Category:dc

May 20, 2013

Big Swingin' D[iller]

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The Hirshhorn's board is scheduled to vote on whether to proceed with The Bubble, the most prominent initiative of director Richard Koshalek since he arrived at the museum in 2009.

Even though The Bubble was the subject of one of my all-time favorite posts, I have not written much about it since. I have reservations about it, but I have only wished the museum's success, and so have been willing to give the current regime the benefit of the doubt as they pursue their vision.

But that has been a vague slog, and far from a sure thing. It's remarkable that the board which hired Koshalek is apparently reluctant to support his efforts to do what they presumably hired him for: raising the profile of the Hirshhorn, and raising money for the Hirshhorn and its exhibitions, acquisitions, and educational programs.

Maybe that is because there are persistent and unaddressed issues with The Bubble and its ostensible purpose. It is true that Koshalek's stated vision for The Bubble--to host some kind of cross-disciplinary cultural forum, with content generated not by the Museum, or even the Smithsonian, but by the Council on Foreign Relations--still comes across as squishy and alarmingly unconcerned with actual art and artists. That disconnect is even more inexplicable for being unnecessary.

About The Bubble itself, though: I didn't care much either way before, but after watching Liz Diller's TED talk from March 2012, I am really starting to sour on Diller Scofidio + Renfro's design and their entire approach. Titled "A Giant Bubble for Debate," Diller's speech is the rare, unmediated, extended discussion of The Bubble by a principal. As such, it's worth a closer read.

For Diller and her client, who wants to take advantage of the Museum's unique and symbolic site "at the seat of power in America," the National Mall, "the question is, 'Is it possible, ultimately, for art to insert itself into the dialogue of national and world affairs?' and 'Could the Museum be an agent of cultural diplomacy?'" Technically that's two questions, which not only are not answered, but which beg more questions--insert itself to what end, and agent for whom?

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"I blush whenever I show this," says Diller of the slide above, to laughter. "It is yours to interpret." Wait, what? So I guess she interprets this insertion into the Hirshhorn's hole as a phallus? Or given the material, I guess it could be a sex toy, or a condom? Or at least some flavor of kink, given the "study of some bondage techniques" that went into the tension cable design on the next slide?

Diller continues: "We were asked by the bureaucracy at the Mall, 'How long would it take to install?' And we said, 'The first erection will take one week.'" And if it lasts longer than that, I guess, call your architect.

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Diller shows the interior space of The Bubble in use, with renderings of a panel discussion in the round; a spotlit performer; a movie screening; and a Barbara Kruger-style text projection. In every instance, the activity is the same: an audience sits and watches something happen. This "breath of democracy" turns out to be just more entertainment and spectacle. And this purportedly transgressive, iconoclastic structure does absolutely nothing to change or challenge the programs of the Mall's museums Diller just criticized, or by extension, the structures of power she pretends to subvert.

Diller's claim that her structure, built to house extravagantly ticketed events like TED, the WEF, and CFR fora, will somehow embody "the ideals of participatory democracy" is obviously nothing but hot air.

Which is still just part of the problem, seeing as how the ideals The Bubble is embodying are those of pay-to-play capitalism. More on that in the next post.

Listening to David Diao's amazing talk on Barnett Newman at Dia a few weeks ago, and then seeing his painted references to Newman, and especially to the 1966 Guggenheim catalogue for Lema Sabachthani, the debut exhibition of Stations of the Cross reminds me that Newman's work has been experienced and considered quite differently than it is today. [The Internet Archive has digitized Barnett Newman's The Stations of the Cross catalogue, btw.]

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Which reminded me of these old photos of Newman sculptures. The top one's from 1967, the first installation of Broken Obelisk at the Corcoran, the museum which commissioned it. It was included in the same large-scale sculpture exhibition as Tony Smith's Smoke and whatshisname's giant X.

This, first edition was removed from the Corcoran in 1969 [according to Washington Post courtier/reporter Paul Richard, there was turmoil after the departure of the museum director. Go figure.] and was eventually installed at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, dedicated after the fact to the memory of Martin Luther King. But there are a couple more. Has a Broken Obelisk ever been exhibited in DC since? And I keep looking for a photo of it from the other angle, with the actual Washington Monument. I mean, that shot was possible, wasn't it? [Yes, from the FDIC building, apparently.]

