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.

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" []
Color Fuses' Mural Restored at Minton-Capehart Federal Building []
Art Matters To Architecture [designobserver]

June 16, 2012

Corcoran Fire Escape


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


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"


I've been using and working on the Internet for almost twenty years now. I've done start-ups and IPOs. I've worked for huge companies. I worked for Disney when they didn't know the web from a CD-ROM. I have been involved and engaged with copyright and intellectual property law and their relationship to art and culture for over a decade.

So my opposition to the entertainment industry's maximalist online power play, in the current form of two pieces of legislation being considered in the US Congress right now, SOPA and PIPA, is neither fleeting nor naive.

As many people with far greater expertise than I have discussed in great detail, these proposed laws are a grave threat to the Internet as a platform for economic, cultural, and political exchange. They are unnecessarily broad and ambiguous and give vast, new, unchecked power to corporations who have consistently lied and misrepresented their case and the supposed threat they face.

Stop SOPA and PIPA by calling your US Congressional representatives today, but also get smart on the issues surrounding these bills. And keep following them, and keep holding politicians and the companies they're serving accountable, because this crap won't end today or this week.

Public Knowledge primer and updates on SOPA & PIPA []

I don't know what, if anything, these mean, but these two stories last week made me wonder about the relationship of art and politics and Washington DC as viewed from a political/media perspective.

First up, and most disturbing, was the Washington Post Arts/Style section's discussion of an American Psychology Association study [which, right?] linking creativity with lying & cheating. The Post was not alone in referencing artists--it took its headline, "Are artists cheaters?" from The Economist, "Are artists liars?". But unlike the Economist, which actually didn't discuss artists or art at all, the Post framed its entire story about the study around the inherent dishonesty of art and artists in a way I found facile and offhandedly hostile:

It's not a wholly new idea. Being a liar is a requirement of being an artist, Ian Leslie argued in the Economist. "If art is a kind of lying, then lying is a form of art, albeit of a lower order -- as Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have observed," writes Leslie. "Both liars and artists refuse to accept the tyranny of reality."

Lying and cheating for one's art -- as in making up stories, cultivating a persona, and even appropriating other's work -- is different than cheating for personal gain, though. There have been prominent examples of artists who have engaged in both forms of it. Paul Gauguin's numerous ethical breaches -- beyond sleeping with teenage girls in his adopted homeland of Tahiti -- included misrepresenting his paintings of the island to collectors back in France as a garden paradise, when in fact, it was colonized and stricken with alcoholism and disease.

So artists are prone, even required to "act unethically." And so when someone who is, by every definition, an uncreative non-artist lies with the express, unethical intent to deceive, it is called art.

That's according to an anonymous Mitt Romney campaign official rationalizing his candidate's patently dishonest misrepresentation of a statement of President Obama:

"First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business.... Ads are agitprop.... Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It's ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context.... All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art." [The Reinvention of Political Morality, -NYT]
Which, of course, is all on the heels of Rachel Maddow's ongoing mockery of Herman Cain's delusional, lie-filled campaign as "performance art."

This conflation of art and lying not only serves to justify, albeit cynically, the actual unethical behavior in the political realm, it also weakens and pre-emptively discredits art itself as a vehicle for protest, speech, idealism, or whatever intent/content the artist might have. It seems like one [more] way in which politics plays politics with art in ways that art is not even fully aware.

If there's any good writing or thinking on this kind of thing, I'd love to hear about it. Honestly.

Here is a PBS Newshour Q&A with Steven Tepper, discussing his research into why art--or the arts, really, since he looks at theater, libraries, music, too--triggers protests in some communities at some times and not others. He found that the protests are "always deeply rooted in local concerns.":

STEVEN TEPPER: I looked at 805 cases of conflict across 71 mid- to large-sized cities in America. When all was said and done, and I looked at all the various things that might correlate with the cities that the highest rates of protest over a four year period in the 1990s, it was the rate of immigration in the decade prior that most strongly determined whether a city was a high city or a low city in terms of its protests levels. Cities that had experienced rapid population changes, in particular if the percent of foreign born had grown significantly, those cities were the most contentious in the late 1990s. And the argument in the book is that when people feel unsettled by the rate of social change, when the things around them are changing fast -- economics, demographics, technology -- art becomes something that they fight over as a way to reassert their values, reassert a sense of who their community is and where they fit into their community, who's values still matter, what does a community look like going forward, and art becomes this amazing arena in which people negotiate their differences of opinions around the contours of their expressive lives together.
Great, so now we know? And we don't have to read Tapper's new book, Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest Over Art and Culture in America? Except that reading the book may be the only way to get a handle on the "social changes" Tapper mentions. Because they frequently seem to involve race, religion, and gay.

