August 17, 2010

Flame Canada

newman_voice_of_fire.jpgSpeaking of National Gallery of Canada upheavals, Walrus Magazine, late-career post-minimalist kitsch, and Blake Gopnik:

In March 2010, Walrus celebrated the 20th anniversary of longtime NGC contemporary curator Brydon Smith's purchase of Barnett Newman's towering 1967 painting, Voice of Fire for $1.8 million, which was apparently a lot of money, even in Canadian. The announcement [of the price] set off a political firestorm of conservative, populist wrangling and hearings. It was Canada's own homegrown version of the American Right's culture war on the NEA, the NGC's most famous controversy.

Well, famous in Canada, anyway. As Greg Buium noted in his article, "Firestorm":

Internationally, the affair caused barely a ripple. Art in America published a short news story. Blake Gopnik, chief art critic at the Washington Post, was then a doctoral student at Oxford and only heard about it from his family back home in Montreal.
And here I am agreeing with Gopnik again! Awkward! Newman painted Voice of Fire for "American Painting Now," Alan Solomon's exhibition in the Buckminster Fuller dome at Expo 67. Which I wrote about and dug into rather deeply last October. I even quoted from Voices of fire: art, rage, power and the state, a 1996 anthology of the controversy, and yet I'd forgotten it until reading Buium's piece. [Maybe it's just me.]

According to Smith's account of the making of, Newman's painting, 8x18' high instead of 8x18' wide, Voice of Fire was designed to Solomon's request for "very large," vertically oriented paintings able to "hold their own" in a "soaring airy structure" and amidst a lot of visual "competition," and which, because of the steady movement of crowds through the pavilion, "visitors would not be able to spend long periods looking at."

Smith also wrote about having spontaneous discussions with Annalee Newman about her husband's "concern at that time about the undeclared war in Vietnam," a concern which hovered over the entire pavilion project. Co-editor John O'Brian quoted Solomon as saying, "Given world conditions at the moment, [the plan is] to soft sell America rather than show our muscle."

Yeah, capitalism, but I've always thought Voice of Fire was the best painting of Newman's weakest period, the hard-edge acrylics, which filled the last big gallery of Ann Temkin's Philadelphia Museum retrospective. [Hold on, I'm trying to forget that triangle-shaped canvas all over again.]

A late-period acrylic, made to order by an ambivalent artist for a drive-by spectacle designed to distract from the war. With stripped-down, hard-edge abstraction that provides the perfect symbol for anti-intellectualist critics of the art world's shenanigans. It all sounds like a prime candidate for Blake Gopnik's Kitsch You Didn't Think Of! list.

And yet he left it off. With such political savvy I predict a bright future in Canadian art politics for Dr. Gopnik.


First up, a high five to Andrew Russeth at ArtInfo for highlighting Nicholas Robinson Gallery's summer installation of Andy Warhol's unusual Rain Machine (Daisy Waterfall). What a weird, wonderful--but mostly weird--work.

It's basically a mural of shimmering, lenticular photos of flowers behind an illuminated, recirculating, double wall of simulated rain. Let's set aside the fact that the raw mechanicality of Rain Machine makes it look like a missing Pop link in the genealogy of Olafur Eliasson's work. The similarities are both less and more interesting than they first appear.

Begun in 1968, Rain Machine has its origins in two of my favorite pseudo-utopian art/technology events, the Osaka 70 World Expo and LACMA's sprawling Art & Technology collaboration project, which ran through 1971.


When Warhol was first approached for the A&T Program, which paired artists with cutting edge technology companies to realize a new, innovative work of some kind, he imagined making a wall of 3D holograms that would be barely visible through the mist. But Bruce Nauman had already nabbed RCA's hologram guy, so Warhol fell back onto decidedly low-tech lenticular imaging.

Then the rain wasn't working, the prints didn't line up, the budget was a joke, the US Pavilion exhibition space was cramped, the whole thing was a potential mess. The story is recounted in glorious, play-by-play detail in LACMA's 1971 Art & Technology Report, which is cheap to buy used, and [brilliantly] available as a free PDF download from LACMA's online library:

Perhaps the most important decisions determining the work's final appearance in the U.S. Pavilion at Expo were made not by Warhol but my MT [Maurice Tuchman, LACMA's A&T curator/organizer], the Expo Design Team members, and some of the other artists in the show. The entire installation operation was characterized by a sense of crisis, and there were moments when the peice seemed simply destined to ignominious failure. In the end, somehow, it worked; many people and particularly the artists who were there installing their own pieces, felt the Warhol to be one of the most compelling works in the exhibition because of its strangely tough and eccentric quality. Robert Whitman commented that "of course Andy's forcing everyone into the act;" the work istelf, when completed, made that conspicuously evident, and yet it was unmistakably Warhol. When it was rumored at one point just before the opening of Expo that the work might be taken out of the show, as was suggested by several of the Expo Designers and by a visiting critic who was conversant with Warhol's oeuvre, the American artists who by this time knew the piece intimately objected strenuously.
When Rain Machine came back to LA, it had to be reworked, or debugged, and reconfigured. The most noticeable change is probably the scaled up daisy photos. As Robinson explains, the current installation follows an even newer [remastered?] set of specs developed by the Warhol Museum for its 2002 refabrication of the work.

