Well, let's just get this out of the way: if you can only see one Warhol exhibition in Washington this year, see Shadows. The Warhol Headlines show is very slight. It's hard to call it a highlight, but a series of three 1982 or '83 silkscreen paintings of successive pages in the NY Post did remind me a bit of the newspaper On Kawara used to line the boxes of his date paintings. Also, the show includes the three Screen Tests where the subjects appear to be reading and unaware they were being filmed: Alan Solomon, Grace Glueck, and Arman. That really is all.


But let's back up because, hey-ho, did you know the National Gallery's East Wing was built with red brick infill walls?? It's like Long Island City up in there behind IM Pei's Indiana granite.


I also love that a construction worker in 1975 declared his allegiance to the Pittsburgh Steelers, practically in the Baltimore Colts' own backyard. That was the year the Terrible Towel was invented, and when the Steelers did, in fact, win their second Super Bowl in a row. Also, I thoroughly approve of this epic-scale scaffolding. Glaze it and set it up at the beach for me, please.

Anyway, after the Warhol bust, I went downstairs for a close look at one of the NGA's current strengths: contemporary monochromes. I'm working on some little monochrome panels right now, and I wanted to see surfaces and techniques--and to see if I'm inadvertently copying anyone I don't want to.

I think I want a really immaculate, glassy, brushstroke-free surface, and I definitely know I want a continuity around the edge of the thin steel and aluminum panels I'm trying. So I figure setting out to study the cleanest, smoothest paintings I can find will be yield some hints.


So first up: Byron Kim's Synecdoche (1991-), the multipanel grid of monochromes based on various art world folks' skin tones.

Between 1981 and 1985, Paul Tschinkel and Marc H. Miller produced 17 episodes of ART/newyork, a subscription-based video magazine about contemporary art for use, incredibly, in public schools and libraries.


Their 1982 interview with Richard Serra, a Yale classmate of Tschinkel's, came just as the Tilted Arc controversy was heating up. And speaking of heating up, hoo-boy, does Serra get going about the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Agency conflict with Robert Venturi. Fiery fun stuff.

His 1980 interview with Douglas Crimp covers a lot of the same PADC territory with a bit more specificity. By pointing out, for example, that Venturi's proposed motif was also favored by Albert Speers, not just that they might as well stick swastikas on Pennsylvania Avenue.

But his story about being told that he'd never get work in this town again is basically the same.

Also interesting, if less incendiary: Serra used to exhibit models of site specific projects-in-progress, such as this rather sexy steel tabletop version of Twain. Do want.


ART/newyork - Richard Serra's Tilted Arc artist interview []
order copies of ART/newyork to this very day []

August 19, 2011



The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Homeland Security on the government's deployment of body scanner technology on streets and in roving vans.


These are the three pages of the FOIA report that did not come from a scanner manufacturer's publicly available brochures and website, and that were not the publicly available agenda for a scanner industry conference.


Related: DODDOACID, one of a suite of six Redaction Paintings made in 2007 by Jenny Holzer from FOIA documents, and acquired by the National Gallery of Art in 2010 []

FOIA Note #20 (August 15, 2011) Government Transparency [ via @wagnerblog]


In the early Cold War of the mid-1950s, the Soviet Union countered American condemnation of its repressive actions in East Germany and Hungary with criticism of the US's internal policies of segregation and racial discrimination. Planners of the US Pavilion at the 1958 World Expo in Brussels, the first since before WWII, warned that "the desegregation issue would be 'underlined rather than evaded by omission.'" As longtime USIA design director Jack Masey put it in his 2008 book, Cold War Confrontations, "The Unfinished Business" Pavilion was created by Fortune magazine and/for the State Department "as a way to save face--openly and directly--[by anticipating] negative Soviet propaganda about domestic problems in the US."

Fortune art director Leo Lionni designed both the pavilions and the exhibit as three distinct sections: past, present and future. The form of each pavilion mirrored the content of its exhibit, though none were so programmatically matched as the first pavilion, where the darkly colored "chaotic crystal" of the exterior [below]

Thumbnail image for leonni_brussels_masey_ext4.jpg

was wallpapered inside with a jumbled, kaleidoscopic collage of US newspapers. Headlines related to desegregation battles were interspersed among other front page stories, presumably to dilute the racism issue by expanding the context, and to underscore the country's uncensored media as a site of free debate and progress.