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And this one, which blows my mind, is Lace Curtain for Mayor Daley, a grid of barbed wire across a cor-ten window frame. Newman made it for a series of protest exhibitions hastily organized by Richard Feigen and Claes Oldenburg, after Chicago police attacked anti-war protestors at the Democratic National Convention. [Oldenburg was one of those beaten.] Annalee gave Lace Curtain to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989, which has exhibited it only rarely.

Like I said, the perception of Newman's work has been quite different than it is today.

While huh, wtf? investigating the backstory of this tweet this morning, I was reminded of the time Strom Thurmond screened Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures at the US Senate in 1968:


Which, wow, has it really been two years since "Hide/Seek"? I found videos of the symposium presentations I was stunned by in 2011:

Jonathan D. Katz on Agnes Martin, abstraction & sexuality, and Zen ["and though she was not a practicing Buddhist, she did her best to both look and sound like one," strikes me now as a heckuva hook, but keep watching]:

Dominic Johnson on disgust and Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, and the context for the Senate hearings and screening, which had been "confirmed" by the courts as obscene:

I assume Johnson's book Glorious Catastrophe: Jack Smith, performance and visual culture, includes more information on the Thurmond screening. No reviews or discussion of the book yet? Really?

UPDATE With this recollection of that paragon of traditional virtue that was the late segregationist senator from South Carolina, we note the passing of Ms. Essie May Washington, 87, Strom Thurmond's secret daughter, who was born to his family's 16-year-old African American maid when Thurmond was 22.

January 15, 2013

Brought A Trailer

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I hate malls in general, Tyson's in particular, and Tyson's at Christmas most of all. So I was beyond annoyed that it was the nearest/soonest Genius Bar appointment when the foot came off my laptop.

All was forgiven, though, when I saw this slightly amazing portable building. An office module on a trailer.

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I do not know what it was for--I didn't notice that now-obvious sign by the steps. And I don't know whether to put it in the tiny home, prefab, shipping container, or cabin porn category.

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It's really one space on the inside. With a window unit A/C, a little bit of a hack. It looked a little shabby, i.e., used, broken in, so it presumably wasn't [just?] a materials/color mockup for reskinning a nearby office building.

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If it's a temporary building, though, such as one might find on a giant construction site like the one enveloping the entire Tyson's Corner area, we should definitely give credit where it's due; this thing is far sweeter than the standard issue site office.

The sad part is, now that I've insulted their mall, I feel bad about calling and asking what it's for. Maybe someone else can be the citizen journalist here and cold call the mall with a, "What's this awesome thing I saw on the internet?? You guys are so awesome!"

January 9, 2013

Supreme Sforza

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image: protestor in front of the US Supreme Court on Jan. 8, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo prison. by Saul Loeb for AFP/Getty

I've been meaning for a couple of weeks now to post a photo of the extraordinary construction scrim on the front of the US Supreme Court, which has a full-scale photo reproduction of the actual building. Here we go, since this tweet:

I had no idea. So I looked it up. And was troubled by the fact that I had no idea it had been in place since last May. During the 21-month west facade stone restoration project, "The scaffolding and ongoing conservation work will be concealed by a scrim that will mimic the Court's architecture."

The Supreme Court building was designed by Cass Gilbert with John Rockart, and completed only in 1935. From its overall classical Greek temple design to the sculptures on the facades to the smallest ornamentations of the bronze flagpoles and handrails, is highly symbolic. As Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes said at the laying of the cornerstone in 1932, its very creation and existence are symbolic:

The Republic endures and this is the symbol of its faith...the national ideal of justice in the highest sphere of activity.
So it is entirely appropriate, then, to take a symbolic view of the scrim as well, and its illusionistic simulation of Equal Justice Under Law. As symbolic curtains go, it's the most inadvertently damning drapery since Colin Powell covered up the UN Security Council's Guernica tapestry in 2003.

The anniversary of Guantanamo coincided with the unreleased ruling in the hearing on Pvt. Bradley Manning's illegal and abusive detention without charge. The cancer of vengeance and torture that the US government first directed only toward foreign others has spread to its treatment of our country's citizens.

And so the thing that gets me about Saul Loeb's photo above is not the hooded Abu Ghraib/GTMO/Fort Meade protestor, or the Court's photogenic tarp, but the police officers spread long the steps between them.