Update: Interesting, LACMA received a set of nine lenticular daisy photos as a gift in 1999. They're the larger, single daisy-style, which makes me think they were extras, loosies, or maybe even leftovers from the 1971 Art & Technology reinstallation. A few of these have popped up in the market over the years; they're not that expensive, though without the rain--hell, even with the rain--they're a little weird.

Update Update: aha, interesting. according to this auction description, the lenticular photos were commissioned in an edition of 50 for the LACMA show.


See, now here is another reason I've gotten so backed up: I was overwhelmed by the awesomeness of this. It's currently freaking me out how much is turning on the Osaka 70 World Expo. It's as if there's a story under every geodesic dome. I'll have to write this one up a bit.

March 10, 2010

Welcome To The Kabul Dome

In 1956, USIA exhibitions director Jack Masey had a problem: the Soviets and the Red Chinese and their big pavilions usually had a lock on the International Trade Fair in Kabul [that's the capital of Afghanistan, you know]. The US Commerce Secretary had decided America should be all over those non-aligned/third world trade fairs, but the US had, like, a few animatronic chickens, and a television, that's it. Then Masey called Buckminster Fuller. The story--and many, many more of Masey's expo exploits--is told in his 2008 book, Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and their Role in the Cultural Cold War, but I'll let Thomas Zung's Buckminster Fuller: anthology for a new millennium tell it.

Actually, let me paraphrase my way to the specs and the punchline. Sometimes you don't realize how badly something's written until you try to retype it yourself:

One week of engineering; one month of construction and packing; one dome and one engineer flown to Kabul on one DC-4; untrained Afghan workers assembling color-coded parts getting the thing built in 48 hours. 100-ft diameter, 35-ft tall, 8,000 sf uninterrupted floor space made it the largest Geodesic structure in the world at the time. Made from 480 3-inch aluminum tubes, weighed 9,200 lbs, nylon skin: 1,300 lbs.

And it totally killed at the fair. Afghans loved the US had them building it themselves. It reminded them of a yurt. It basically kicked Commie ass. Zung, are you ever gonna come through?

The Department of Commerce had now become interested in the kudos value [sic] of Geodesic domes. The Geodesics, it was argued, dramatized American ingenuity, vision, and technological dynamism; as structures to house American trade exhibits they would be tangible symbols of progress. Fuller's three-way grids were better propaganda than double-meaning speeches broadcast to regions in which radios were scarce. Domes as large as the Kabul dome, and larger, were flown from country to country, girdling the globe; and many of these also set attendance records. Within a short space, Fuller's domes were seen in Poznan, Casablanca, Tunis, Salonika, Istanbul, Madras, Delhi, Bombay, Rangoon, Bangkok, Tokyo, and Osaka.
Mhmm. News reports of the time cite the television and large projection screens as the big draws, actually, but I'm sure it was the dome's awesomeness.

Hard to say from the photographs, though, because I can't find a single image of the Kabul Dome in Kabul, or any of its other tour stops. As with so many other aspects of Fuller's visual/cultural legacy, original photos and archival documentation are on lockdown, and many of his acolytes seem content to just marvel at the mathematical elegance of the Geodesic schematics.

From the Other Things I Didn't Know About What Goes Inside Geodesic Dome Pavilions Department:

Christine Macy and Sarah Bonnemaison devote a chapter in their 2003 book, Architecture and nature: creating the American landscape to geodesic domes, including this description of Buckminster Fuller's original vision for the US Pavilion at Montreal's World Expo 67:

His [Fuller's] design of 1964 featured a dome nearly twice the size [of the 250-ft diameter, 3/4 dome by Fuller and Shoji Sadao that was realized] with a massive interior gallery. From this elevated vantage point, the viewer would focuse their attention inward to a hundred foot diameter Earth tranforming slowly into an icosahedron, before it opens up, unfolding like a flower as it descends to the floor. [what a sentence. -ed.] In this way, Fuller's "geodesic" globe transforms into his "Dymaxion" map of the Earth before the visitors' eyes, displaying the "one world island in one world ocean." And then it would come to life. Wired with tens of thousands of miniature light bulbs, this great map would begin to pulsate with patterns--showing world resources, electricity generation, the flow of transportation and communication systems across the Earth. This interactive display, this giant bio-feedback device, would be the playing surface of the "World Game." Assembling in teams or playing by themselves, visitors were intended to chart out optimal paths to link resources with industries and population centers, to streamline transportation flows and maximize satellite coverage The aim, according to Fuller, was to "make the world work successfully for all of humanity...without anyone gaining advantage at the expense of another."
Since he had not actually been asked to design the exhibit, just the pavilion, this idea was rejected and replaced by a selection of quilts, duck decoys, and Cary Grand billboards.

October 27, 2009

American Painting Now Then


How to account for my dogged fascination with the temporary/permanent, futuristic/historic paradoxes of Expo art and architecture?

Buckminster Fuller's 20-story Biosphere was far and away his greatest single success and the hit of the most successful modernist world's fair, the Expo 67 in Montreal. And yet how little did I consider what was in it: a giant exhibit of the movies; The American Spirit, an exhibit of NASA satellites and space capsules; some crafts or whatever, and American Painting Now, 23 huge paintings commissioned by Alan Solomon from a "Who's Who of modern art," including :

James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. Their works illustrated trends such as abstract expressionism, op, pop, hardedge and geometric art. Like the space component, this part of the American exhibition was truly spectacular. The works, gigantic, simple and colourful, paid a vibrant tribute to the creative vitality of artists who now count among the great masters of 20th century painting.
Uh, and from Fuller, too, from the looks of that giant Dymaxion Map right there.


From a 1996 book on Voice of Fire, Barnett Newman's own 17-foot tall contribution, we learn Solomon requested that the artists [all male?] "contribute paintings that are (a) large in scale and (b) vertical in format."

newman_voice_of_fire.jpgI want to quote "Exorcism in Montreal," the April 30, 1967 review by NY Times critic and famous Newman nemesis John Canaday, in its entirety, but I won't:

Here we have the same old clique of names that have been handed the favors regularly in Venice and everywhere else on the circuit. A natural response to the list is "Oh, no, not again!" There is that tiresome Barnett Newman, who this time turns out three vertical stripes in two colors--but they are 17 feet high. There's Jim Dine, with nothing but two big slabs of enameled canvas, in two flat colors, bearing in one corner a notation as to the brand of paint used--and the panels are 35 feet high. There is Roy Lichtenstein being Roy Lichtenstein again, but now 29 feet high.

There are all the rest of the club, not including some whose work was not fully installed on press day, and some whose work seems to me to have more substance than the ones listed, for instance James Rosenquist's colossal "Firepole." I have chosen the most vacuous because in this setting even they are part of a genuinely spectacular show fulfilling demands that could not have been met by any other kind of painting.

The dimensions given above tell that the paintings, most of them done for this spot (what other spot could hold them?), are gargantuan...they are played against strips of sail cloth in heights up to that of a 10-story building. It is as if the whole water-treading esthetic that they represent had been originated and sustained by some genii who knew that one day a form of painting bold enough and shallow enough to supply enormous bright banners for this pavilion would be necessary.

And then there's Canaday's assessment of the NASA artifacts, which basically hits it home for me with the art/science beauty paradox:
...since technology is creating the most beautiful objects today, and the most imaginative ones, Apollo might also be thought to have added one more muse to the group that he has always chaperoned.

Of course, there is no separating the fascination of the Apollo Command Module as a scientific object from its quality as an esthetic one, with its self-generated form and its patina burnt into it during the minutes of its descent rather than by centuries of weather, but it is a beautiful object all the same--inherently beautiful, and no other word than beautiful will do--as well as an historical monument with emotive associations And that is what great works of art used to be.

Ah, so it's just the domes and the satelloons.


Update: From Architecture & Nature (2003), more details/corrections on who showed what: Kelly had a 30' canvas, no title given. Robert Indiana, Cardinal Numbers. At just 13'x15', Robert Motherwell's Big Painting #2 was anything but. Lichtenstein: Big Modern Painting [sensing a theme here?] Helen Frankenthaler was The Woman Painter. And the Dymaxion Map was by Johns, "a small [sic] token to his friend Fuller's desire to have the map be the centerpiece of the pavilion."

Interior images of Biosphere, the US Pavilion at Expo 67 from The Dixon Slide Collection at McGill University. []
Q: was this the Ellsworth Kelly? [no, see update above]

Previously: Hmm. That satelloon & command module show was so good, they used it again at Expo 70 in Osaka.