The second, present pavilion had some quotes from President Eisenhower and other leaders, whatever, but it was the bright future pavilion that turned out to be the most incendiary. For its expansive, smooth walls featured large photomurals of amber waves of grain, and a group of happy, young children--"white, colored, and yellow"--playing in a flower-filled meadow.


Which basically made segregationist politicians from the South's heads explode when they found out about it. Masey gives an overview of the controversy in his book, including some declassified letters from outraged Dixiecrats to Eisenhower's acting Secretary of State. But Michael Krenns devotes an entire chapter to the political shitstorm surrounding the "Unfinished Business" pavilion in his 1999 history anthology, The Impact of Race on US Foreign Policy: A Reader. Great stuff.

Throughout the Spring and Summer of 1958, angry congressmen criticized the exhibit for "foul[ing] the nation's nest." The pavilion was temporarily shut down--the official explanation was "poor craftmanship" on the part of the "Belgian carpenters" who somehow failed to properly execute Lionni's original concept. By including too many news clippings about Little Rock and Gov. Faubus. Leonni hustled to Brussels to make ordered changes to bring "balance" to the desegregation issue.

They even posted a disclaimer that children of various races playing together "did not represent US policy, but was representative of the freedom of choice available in the US." And still Georgia's segregationist senator Herman Talmadge protested, demanding an end to exhibition's "unwarranted invasion of the rights and prerogatives of the states of the South."

Faced with calls for a congressional investigation that could turn "The Unfinished Business" into The Neverending Business, the Eisenhower administration caved, and by mid-summer, the State Department shut down what the European press had called "the most effective propaganda in the American Pavilion" and replaced it with an exhibit about the unfinished business of public health.

Thumbnail image for jeshyn_dome_meridian_2.jpg

What's the opposite of writer's block, the thing where you have so much damn good stuff to write about, you're paralyzed into inaction? Because that's what I've got, and August vacation voids or not, I just can't help it; I'm gonna blog it all and let Google sort it out.

cold_war_confrontations.jpgFor example, for all the dome- and Expo-loving going on around here, you'd think by now I would have gotten my hands on a copy of Jack Masey and Conway Lloyd Morgan's 2008 book, Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War, but no.

As the longtime design director for the US Information Agency, Jack Masey was basically the client, or the producer, of the expo-related architecture, art, media, domes, pavilions, exhibitions, and propaganda that folks like Buckminster Fuller, Shoji Sadao, the Eameses, and George Nelson became famous for.

Cold War Confrontations is a fantastically surfable book, a thick, highly visual memoir of the USIA's greatest hits. It's based on the premise that the structured, official propaganda pageants of world expos, culture exchanges and trade shows, played pivotal roles in the course of post-war world history:

At Expos, however, the teams are not playing games; rather, they competed by presenting to the world examples of a nation's best architecture, technology, arts, crafts, manufacturing, and performing arts. And in so doing, they sometimes, somehow, change the world. [p. 110]

There were many people who believe[d] that to be true. I sort of want it to be true, at least in the same sense that I'd rather see street gangs settle their differences by breakdancing instead of drive-by shootings. Maybe it's better to see these expos as reflections of the cultures that produced them, or of their aspirations. Because the views expressed therein do not, it turns out, necessarily represent the opinions of the United States of America as a whole, or of their elected representatives and/or government officials.


Case in point: The "Unfinished Business" pavilion, designed by Leo Lionni [!] for the 1958 Brussels World Expo. Holy Smokes, people.

Masey tells a longer version of the story in the book, but here's a condensed version: in 1956, a team that included Boston ICA director James Plaut consulted with MIT economist Walt Rostow on the contents of the official US pavilion, which was being designed by Edward Durrell Stone. The idea was to emphasize the US's people and cultural accomplishments. Rostow's team also called on the US to be frank and self-critical in recognizing its "unfinished business," by which they meant "soil erosion, urban decay, and race relations."


Somehow, though the giant, donut-shaped pavilion had room for a Vogue fashion show on water; a proto-Pop, pseudo-combine street sign streetscape; and a giant, aerial photomural of Manhattan installed in a half-pipe [WTF!? I don't know! We'll come back to it!]; there wasn't room to "address 'the Negro Problem.'" And so somehow [?] Henry Luce's Fortune magazine became the State Department's partner/sponsor of a smaller garden pavilion devoted to "Unfinished Business," and the magazine's creative director Leo Lionni designed it.