Interesting, related, and surprisingly full of scare quotes for a 2009 show: Ben Street's review of Goshka Macuga's Whitechapel installation about Guernica, which included the UN tapestry.

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On July 11, 2006, on the floor of the US House of Representatives, Congressman Steve King, Republican from Iowa, presented a model of "a fence and a wall" he had designed. It was a site-specific proposal, to be located on the US-Mexico border.

The fence/wall could be built, Mr. King explained, using a slipform machine to lay a concrete foundation in a 5-foot deep trench cut into the desert floor, a gesture that immediately brings to mind the Earth Art interventions of Michael Heizer. Pre-cast concrete panels, Post-minimalist readymades 10 feet wide and 13 feet high, could be dropped in with a crane.

"Our little construction company," Mr. King said, referring to the King Construction Company, which he founded, and which was then being run by his son, "could build a mile a day of this, once you got the system going."

Mr. King demonstrated the construction of the wall using his tabletop model, made of cardboard boxes, silver-painted wood slats, and a couple of feet of coiled wire [representing the wall's crown of concertina wire, which would be electrified "with the kind of current that would not kill somebody...we do that with livestock all the time."]

It's true that the remarkable simplicity of the design and the economy of the materials resonate the work of Richard Tuttle. But in the scale and especially the form, King seems to be making a conscious reference to the early work of Anne Truitt.

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Seven, 1962, image: annetruitt.org

Obviously, at some point after his arrival in Washington in 2003, King studied the iconic Truitts in local collections: the highly fence-like First (1961) [at the Baltimore Museum] and slab-on-plinth structures like Insurrection (1962) [at the Corcoran]. But even I was surprised to see King make such an explicit homage to Truitt's Seven (1962) [above, collection of the artist's estate].

Much like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, King conceived of his site-specific fence/wall to be temporary, at least conceptually:

You could take it back down. If somehow they got their economy working and got their laws working in Mexico we could pull this back out just as easy as we could put it in. We could open it up again or we could open it up and let livestock run through there, whatever we choose.
Whatever we choose. Thus the fence/wall becomes a symbol of American freedom.

According to the Congressional Record, Mr. King, appearing as an expert witness, exhibited his Study For A Fence And A Wall again a week later, in a joint hearing of the House Committees of Homeland Security and Government Reform.

The current whereabouts of King's model is not immediately clear, but I guess I could call about it. Meanwhile, I would love to see this work realized at full scale, if only temporarily, where it was conceived: right here in Washington DC. Perhaps in the National Gallery's sculpture garden, or along one of the sketchier sections of Pennsylvania Avenue, where dangerous elements threaten Our Freedoms.

January 2017 inevitable update: Oh how we did not need to worry that this work might not have survived. On Jan. 13 Congressman King tweeted out a photo with it, and the new appointee for DHS. Study was installed on his coffee table in his office. It will be noted that it has a new base, set in unpainted wood feet, presumably a pair. The articulation of the wall at the ground and the underground footing are now fully visible. The box representing the desert floor, and the notch, where "you put a trench in the desert floor." are not seen. What was once site-specific is now available for installation anywhere, I guess. Though it's really tough to say at the moment.

steve_king_study_for_wall_with_base_20170113.jpg

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I've been wanting to write about Color Fuses, Milton Glaser's 1974-5, 27x672-foot gradient mural in Indianapolis, all week, ever since Richard McCoy's great Art21 post about the GSA's restoration of the work's 34 monochrome sections, and the realization, finally, of Glaser's original lighting effects.

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image: google maps

Besides my well-documented fascination with monochromes and gradients, I found myself intrigued by Glaser's stated purpose for the mural, which wraps around the stark, ground-level loggia of the Minton-Capehart Federal Building, designed by local modernist eminence and Philip Johnson alumnus Evan Woollen. Glaser wanted to create "a mural that would express a spirit of openness and thus a new sense of government."

The architect, for his part, hoped the mural would help make the building feel "cheerful, disarming, fresh, welcoming, and inviting." Which is, let's face it, a helluva thing to hope for your Brutalist, concrete, ziggurat superblock.

[Walking around the building on Google Maps gives a nice sense of the mural in daylight, including the backside, which is across the parking lot, and the bluish south end, which is largely blocked by privacy wall around the building's daycare center. Even ignoring the unfortunately undulating wall--an out-of-place motif picked up by the single, sad wave of shrubs on the building's strip of security plinth grass--the Minton-Capehart can only be my second favorite example of brutalism and daycare, way behind the playground on the plaza of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building.]

