Category:dc

It's got shiny spheres, and science re-creations, and DC artists and quotes from curator and museum director friends. But it's been a few weeks now, and the only thing I can say about Blake Gopnik's mind-numbing/blowing article on Jim Sanborn is that this passage on public art is pretty damn funny:

The fame of the CIA commission "funded me for all the years since," Sanborn says. It put him on the public-sculpture gravy train. He stopped living in his scruffy studio building in Northeast Washington (it's where he met his wife, Jae Ko, a well-known local sculptor), bought a house in Georgetown, designed a home in the Shenandoahs and continued to fund his more "serious" art, such as "Atomic Time."

But lately, the commissions have dried up. Today's selection panels, he complains, go for "decorative embellishments."

Damn those panels. If only noted art historian/author Dan Brown would write a book about Washington, he could include another mention of Sanborn's work.

??!!??: Sparking Interest Within the Sphere of Art | 'Physics' May Be Most Substantive D.C. Piece in Half-Century [washingtonpost via man]

centerbeam_on_mall.jpg

While we contemplate the Colombian Heart Attack that has befallen Washington DC, it might be worthwhile to remember the good old days, such as they were, when the National Mall was the site of ambitious public art projects. Projects like Centerbeam and Icarus.

Centerbeam was the result of a 22-artist collaboration organized by MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies under the leadership of the artist Otto Piene. It was a 144-ft long 128-ft long [in DC] steel sculpture resembling a radio tower on its side, which served as a platform for an array of artistic deployments of cutting edge technologies, including laser projections on steam, holograms, neon and argon beams, and electronic and computer-generated music. And giant inflatable sculptures.

After a highly acclaimed debut at Documenta 6 in 1977, Centerbeam was reinstalled on the Mall during the Summer of 1978. The site was the open space north of the newly opened National Air & Space Museum, and directly across the Mall from the just-opened East Gallery of the NGA [where The National Museum of the American Indian now stands].

Centerbeam gave nightly performances/happenings/experiences throughout the summer, culminating in two nights' performance of Icarus, a "sky opera" in steam, balloons, lasers, and sound created by Piene and Paul Earls.

Based loosely on Ovid, Icarus cast Piene's 250-ft tall red and black flower-shaped sculpture as the title character; another red anemone-shaped balloon was Daedalus, and Centerbeam was the Minotaur.

Centerbeam was officially sponsored by the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the Mall, and the Smithsonian. The directors of both the NGA [Carter Brown] and the Hirshhorn Museum [Abram Lerner] are thanked for their encouragement in MIT's 1980 catalogue of Centerbeam, but no Smithsonian art museum--and no art curator--appears to have been involved in the presentation of the work. Most of the coordination was handled by Susan Hamilton, who worked in the office of Charles Blitzer, the Assistant Secretary for History and Art. In fact, the Air & Space Museum's director and staff gets the most effusive praise and seems to have been the most closely involved with the project, even to the point of using the NASM as Centerbeam's mailing address.

The Washington Post did not review Icarus, and in the paper's only feature on the opening of Centerbeam, Jo Ann Lewis cited anonymous critics who "generally saw it as a big, endearing toy, but not art. There seems no reason to amend that conclusion here."

Of course, no one cares what the Post says about art, and Piene and his CAVS collaborators probably did not mind the absence of more traditionally minded art worlders. Since his days as a founder of Group Zero in the early 1960s, Piene had been self-consciously seeking a path that would lead art out and away from the rareified, precious object fixations of collectors and museums.

Group Zero was ahead of several curves, and their place in the story of conceptualism, minimalism, Arte Povera, and other important developments of art in the 1960s is getting a boost. And Piene's work looked pretty nice and strong in Sperone Westwater's very fresh-looking Zero show last year. Are Centerbeam and Icarus really just wonky art/science experiments, examples of the played out model of unalloyed, Utopian technophilia that spawned earlier collaborative dogpiles like the Pepsi Pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World's Fair?