That's the model above, and it looks pretty damn close to the real thing. Lionni conceived of three linked, raised pavilions, each about six meters long, as a frankly allegorical timeline, in which America's problems get literally smoothed out. Or as Masey put it, "the content of the interior was also to be conveyed through the exterior." Which means that the somber, "chaotic crystal" of the past had already given way to the much brighter, Family of Man-colored present. A little more ironing and the square, orderly, utopian future was just steps away. That was the concept, anyway, but that's not exactly how it turned out.

[to be continued in the morning]

Buy Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War on Amazon [amazon]

June 18, 2011

Out Of 'Out Of Practice'

Away | Out, 2010, Seth Adeslberger via

Seth Adelsberger's evocation of Erased de Kooning Drawing in this work on found paper manages to be both calculated and offhand. It was one of my favorites in "Out of Practice," Baltimore gallery Nudashank's sweet show about studio and process in Joshua Abelow's temporary Art Blog Art Blog space. It closes today, so hop to.

Out of Practice, through June 18 []
Nudashank is an awesome Baltimore gallery []
Seth Adelsberger portfolio site []

US Pavilion at Jeshyn Fair, 1956, photo by James Cudney

In the Spring of 1956, as the Jeshyn Fair celebrating Afghan independence approached, and the Soviets were well along in constructing a massive pavilion, US diplomats in Kabul thought the US better have one, too.

A USIA officer named Jack Masey commissioned Buckminster Fuller to create a 100-foot diameter geodesic dome in two months. His Raleigh, NC-based firm, Synergetics, Inc., apparently completed it in one.

Pashto laborers assembling Buckminster Fuller dome, 1956, photo by Jack Masey

It was airlifted to Kabul, where a crew of local Pashto erected it in two days. The aluminum & plastic-coated nylon dome tent pavilion was a hit, "perhaps the most significant cultural event" of the "golden age" of US-Afghan relations, according to the creators of "In Small Things Remembered," an exhibit looking at the history of the two countries' relationship.

The show, which closed yesterday at the Meridian International Center in Washington, DC, was organized by Dr. Curtis Sandberg, VP of the Arts at Meridian, and sponsored by the State Department. It comprised photos discovered in various archives and foreign service officers' private collections, such as Masey, above, and James Cudney, top, who spent eleven years in Afghanistan taking pictures, and developing various photography- and media-based culture, education, and diplomacy programs. Cudney passed away in 2009, but some more of his Afghan photos can be seen in the previews of two 2010 calendars he or his family created on They look pretty amazing.

Anyway, the US Information Agency and Dept. of Commerce continued to use the Kabul dome for trade fairs across Asia. As USIA's director of design, Masey would go on to select Fuller to build the US Pavilion at the Montreal 67 expo, too.

In Small Things Remembered, at Meridian through June 5 []

Richard Serra, The American Flag is not an object of worship, 1989, 288 x 376 cm

One of the artworks ImClone CEO Sam Waksal bought from Gagosian but didn't pay sales tax on in 2000 was a huge, $350,000 Richard Serra drawing titled, The American Flag is not an object of worship.

Interestingly, when the drawing sold at Sotheby's in 2004 [for $232,000 against an estimate of just $80-120,000. There really ought to be a word for a deal where you weasel out an 8.25% "discount" after dumbly overpaying by 50-300%. Maybe a Waksale.], the provenance only mentioned collector/Dia board member/Kim Heirston dater Dr. Pentti Kouri [who passed away in 2009] and the Leo Castelli Gallery, where the work was originally shown.

And what a show it was.

"8 Drawings: Weights and Measures" opened in September 1989, in the wake of the Tilted Arc controversy, and six months after the 1981 sculpture was removed [and according to the artist, "destroyed"] from Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. And from the titles Serra gave the massive paintstick on paper works, I don't think he'd quite gotten over the loss.

Poster/flyer for "Richard Serra 8 Drawings: Weights and Measures"

There's a room in the Met's Serra drawings retrospective with several works from the Castelli "Weights and Measures" show, including The United States Courts are partial to the Government [105x185 in.], No mandatory patriotism [93x201 in.], and the massive The United States Government destroys art [113x215 in.], which is owned by the Broads.

I can't find out online, and I don't have my Serra drawings catalogue raisonné with me to check, but it would be interesting, if maybe a little too neatly literal, if the cumulative dimensions of the eight "Weights and Measures" drawings added up to 120 feet, the length of Titled Arc. It'd turn the drawings into fragmented shadows of the lost sculpture, ghost slabs floating in a gallery before being dispersed to haunt collections around the world. Serra's not averse to coding such biographical or historical references in a work's dimensions; I seem to remember hearing that the dimensions of the six forged steel blocks in his 1996 sculpture 58 x 64 x 70 were derived from his and his wife Clara's eye heights. [I can't find any mention of that now, though; I'll have to check.] Anyway, TBD all over the place.

