago, while stopping by the symposium attached to the National Portrait Gallery's "Hide/Seek" exhibition, I saw a huge, intriguing Robert Rauschenberg work, Visual Autobiography, in the lobby of the Patent Building auditorium.


I noticed it immediately because, hello, there was Bob rollerskating with the parachute/umbrella contraption on his back, just like he'd done at the Pop Art Festival in Washington in 1963.

But I'd also recognized the project from mentions in the various Rauschenberg-related archives I've been diving into lately; Visual Autobiography was made in 1968 by Broadside Art, Inc., a company the artist co-founded with Marian Javits [wife of Sen. Jacob Javits] to bring big, billboard-sized print technology into the service of artists.


The brochure for Visual Autobiography, which consists of three 4x5' offset lithographs, shows them installed in various, improbable ways that might have pointed out the limitations of the market: vertically, with Bob, dressed like The Music Man, standing next to them on a ladder; vertically, in a pre-war apartment, where they obviously don't fit, crawling up the wall and onto the ceiing; and horizontally, likely the only way they'd ever make it out of the tube.

The prints were published in a signed edition of 2000 [!] for just $150/set, $50 more for canvas backing "so it can be hung just as it was at the Whitney Museum," and sold via direct mail by Rand McNally. [Even today, they provide a lot of Rauschenberg bang for your buck; a full set sold at Christie's last December for just $5,000.]


Anyway, though it's called Visual, the center panel consists of a textual bio of the artist, spiraling out from a family snapshot. To read it through requires an odd/amusing bobbing and swaying that must have pleased Bob the Dancer. But right in the center, top of the circle, as easy to read as it's gonna get, it says, "Jasper Johns lived in the same building and had just painted his first flag."

UPDATE: The Broadside Art venture's debut at the Whitney, which is the ladder photo above, was covered in the New York Times; Hilton Kramer hated it. He also predicted that the market-baiting stunt would succeed wildly. As in so many other things, though, Kramer was mistaken. If Broadside ever did another edition, I can't find it. And Mrs Javits still had copies of the print to give away in 1977, almost a decade later. For all that, though, it turns out Milton Glaser and Clay Felker were also partners in the company. So much light, so little heat.

Here's a detailed writeup of Autobiography from a 2009 exhibition at Kean University []

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Since 2001 here at, 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 that time.

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about this archive

Category: dc

recent projects, &c.

Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
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Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
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Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
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Chop Shop
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

eBay Test Listings
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It Narratives, incl.
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Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

Standard Operating Procedure
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
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"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
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HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
panel &c.

Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
background | making of
"Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

Canal Zone Richard
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
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