Or is there a real history of "real" art by Piene and his collaborators that needs to be looked at again? Despite the apparent indifference of its official art world at the time, was Washington DC actually the site of some significant artistic production that did not involve freakin' Color Fields? Inquiring balloon-sculpting minds want to know.

September 5, 2009

District Of Colombia??

W. T. F.???

The National Mall is ringed with Smithsonian museums, none of which seem to have programmed a piece of public art or sculpture outside their own walls in at least a generation.

Washington DC has no public art program to speak of. And that's not just because you can't call those insane "parades" of paint-a-pandas and paint-a-donkey/elephant "art"; they're tourist marketing, pure and simple.

And yet. Another such parade seems to have miraculously materialized on the District of Columbia's streets. A parade of hearts. There was one in front of my family's hotel when we picked them up to do the tourist circuit. There were three along our walks to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Smithsonian's American History Museum.

colombian_crap.jpg

Each is painted with quotes and factoids about Colombia, the country. They turn out to be part of Colombia es Pasion, an official [Colombian] government branding campaign designed, according to a regurgitated press release in the Examiner, "to educate and show the world the true Colombia." In addition to the three we saw, there are 37 other giant fiberglass hearts which "appear along city streets in high-traffic areas. They will be hard to miss, standing eight feet tall, featuring colorful, hand-painted designs that showcase a particular aspect of Colombia that may surprise visitors."

Visitors and locals both. Who the hell gave this thing the green light? The campaign was created for the Colombian government by BBDO Sancho, the Colombian subsidiary of the global ad agency, and was designed by another Bogota agency called Sistole. But there is absolutely no one--no agency or overseeing organization or authority from Washington DC or the US mentioned in the press release/article.

I can think of approximately one thousand art projects that would be better to see on the streets and plazas of Our Nation's Capital before a bunch of South American heart-shaped billboards.

So the only way I can make sense of their presence is that Washington DC is now an open, international platform for sculpture, art, whatever! The way Houston has no zoning laws, and you can build whatever the hell you want next to whatever the hell is already there, Washington's many complex, overlapping bureaucracies have thrown out the rulebook and thrown open the streets for whatever cockamamie scheme you've been cooking up. Bring'em down and set'em up!

An invitation to Discover Colombia Through Its Heart [examiner.com]
Colombia llegó a Estados Unidos/ Colombia came to the US [and just dumped their marketing bullshit on our street corners] [colombiaespasion.com, google translate]

As Antoni helpfully pointed out in an email, Canadian artist Brian Jungen has created a work wherein he carves a design into the gallery wall with a router, which leaves a bevel-edged channel which, as one viewer in Vancouver described it, "revealed all the coloured layers of paint like layers of sediment."

Sounds awesome, and awfully similar to Huyghe's and ___?__'s pieces. And Jungen's one-man show did travel to the New Museum's temporary Chelsea location in 2005. [Which is kind of problematic: did the New Museum's 22nd Street space walls even have hundreds of coats of exhibition-related repainting to expose and contemplate? And so what happens to this work without the supposed burden of Art History lurking right behind that fresh coat of paint? Please tell me there's more to a piece like this than expedient aesthetic pleasure.]

And anyway, I didn't see Jungen's show. Which is really too bad, because this piece sounds kind of sweet. Isolated Depiction of the Passage of Time, 2001:

consists of a handcrafted cedar pallet that is surmounted by neatly stacked cafeteria trays in several colors. While the form can be understood in terms of the classic minimalist cube, it is also a facsimile of an escape pod that was fashioned by an inmate at one of Canada's largest prisons. Knowing that the cafeteria trays were delivered by truck to another facility for cleaning, the prisoner had built up and glued together many cafeteria trays, leaving a void at the center in which he could hide while the trays were being transported. In this sculpture the void is taken up with a television playing daytime programming and soap operas.
Hmm, not getting the TV aspect, but still. It's got some nice Tony Feher-meets-Swiss Baroque-period Judd-meets-early Michael Phelan vibe going on. Also, and obviously, the title just backed into me in the lunch line.