[UPDATE: thanks to the Communications office at the Met for sending along the checklist, which also includes the dimensions of the other two W&M drawings in the show. The four drawings mentioned here do, in fact, add up to 62 linear feet. So a 120 ft total is in the realm of the possible.]

2015 UPDATE: yes, but maybe not? I can't believe I never published the result of this research, but I did gather the dimensions of all the W&M drawings, and they ran about 117 linear feet. If they each have 4.5-in larger framed dimensions, they'll add up to 120 feet, but I doubt Serra's numerological interests would incorporate frames. I'd love to be wrong about that and right about the dispersed, destroyed ghost of Tilted Arc, but I think it's the other way around. Oh well.

Weights & Measures, annotated, dimensions in inches

Tom McCormack's lengthy look at the contentious, suspicious history of US government support for the arts is worth reading for itself. But it also got me off my butt to write something that's been bugging me since attending the Smithsonian's Flashpoints and Faultlines symposium last week.

I had no plans to go to the symposium, primarily because it seemed like such a transparent attempt to ride out the Smithsonian's "Hide/Seek" censorship mess by throwing up a cloud of bureaucratic, academic dust. While I could be persuaded that Wayne Clough's resignation over his egregious mistake might have served to embolden entrenched critics and weaken the institution in advance of a difficult budget battle, I didn't think a pointless symposium designed to corral the most outraged arts administrators into an auditorium and bore the concern out of them doesn't help either.

But I had a meeting set up with an attendee which got pushed back, so last Wednesday I ended up attending part of the first, museum directors panel, and most of the second, "Exhibitions in National Museums & Public Institutions," or the political operatives & appointees panel.

From these panels, various references to earlier sessions, and the subsequent, sparse reporting, it seems clear to me that the art world really needs to rethink the paradigm for its relationship with the federal government, or more specifically, with politics.

Frank Hodsoll was President Reagan's NEA chairman. He was a foreign service officer and lawyer, later an OMB appointee, and now consults. Not an art guy, but a diplomacy-turned-art/culture policy guy. He talked very openly about his charge to vet NEA grant proposals to weed out potentially troublesome, controversial, or poltiical content. He took credit for personally rejecting or spiking a dozen, maybe 20 [I'm paraphrasing, but the video for the panel is archived now. It starts at around 1:40.] proposals that had otherwise passed the NEA's established panel review process. One example: a Washington Project for the Arts proposal to project images or text or something onto the Capitol Building, which he was sure would anger some Congressmen.

Hodsoll was the Chairman when the exhibition including Andre Serrano's Piss Christ and Robert Mapplethorpe's retrospective were both approved for partial or tangential NEA funding. He was very forthright that these projects hadn't been monitored closely enough, and had he been able to scrutinize them, he would have deemed them "inappropriate" and denied them funding.

I guess I was not so amazed that the chairman of the NEA was advocating actively screening and denying grants based on the ideological or political appropriateness of the artwork, but that the NEA was screening out work that might engender controversy or displeasure from congressional representatives. It was a position and policy that rejects not only the possibility that art might have political content or engagement; but also art's essence as an expression of speech.

Putting it in terms of whether this or that project is deserving of taxpayer support misses the point, at least when such support exists. Hodsoll pointed out that artistic expressions get rejected all the time, "it's called selection," by which he meant the NEA's grant evaluation processes, but also, I think, curation.

And so the tautological calculus that art may receive public funding if it wholly disassociates itself from politics and/or controversial issues, and if it pleases--or at least doesn't piss off--someone in the government. And if these terms aren't acceptable, art, artists, and art institutions can deal with the reality that the government has no responsibility or compelling need to support art anyway.

If this argument wasn't disheartening enough, Hodsoll was followed by Bill Ivey, who was Bill Clinton's NEA chairman, the guy left holding the mop--or left holding the bag--after the fiercest Helms-led attacks on the NEA. Ivey spent almost half his time laying out the findings of various polls that showed no matter how you slice it, 30-50% of the population does not support the right to free speech.