And I assume that he sets aside the culture-war-style protests started by organizations or politicians to gin up support or fundraising, which do not always have a local impetus. [Though even as I think about the Smithsonian's "Hide/Seek" mess, the reality was, it was timed to disrupt the Congressional debate and coverage of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," so in a way, it was hyperlocal.]

tl;dw, reading the transcript is quicker: Conversation: Why Do Americans Protest Art? [pbs newshour]
Go ahead, buy: Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest Over Art and Culture in America [amazon]

We took the family to Hillwood over the holidays. It's Marjorie Merriweather Post's house-turned-house museum, and it's kind of bizarre, frankly. Not seriously wack, but just a low-grade oddness which, who knows, maybe the passage of time and the accretion of history will help mitigate, and 50 years from now, it'll be Washington's Frick Museum. But it's not yet.

Hillwood is a sprawling memorial to the oft-married heiress/socialite's extravagant but ultimately middlebrow taste. The house is kind of big, but mostly grand, similar in scale and layout to the White House, but in Georgian/James River revival style, built in the 1920s. The storm doors on the terrace entrances look like the ones on every postwar red brick grandma house in Washington. The gardens are sprawling, but conventional.

Post's collections are a docent's paradise: tons of factoids to be shared about piles of French furniture, Sevres porcelain, Russian baubles and czarist portraits. And antique miniature furniture. None of it was as interesting as the positively massive cut crystal pendants hanging from every sconce and chandelier; seriously, grapefruit- or palm-sized or bigger, almost every one.


And so my favorite room ends up being the kitchen, which is fantastic. It's huge and vintage and all stainless steel, acres of Lustertone countertop, with a couple of sections of Formica and marble. It's a rare testament to the blind folly of our renovation-mad real estate culture. Keep your vintage kitchens, people, are you crazy?? [That pink tile and rococo gold-plated fixture master bathroom, OTOH, yow. A cautionary tale.]

Anyway, point is, this awesome double sink thing here in the butler's pantry? What is going on with this? I think it's stamped Geneva on the front edge. It is spectacular. Made my day.


One of the startling images Alan Taylor included from the EPA's DOCUMERICA collection is by Bruce McAllister. The caption:

A train on the Southern Pacific Railroad passes a five-acre pond, which was used as a dump site by area commercial firms, near Ogden, Utah, in April of 1974. The acid water, oil, acid clay sludge, dead animals, junked cars and other dump debris were cleaned up by several governmental groups under the supervision of the EPA. Some 1,200,000 gallons of liquid were pumped from the site, neutralized and taken to a disposal site.
Hmm, is that the only photo McAllister took of railroads and toxic industrial dumps near Ogden in the early 1970s?




McAllister's acid pond is "near Ogden," but it turns out it was even nearer the Great Salt Lake. The site was called Little Mountain Salvage.

Following on from the multiple installments of archival World War II images on hisphotoblog In Focus, Alan Taylor has assembled selections from another remarkable public photo archive, this time from the Environmental Protection Agency. In the early 1970s, the newly formed EPA sent photographers around the US to document the environmental and physical state of the country. The project, titled DOCUMERICA, rivals the Depression-era Farm Security Agency's photo effort in scope and scale; more than 100 photographers produced over 80,000 images, and the Corcoran and Smithsonian organized DOCUMERICA exhibitions that toured the country until 1978.

In setting out to "systematically record the ills of the 1970s American landscape," EPA project director Gifford Hampshire consciously patterned DOCUMERICA on the FSA's photo program, consulting with FSA veteran Arthur Rothstein on setting it up and selecting photographers.


Around 16,000 have been digitized and are available on the National Archive's website, and I've just barely started poking around. The least interesting of the two things I've found so far, both from photographer Bruce McAllister, is documentation of what I believe is the first installation, on October 10, 1971, of Christo & Jeanne Claude's Valley Curtain in Rifle Gap, Colorado.


I'm guessing it's the first, because McAllister's photo captions mention how "it was ripped to shreds by canyon winds in 24 hours." Christo tried again on August 10, 1972, but that time, a storm forced the curtain's early removal. Which makes McAllister's stated date of 05/1972 incorrect. On the other hand, sundresses and October in the mountains don't normally go together, do they? Either way, as ills of the American landscape go, Valley Curtain was little more than a 24-hr flu.

Alan Taylor's 46 favorite images from DOCUMERICA []
DOCUMERICA: Snapshots of Crisis and Cure in the 1970s [ prologue magazine]
Search the Archives Research Catalog for "Christo Javacheff" []

Previous 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 ... 17 Next

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.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

find me on twitter: @gregorg

about this archive

Category: dc

recent projects, &c.

Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
about/kickstarter | exhibit, 2017

Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
buy, $28

Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
show | beginnings

Chop Shop
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
about | proposte monocrome, rose

It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
about | link

TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

Standard Operating Procedure
about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
about, brochure | installation shots

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)
about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99