If I'm reading John Cage's first book Silence: Lectures and Writings correctly, this is a quote from "Where are we going? And what are we doing?" a lecture/text/performance piece he first performed at Pratt in 1960:

I was driving out to the country once with Carolyn and Earle Brown. We got to talking about Coomaraswamy's statement that the traditional function of the artist is to imitate nature in her manner of operation. This led me to the opinion that art changes because science changes--that is, changes in science give artists different understandings of how nature works.

A Phi Beta Kappa ran in the other day and said, "Your view is that art follows science, whereas Blake's view is that art is ahead of science."

Right here you have it: Is man in control of nature or is he, as part of it, going along with it? To be perfectly honest with you, let me say that I find nature far more interesting than any of man's controls of nature.

Cage reprised this piece in 1963 at The Pop Festival in Washington, DC, which was the performance/dance/Happenings portion of "The Popular Image," the Washington Gallery of Modern Art's first Pop Art exhibition.

I don't know what harder to get my head around: that Cage performed in DC; that he was considered a Pop Artist; or that DC had a Gallery of Modern Art.


Aviary, originally uploaded by AmosTheWonderPig.

There's not much of it, and it has some rather determined enemies, so when modernism happens or survives in Washington DC, it feels like somewhere between a happy accident and a miracle.

Or maybe it's just me. It's taken me five years of visits to the National Zoo--a five minute walk from our place in DC--to open my eyes to the awesome rarity that is the Great Flight Cage.

Not to say I didn't notice and like it sooner; its functional yet elegant structure is a standout. From the striking arches; to the curved concrete entrance hut and its twin inside, which serves as a coop of some kind; to the struts under the footbridge connecting the aviary to the banal brick box of the Bird House; it feels like an understate, especially successful, early Santiago Calatrava--from the engineering days, before he got so showy.

The Great Flight Cage was finished in what turned out to be a Golden Age of Aviary design, 1964. And yet, does anyone know who designed it? Do we sing their praises? No. Near as I can tell, the architect was Richard Dimon at the firm of Daniel, Mann, Johnson and Mendenhall. DMJM was awarded a major expansion project for the Zoo by the Smithsonian, which included the aviary and remodeling the Bird and Antelope Houses.

But the archives of the Washington Post contain no discussion of the aviary's architecture, and barely ever acknowledges its existence at all, except to mention its initial cost and its completion. And that silence seems to have echoed beyond DC.

At the same time Dimon was designing the National Zoo's aviary, Lord Snowdon, Cedric Price, and Frank Newby were finishing the angular Snowdon Aviary at the London Zoo. And Buckminster Fuller was building a large geodesic dome for the New York World's Fair which would become the aviary for the new Queens Zoo, and which would be dubbed one of the great interior spaces of New York.

As the link above shows, Dimon appears to have left architecture behind and taken up landscape painting. Though his brief bio says he has designed "many buildings" in the Washington DC area, the only ones I can identify are at the zoo. And the only one of those that's any good is the aviary, and it's spectacular.

chris_burden_through_night.jpg

In 1973, Chris Burden bought a month worth of late-night ad time on a local TV station in Los Angeles, and aired a 10-second film clip of Through the Night Softly, a performance where Burden, clad only in bikini underwear, crawls across a parking lot full of broken glass with his hands behind his back.

Below is a video of Burden explaining the work, its background, and its reception. [It's taken from a 35-min. compilation reel where the artist documents some of his performance pieces from 1971-4, which he exhibited in 1975. The whole thing is at UbuWeb.]

The poetic title, Through the Night Softly is mentioned in an intertitle in the commercial itself, but the piece is treated separately. Burden calls it "TV Ad," and "TV Ad piece," as in "The TV Ad piece came out of a longstanding desire to be on television." Burden's ad is preceded by a Ronco record ad and followed--almost too perfectly--by another naked guy, lathering up in a soap commercial.

In retrospect, Burden's ideas for the piece are almost quaint. He wanted to be on "real TV," which he defined at the time as "anything you could flip to on a dial. Anything else--cable, educational, video--was not real TV."