Never mind that the right being opposed is always someone else's, and the speech is something they disagree with. With such tenuous support, an inconsistent and unfriendly legal landscape, and the existence of politicians and/or activists who will exploit this rift, Ivey argued, the last, most important thing is to protect the institutions of art, and their funding. [In a perfect segue, the next panelist was Ford Bell who, as president of the American Association of Museum, is basically the art institutions' lobbyist.

From the far side of long careers as political operatives and appointees--only Bell seems to have ever run for elected office--these men uniformly decried the politics, and the politicizing of art and museums--by others. Just as propaganda is the other guy's marketing, playing politics is someone else's common sense policy. The only winning move, we're told, is not to play. A strange game indeed.

And Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, the moderator, opened the panel with a lament that I hear so often, it's like the Washington art world's Pledge of Allegiance: "I wish there members of Congress could hear to this." But they never are.

No wonder the official art world wants to see itself apart from politics; to do otherwise only proves how poorly they do, or how superfluous they are. At least in the nakedest political terms of power and money.

As infuriating or disheartening as these political hands' assessments may be to an art lover's ears, they are still important to hear. They're experienced views from the real, political world of Washington, the world in which money and constituents and lobbying and controversies and demagoguery and negotiation and propagandizing exist. Symbolism is there, too, and dissent, and relationships and persuasion.

If art & museum people thing politics seems intimidating, confusing, or potentially embarrassing, maybe it's worth recognizing that many non museum people, politicians included, feel the same way about art.

The "Hide/Seek" Wojnarowicz crisis was precipitated by a conservative religious and political activist who had no interest in art, but in changing the political micro-climate during the congressional vote to end Don't Ask/Don't Tell. Clough reacted to soundbites solicited from political staffers who saw neither the show nor any political downside to criticizing it and the Smithsonian which sponsored it. By so doing, they only raised the political price their opposition would have to pay for their funding levels and priorities.

Throughout the Flashpoints Symposium, speakers referred to Hide/Seek co-curator Jonathan Katz's rallying cry that Americans would rise up to defend their/our Smithsonian from the threat of budget cuts [or worse.] But that seems as practicable as wishing there were more senators attending your 2-day symposium.

Through the efforts of some combination of, in order of mobilization, directors, boards, curators, artists, educators, marketers, associations, audience and constituents, lobbyists and legislative affairs professionals [that's everyone, right?] I think the art world needs to make a more compelling political case for itself, and to make it more persistently and productively. I have some sense for how that might happen, but at the moment, it still feels like a major endeavor to accurately understand the problem.

I'm getting pretty comfortable with my love affair/obsession with the US Pavilion at the Expo 67 in Montreal. I mean, it's got Buckminster Fuller; Alan Solomon curating gigantic paintings; photomurals; and satelloons, what's not to love, right?

So seeing Design for a Fair, the 1968 promo short film by Peter Chermayeff is awesome just as it is. The vintage footage and photos are some of the crispest I've seen, and it really is pretty crazy on a whole bunch of levels that this thing existed at all.

But maybe the greatest thing--even better than the giant graphic designed flags that look like a lost Ellsworth Kelly, as if there wasn't enough giant, escalator-optimized, actual art already--and even better than the sheer soft power/propaganda play that was so drop-dead awesome it won the future for the day--is the voiceover.

Because the whole thing really sounds like Chermayeff's idea. Every last bit of it, dome to nuts. It's fantastic. Chermayeff, of course, is an architect and exhibition designer, and his former firm, Cambridge Seven Associates, or C7A, was contracted by the US Information Agency to produce the US Expo entry.

And so, as Chermayeff tells it, they knew they wanted a 3/4 geodesic dome, so they ordered one. And they wanted some giant art, so they ordered that. And the moon stuff, and the Hollywood and all the happy parts of American culture.

Now I don't doubt a thing; I'm sure that's exactly how it all went down. It's just that that's not how it's typically remembered. Architects only remember Fuller; the art world only recognizes Solomon and the artists, not the venue or the show or the implications of it; and everything else is artifact and prop. [And the poor lunar photomural, I've hardly found anyone remembering that at all.]

The historical focus is either on the general awesomeness of the spectacle and mood, the political context and propaganda, or on the parts in isolation. What Design for a Fair reminds me of, though, is the visitor's experience, the carefully orchestrated messaging, and the reality that it was orchestrated by a contractor working to a brief provided by the USIA. It was a government-funded gesamtkunstwerk, a massive piece of installation art before the fact, and probably one of the most cost-effective public diplomacy efforts of the Cold War era. It literally seems unimaginable today.

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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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Social Medium:
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