Just like how, once you've learned it, you start hearing a word all the time, now I see satelloons everywhere. Including at the Buckminster Fuller retrospective last year at the Whitney [which went on to Chicago this summer.]

Buckminster Fuller and his architecture partner Shoji Sadao mocked up this photo of a photocollage, Project for Floating Cloud Structures (Cloud Nine) , around 1960. Cloud Nines are self-contained communities of several thousand people living inside enclosed geodesic spheres a mile wide, which float over the earth's surface.

Because the geodesic structure increases in strength as it gets bigger, and its surface increases at a power of two, while its volume increases at a power of three, Fuller hypothesized that heating the interior air even one degree will set the Cloud Nines aloft.

Obviously, as a sexy, futuristic utopian image, Cloud Nine is hard to pass up, but holy crap, Bucky, did you think for two seconds about the urban fabric and the social experience of living trapped in a floating dome? I'd love to see someone write an SF story about it. Because I think it might be a fantastically totalitarian disaster.


There are two versions of the Cloud Nine image: [the earlier?] one has smooth, silvery, featureless spheres. I'd call them satelloons, even. The other [above] has line drawings of the geodesic structure collaged onto it.

It was only now, as I get around to finally posting about them, that the relationship between Cloud Nines and satelloons might be more than formalistic. The original satelloon, Project Echo launched in 1960, the same year Fuller and Sadao designed their giant floating spheres. Could there have been a connection?

The easiest, most obvious thing to do might be to ring up Shoji Sadao. What is he up to these days, anyway? You'd think that given the recent interest in Fuller's work, a guy who worked so closely with Fuller on so many major projects--he's credited with the dome at the 1967 World Expo in Montreal, arguably the most spectacular Fuller structure ever realized--would be all over the place. I mean, it was only a few years ago that he gave up his position as executive director of the Noguchi Foundation in Long Island City. And then he curated that great Fuller-Noguchi show in 2006. [Sadao was also a longtime collaborator with Noguchi and the chief overseer of his legacy.] Anyone spoken with him lately?

August 4, 2009

Frosty Myers Winners

latimes, wigwam of searchlights

Before I realized that if I wanted to see an exhibit of a 100-ft silver balloon, I'd have to make it myself, I was still just ruminating on art I hoped/wished someone would make. One of those projects I want/need to see is a re-staging of the Los Angeles Times photo of the panicked air raid searchlights that criss-crossed the sky on the night of Feb. 25, 1942. Six civilians died in that apparent, still unexplained false alarm, and the Times' caption on the photo above described how the "searchlights built a wigwam" over the city. Wouldn't that be fantastic?

Well, now I wonder if there is someone to get to do it.

16 Miles pointed to an awesome 2001 Art in America article by Suzaan Boettger on Sculpture in Environment, a pioneering New York City-wide show of public sculpture organized by Sam Green, the director of the ICA in Philadelphia, which took place in October 1967.

The main focus of Boettger's article is an intriguing and prescient unmonumental work by Claes Oldenberg, and Robert Smithson's seminal roadtrip article/work, "The Monuments of Passaic," which [not] coincidentally, he made the day before. And the hook for 16 Miles' post is the death of Tony Rosenthal, whose Alamo cube still spins where it was shown, in Astor Place. But there are other great details: Oldenberg had first proposed creating a traffic jam; Robert Morris's jets of steam proposal was considered "too ephemeral." Isamu Noguchi was still pitching his playground idea ["too expensive."] Alexander Calder liked to help the Negros. &c. &c.


But anyway, Boettger mentions this "a nocturnal event by Forrest Myers, who projected four carbon arc searchlights from Tompkins Square Park." It's not clear what they were called, but this description from a 2006 Art in America profile of Frosty Myers explains what these sculptures were:

"Searchlight Sculptures," nighttime installations of carbon-arc searchlights that were sited at the four corners of Tompkins Square Park in the East Village in 1966, in Union Square in 1969, in a park in Fort Worth in 1979, and elsewhere. The beams tent upward to join at an apex in the manner of a vast pyramid.
Elsewhere included Artpark in Lewiston, NY, where Myers created a Searchlights pyramid in 1975 [see above]. You must admit, it does look very wigwammish.

You may know Myers from such previous appearances as: being instrumental in E.A.T. and the art/tech collaborative's ambitious artfest-in-a-mirrored-dome, the Pepsi Pavilion at the Osaka '70 Expo. And maybe being one of six artists whose work was secretly smuggled onto the moon on the Apollo 12 lunar module.