And he also expressed "satisfaction" at knowing that 250,000 people a night would see his video "stick out like a sore thumb" and "know that something was amiss."

The juxtapositions certainly look absurd, or surreal, anyway, but did the work really generate the cognitive dissonance Burden hoped for? The artist's action in the film reminds me immediately of the kind of head-down, low army crawl that would have been a familiar experience for veterans--and a common sight from news coverage of Vietnam, the "First Televised War," which was, by 1973, one of the longest-running shows on the air.

I haven't really read much about Burden in terms of politically charged art, and his slightly self-absorbed narrations of these early, controversial pieces don't betray any real hints of the political references--about crime, gun control. domestic violence, war, Vietnam--that have been ascribed to them.

Still, Burden made directly political work later on--the video I linked to yesterday shows him talking about The Reason for The Neutron Bomb (1979) and how he used 50,000 nickels and matchsticks instead of commissioning 50,000 toy tanks because being stuck with a garageful of toy tanks was as the same kind of crazy as amassing the real things on Europe's border, just on a different scale.

burden_other_vietnam.jpg

And his 1992 work, The Other Vietnam Memorial, The giant copper Rolodex containing three million computer-generated Vietnamese names, representing the missing and killed--soldiers and civilians alike--who weren't mentioned on Maya Lin's walls, blew my mind when I saw it in 1992 at MoMA.

As Christopher Knight pointed out at the time [in the run-up and aftermath of what would later be renamed the First Gulf War], the power of Burden's work lay in its contrast to the gut-wrenching personalization of The Vietnam Memorial, its unflinchingly cold acknowledgment of Americans' general lack of interest in the specifics of the wars being fought in our name:

Transcending topical politics, the hoary conception of a Homogeneous Us versus an Alien Them allowed the fruitless slaughter. "The Other Vietnam Memorial" is as much an officially sanctioned tribute to American fear, ambition and loathing as it is to slain men and women. Its shocking moral ambivalence is the source of its riveting power.
It all makes me want to see a Burden retrospective on The Mall. Would the Hirshhorn or the National Gallery ever be up for the challenge? Come for the flying steamroller and the Erector set skyscrapers, stay for the excoriation of our national indifference to the predations of the Military Industrial Complex? Hmm, the pitch might need a little work.

b_hendricks_nga.jpg

According to the very slowly reported story [1] in the Wall Street Journal, the Obamas have been selecting modern and contemporary art for the White House from among pieces in national and museum collections. The artists they requested includes several African American artists, including the wonderful DC abstractionist Alma Thomas, whose paintings from the Hirshhorn are already installed in the White House's private quarters. But they've also chosen plenty of white contemporary artists, too, though the Journal obviously doesn't identify them as such: works by Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson and Jasper Johns all came from the National Gallery, for example.

The Obamas' decorator Michael Smith apparently insisted on borrowing only works that were not currently on view. Hmm, African American artists, in national collections, not currently on view. Why didn't they ask--or why didn't the National Gallery offer--a major work by the art world's longest-time-coming overnight sensation, Barkley Hendricks?

I'm dying to hear the story of how the National Gallery came to acquire their awesome, awesome Hendricks, Sir Charles, aka Willie Harris, 1972, in 197-freakin-3, when the paint was barely dry And as soon as that story's finished, someone tell me how it is that the intensely classical triptych portrait--inspired, we are told, by van Dyck, Rubens, and Botticelli, with a little Shaft thrown in for good measure--is not only not on display now, but has never been exhibited at the National Gallery, ever.

I'd certainly be willing to look at one less Thomas Demand mural of the Oval Office in exchange for three Willie Harrises. And I'd trade all five Demands to see Harris in the Oval Office itself.

Holy smokes, the comments are a seething pit of powerless white guy rage: Changing the Art on the White House Walls [wsj]

[1] Though the story's filed 5/22, Kerry Brougher is quoted as acting director of the Hirshhorn, a position he hasn't held for over a month.