So I'm inclined to believe that the project went down a little differently at the time, a time when the GSA had revitalized and professionalized its Percent For Art program under the 2nd Nixon administration. [A distracting sop to the elites, he figured.] It's not clear, for example, whether Glaser came to the project under the new system, as a world-class, committee-reviewed pick, or the old way, in which case he would have been suggested by, and thus, subsidiary to, the architect.

Which would be interesting to know, because another benefit of not blogging about immediately, is reading Alexandra Lange's post about how modernist architects [occasionally] recognized that their severe forms might [just sometimes!] have needed a bit of humanizing.

But then watching the GSA's video of the original/new lighting scheme, which adds slow ripples [undulations!] of light/dark around the building, I immediately thought of art. Specifically, Paul Sharits, who had been making painting-like, flickering, multi-projector, monochrome film installations for several years already when Glaser created his mural. [Writing about Sharits' 1972 piece, Soundstrip/Filmstrip, Rosalind Krauss said it "muralizes the field of projection."]


Paul Sharits' Shutter Interface, first shown at ArtPark in NY in 1975, here at Greene Naftali in 2009.

And I wondered about the different ways art functions, and is treated, both at the time and through the lens of history and criticism. Partly because I'd never heard of Glaser's mammoth mural before. Or of any other art he's made. It seems to fall into this population of things people commissioned, made and showed, that are/aren't/look like/function as art, which are [happen to be?] made by designers. And which are excluded from consideration within the context of art and art history. And politics is at the center of this boundarymaking.

The clearest example of this is the US Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal, the geodesic sphere designed by Peter Chermayeff and his exhibition firm Cambridge Seven Associates. Which had both spacecraft and satelloons and flag-like, Ellsworth Kelly-like supergraphics, and giant, commissioned paintings from the likes of Barnett Newman, Warhol, and Johns.

I don't know yet how to make sense of Glaser's mural, but I bridle at what I instinctively feel, that despite its awesomeness and Glaser's immense influence, Color Fuses is somehow a less significant work because it's art by a designer. Or art for the government. Or art the architect will put up with. Especially when I read Glaser's intentions for the piece, which, by 1974, transparency and a new form of government were certainly on a lot of peoples' minds.

And finally, last night, I found Hillman Curtis's video profile of Glaser on Brainpickings, where the designer talks about art's role in culture. It's "benign" and "pacifying," he says, and succeeds best when it creates "commonalities" by which "the likelihood of us killing each other is diminished."

Again, I don't think that perspective has been very prominent in the art world discourses of the day. It could be dismissed as hyperbolic, an at once idealistic and yet embarrassingly low bar. And yet, lately, the polarization in our cultural and political spheres make me wonder if not throttling each other is actually something we'd do well to focus on. Even if pacification by painting undulating rainbows on government buildings is not the best role demanded by the times for art.


Restored & Renewed: Milton Glaser's 1975 Artwork, "Color Fuses" [art21.org]
Color Fuses' Mural Restored at Minton-Capehart Federal Building [gsa.gov]
Art Matters To Architecture [designobserver]

June 16, 2012

Corcoran Fire Escape

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Last fall, right after posting a 1958 press photo of a temporary fire escape stair set up in MoMA's Sculpture Garden, I went to the Corcoran in DC.

And look at that, they have a nearly identical fire escape tucked right in back there, by the vacant lot that once held their future. I suspect this is the staircase Sanity used when she fled the Corcoran board room several years ago.

Previously, slightly related: "epic-scale scaffolding" at the NGA

March 28, 2012

Mass, Grass & Claes

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Yes, we now have Doug Aitken, which might help, and there's an After Hours party every quarter, but the Hirshhorn's outdoor space has always struck me as one of the most potentially interesting and under-utilized public spaces for contemporary art in Washington.

But just when I think nothing ever gets moved around here, I stumble across this interesting pattern burned into the lawn behind Claes Oldenburg's Geometric Mouse. It looks like it could be a Paul Chan floor projection or something but it's just the bleached out footprint of whatever zig-zag sculpture used to be there. I'm trying to remember what was...

The DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities is organizing the 5x5 Project, a temporary public art festival? exhibition? program? that coincides with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Last night at a panel discussion at the Corcoran, the DCCAH Project Manager and 5x5's five curators talked about their 25 artist projects. [The curators: Amy Lipton (NY), Justine Topfer (SF), Richard Hollinshead (UK), Laura Roulet (DC), and Steve Rowell (LA)]

Doing any justice to coverage of this whirlwind would just mean cutting and pasting at least 5x5+5 lists and press releases and artist statements, plus all the links and facebook and twitter handles. Instead, here are my 140-char or so-sized notes. Consider it tweet-delayed coverage:

Laura Roulet, "The Local One"

Floating Lab Collective, converted taco truck

Activate participatory, interactive community

Sue Spaid [moderator, dir. Balto Contemp Mus] initiates 1-sentence rule on intros, which only lasts for Topfer.

SS cites Wash Mon, Linc & Jeff Mems as DC's mode of public art. Maybe one end of the spectrum, also what've we done lately?

Oh yeah, that's right: WWII Memorial, MLK Mess. oy.

Dynamic ephemeral activate contrast monumental

"I think we are all anti-monumentalists" got immediate pushback. So I think not.

Steve Rowell, CLUI not in intro. Stratman/Badget's pontoon Pentagon, floating protest temporary monument

"my artists" the next most common phrase after "activate space"

Amy Lipton: eco something. "impact native species" as a bullet point

participatory engage

posters on city buses to call a number, leave a wish.

Entertains intimidates

QR codes [?!] on 1,000 vials of Japanese water. Except for the cherry tree-shaped sound sculpture, the only NCBF-linked project

Lize [Mogel] cartographic, maps in libraries. Rowell's projects feel very CLUI'd into DC.

Some other folks very frank about never visiting b4, their artists responding to the idea of DC.

"we're mythmakers, not monument builders," a ref to the temporary project mode vs std DC memorializing

5x5 Festival [?] offering a new way forward.

DCCAH ID'd 40 potential sites over 2 yrs, took 10 curator finalists on daylong busride. hazing-as-winnowing

"this spot of grass, this spot of grass," "got more & more depressing as we drove around."

Net: not one pre-selected spot was used. DCCAH did all site nego, permitting, etc. curators: 5x$100k for everything else.

"tried to avoid federal entities" bec of "compressed time frame." literally 3mos from finalists selection to opening. kind of nuts, imho

Censored? "only by budget" "censored by silence". Rowell: FBI forced Charles Stankievech s/w radio proj off Pk Svc site by not responding to NPS' proposed "interpretive text"

Permitting as power, as project. Hollingshead cites Christo, Wrapped Reichstag, 30 yr nego

"Logistics is the future of art," Spaid, who seems kind of Balto in her provocative-then-dialed-back statements.

Experiments, "you don't like it? Fine, it's gone in six weeks." "you have an out by being temporary." [Temporary as a mode of power? Or a sign of powerlessness?]

There are no politicos here. Nor students, just the artists, everhopeful DC art crowd, or at least the ones who "made it through traffic" and "could find parking" ahem

Rowell on public art censorship: some Mennonite artist's swords-into-plowshares permanent public sculpture literally disappeared, found in the dump, no one knows how/what/who? What? This sounds insane. Forensic Archive

Hollingshead, British guy: there were 2 local curators in the final 10, and 2 intl ones. "I knew it was going to be him [the guy from Germany] or me."

Audience Q&A: some curators seemed surprised that the budget had to be increased from $50k/ea to $100k. Still found it very difficult to execute 5 projects, went with artists they'd all worked with before, who they knew could do *something*

"Double puffing"? like double dipping? where you take artist fees AND curators fees. Hollingshead to Rowell: "Do any of your artists actually exist?"

5x5x2: the recommendation is to do it biennially, not annually.

"the NYT already wrote about it!" Carol Vogel. Spaid: "That was a PREVIEW, they'll HAVE to cover it again." Heroes in Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK funding a catalogue & follow-on exhib at home. Front pg of Guardian. Spaid "The art magazines will all be here [for the preview]"

Ah here it is, the obligatory Why not focus on DC artists? We deserve an international forum question. "17% are local," "Lize worked with local cartographers." hm. Spaid: In Baltimore, I try to help the good artists get out of Baltimore.

"not as a stunt, but for real" [I forget what this was in rel to, but it doesn't really matter]

LR: "the public [in public art] is people"

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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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