Remembering Tony Rosenthal, Remembering "Sculpture in Environment" []
A Found Weekend, 1967: Public Sculpture and Anti-Monuments, Art in America, Jan. 2001 [art in america via findarticles]
[Searchlights imagevia]


Let me get this straight: the first modernist prefab in the US; one of two US houses included in Phillip Johnson's 1932 International Style exhibition at MoMA [the other: Neutra's Lovell House]; built in 10 days from off-the-shelf industrial materials, with no formal plans or blueprints; Albert Frey's first US project; bought and disassembled in hours, then saved and bastardized by Wallace K. Harrison; quoted nearly perfectly--concept, materials, and form--by Kieran Timberlake in their Cellophane House; and yet somehow Aluminaire House itself was not included in "Home Delivery," MoMA's 2007 show on the history of the modern prefab Please tell me I just missed it or blocked it from my memory.

But I'm hardly the only one.

Lawrence Kocher was editor of Architectural Record and later involved with Black Mountain College. The 27-year old Albert Frey was fresh off the boat from Le Corbusier's studio. They whipped up Aluminaire House from donated parts and materials for a 1931 building show and Architectural League exhibition at Grand Central Palace, an expo hall that filled the block between 46th and 47th streets and Park and Lex.


Kocher's concept was a light-filled, modernist prefab house made of innovative, industrial, mass-produceable materials: aluminum, steel and glass. The 3-story, 5-room, 28x22-ft, 1,200 sf building was barely more than a mockup, an exhibition pavilion. Frey later compared it more to a refrigerator than a building in its construction; it was light steel bolted together with nuts and washers and skinned in ribbon windows and corrugated aluminum, a material Frey would use extensively in California. The floor was ship decking covered in linoleum. Interior walls were rayon fabric. It was supported on five aluminum pilotis.

The main living space [LR/DR, Kit, MBR, BA] was on the second floor. The living room was double height, open to a partially enclosed library/2nd bedroom on the third floor, which also had a terrace. A second bathroom with shower was cantilevered over the living room, which frankly sounds like a joke.


Harrison bought the Aluminaire House for a thousand dollars after the expo ended, and reassembled it at his house on Long Island. In '32, Johnson showed the house in the International Style exhibition, but didn't include it in the catalogue. Harrison proceeded to enclose the ground and third floors and add on some circular structures, rendering the house nearly unrecognizable.

Which is why it was almost demolished in 1987-8 when Harrison's estate was chopped up and developed. The architecture department of the New York Institute of Technology took the Aluminaire House on as a school project. They studied and dismantled it, then eventually reassembled and restored it on a new pad on their Central Islip campus. Which looks to be about 10 minutes south of Exit 55 on the LIE, within easy pilgrimage visiting by every design snob in the Hamptons.

And yet, no one really seems to care or know about it. In a brief blurb about a 1998 Arch. League show on restoring Aluminaire House, Herbert Muschamp got the location and story of the house wrong. No one who writes about it sounds like they've actually seen it. There aren't any contemporary photos of it online, only one shot from Harrison's yard.


It's on Google Maps, of course, and that's Microsoft's Bird's Eye view on the right. But no mention of it on NYIT's site. [The architecture department was moved from Islip to a campus in Old Westbury, so if it served any academic purpose before, the Aluminaire House seems kind of orphaned now. A 2007 messageboard post said that it was to be relocated as part of a redevelopment/selloff of part of the campus. If it hasn't happened yet, I'm sure it won't happen for a while.

But it sounds to me like there's an unloved, unappreciated pile of historic modern awesomeness in the middle of Long Island that needs to be liberated and returned to loving domestic use. At the very least, will someone take half an hour on the way to the beach and go shoot some freakin' photos?

The only lengthy discussion of Aluminaire House I can find online: docomomo's 1998 Modern Movement Heritage by Allen Cunningham [google books]

The Grand Palais was already the best of the three venues in the world capable of accommodating my Satelloon project--a re-creation of NASA's Project Echo (1960), the 100-ft metallic spherical balloon which was world's first communications satellite, and which was also known as the most beautiful and most-viewed object ever launched into space--but now it's practically inevitable.

Unless someone tells me that the Pantheon or Grand Central Station have already hosted legendary air shows dating back a hundred years...

These photos from Branger & Cie via the Smithsonian show balloons and blimps on display at the 1re Exposition Internationale de Locomotion Aerienne, which debuted in the nave of the Grand Palais in September 1909. They ran until 1951. Which makes bringing back the spirit of the Air Show both spectaculaire et logique!


Previously: Les Satelloons du Grand Palais]

Previous 1 2 3 4 5 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: expo

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