Hans Ulrich Obrist - My last question, Olafur, is one I've asked you many times before: what is your favorite unrealized project?

Olafur Eliasson - I would like to build a museum--to reevaluate the nature of a museum and build it from scratch, not renovate an old one. It should be both an art school and a museum and in between the two there should perhaps be a little hotel--a place where people come and spend time.

HUO - A relay?

OE - Yes, and maybe the rooms themselves will be the artworks. Maybe the way people end up spending time in the hotel rooms will be what the students do and the museum shows. Maybe the life in this building is what, from a museological point of view, will be the performative element. And the building itself is just the form -- it's a content machine.

HUO - Ah, yes--another vessel! This is our vessel interview, and that should be part of the title.

OE - A vessel interview--it's its own vehicle.

HUO - Thank you so much.

from "The vessel interview, part II: NetJets flight from Dubrovnik to Berlin, June 2007", published in Olafur Eliasson & Hans Ulrich Obrist: The Conversation Series: Vol. 13 [also in pdf: part II]

Especially interesting since Olafur was just coming off a soon-to-be-unrealized renovation of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.

Also, I would like to see this blanket of which they speak, Skyblue versus landscape green, the one NetJets Europe commissioned from Olafur in 2005 in exchange for use of the plane.

turrell_at_hirshhorn.jpg

I've been all 'round this great big world, and I've seen all kinds of Turrells, so I couldn't wait to get to the Hirshhorn last night for the sweetest Turrell lecture in the world.

What a horrible opening. Turrell and Richard Andrews, who's now running Turrell's foundation to complete the Roden Crater, spoke about the artist's work last night, building up to several reveals about the progress and program of the Crater itself.

Encountering a Turrell work almost always involves a moment of realization--yes, someone did call it an "Aha! moment" last night--that the solid-looking object or space you're looking at is, in fact, light. And the artist told a few funny stories--well-polished like a favorite stone he carried around in his pocket--about getting sued by a woman who leaned against the wall "that wasn't there"; the reviewer who dismissed a piece at the Whitney as "uniformly painted"; and the viewer who leapt into that same piece because she thought it was solid, which makes no sense if you think about it, but it's funny nonetheless, and we all laugh knowingly, which is the artist's point.

turrell_moma.jpgI remember parking myself in MoMA's A Frontal Passage when it was first installed, watching peoples' reactions in the dark as they "got it." Of course, more than once, what surprised them was that there was someone lurking in the dark space with them, and a couple of people freaked when I moved because they thought I was a sculpture. The Observer Effect apparently applies to Turrells as well.

I've always felt that there had to be more to Turrell's work than the Aha moment, the threshold when you realize what you're seeing--or to use the artist's favored term, perceiving. Andrews told a story of turning a whole floor over to Turrell for what, he didn't know, at the about-to-open CoCA in Seattle in 1982. A whole team of volunteers worked feverishly for weeks, not knowing what the piece would really be, and then Turrell hit the switch, and "Aha!" But of course, it was no surprise for Turrell himself; he had known what he was working toward. He'd seen it in his mind, and had only to construct it.

The artist himself was toggling, then, between an awareness of the tangible state of light and the awe of the moment or process of perceiving it. Even as he said outright, "I am not your guru," the religious terminology peppering the discussion--koans, "taking it on faith," enlightenment, revelation--seemed entirely appropriate.

When he got to the slides of his Quaker meetinghouses, Turrell recalled the instructions his conservative Quaker grandmother had for attending a silent, meditative service: "Go inside--meaning inside yourself--and greet the light." It was a tall order for a fidgety little kid, but given how clearly it resonates with the experience of Turrell's work, it clearly stuck. What else is clear, though is that Turrell sees a greeting for what it is--the beginning of a conversation. [images, greg.org, c2009 james turrell via moma]

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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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Category: dc

recent projects, &c.


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Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
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Social Medium:
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Madoff Provenance Project in
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Chop Shop
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eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
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It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
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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
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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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"Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

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