April 16, 2011

Source Material

What is the point of books if you're just going to store them out of sight?


I mean, just look at the back cover of A.R.T. Press's 1992 interview of Vija Celmins by Chuck Close. If only I'd had this book somewhere besides my storage unit all these years, I might've realized sooner that what I've been doing, basically, is reconstructing the pile of photos on Vija Celmin's desk.

This LACMA interview with Vija Celmins about her show there of early work is just great. [The show itself is great, too; it was first at the Menil.]

No sooner did I watch it, than Celmins' name came up in the Jasper Johns Gray catalogue. And I decided that what's needed is more Vija Celmins interviews.

And that's when I realized that my expectation that there weren't enough Celmins interviews was based on my reading of her work as so quiet and self-contained. In fact, Celmins herself is quite open, and gives lots of great, thoughtful interviews.

Here's another from 2008, the Carnegie International:

Art21 did one, of course, but this clip's only a minute long.

Simon Grant did a pretty long career-related interview with Celmins for Tate in 2007, which used the Pompidou's drawings retrospective as its hook.

I started going through my photographs and newspaper clippings that I had collected -images of Second World War planes, a nuclear explosion at Bikini Atoll, an airship - and I made drawings of those.
Reading that, and thinking of the Menil/LACMA show, my being reminded of Joy Garnett's paintings doesn't seem that far afield after all.


Phong Bui's 2010 interview is classic Brooklyn Rail: deep and specific on history and the work. Ah, see? Here's the word I was looking for, the one that threw me off of Celmins' interview path:

Rail: Guston also loved Morandi, whom I know you admire, and Morandi's most admired painter was Chardin.

Celmins: I like Chardin, too.

Rail: Especially the late Chardins, depicting the modest interiors, which include kitchen maids in moments of reflection. They were generally painted with muted lighting and therefore created a quiet ambiance, which also is reinforced by the subdued color scheme. The series that made the depiction.

Celmins: You know that muteness exists in Vermeer, Chardin, and Morandi. I don't know who else you would say, in contemporary art. Would you say Ryman? It's hard to say.

Rail: It'd be hard to talk about silence or quietude.

But you know where THE Celmins interview is? In a book. Chuck Close interviewed Celmins, at Bill Bartman's behest, and A.R.T. Press published it in 1992. I think I may even have that somewhere. I certainly thought about buying that etching of Saturn often enough. Gotta track that down.

April 5, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Italics in original:

Nan Rosenthal: Does the color gray carry for you a suggestion of ambiguity?

Jasper Johns: Everything carries for me a suggestion of ambiguity.

From the q&a in Jasper Johns Gray

You know what, in my six days as a published author, out there flogging his book, I find myself thinking, again, of Cervantes and Don Quixote. I mean, I it really feels like I'm living in the Quixotian name I gave my film production company, First Sally.

The cover on the paperback edition of Canal Zone Richard Prince Yes Rasta: Selected Court Documents, &c., &c., 290 pages, $16.99

And so as I was reading Jonathan Gharraie's post in The Paris Review, I couldn't help but but note all the striking similarities between Canal Zone Richard Prince Yes Rasta: Selected Court Documents, &c., &c., my critically considered selection of Richard Prince's deposition transcripts and legal filings, and Cervantes' work. I mean just think about it:

  • Both Prince and Quixote mildly shock their guests at exhibits on the Upper East SIde.

  • Quixote was recently republished in a carefully crafted illustrated version by a legendary artist press; I carefully assembled the Canal Zone... PDF by hand before uploading it to

  • Quixote's idealistic fantasies are enabled and indulged by an all-powerful Duke for his own bemusement and enrichment; Prince shows--and goes to court with--Larry Gagosian, on whose gallery the sun never sets.

  • Cervantes gave his book one of those funny, old-timey, super-long titles; I, well, just look at the cover of the paperback edition.

I could go on and on, to the point I stop debating whether I'm Quixote or Cervantes, and begin wondering whether I'm Pierre Menard or Borges. I assume all authors go through this.

Canal Zone Richard Prince Yes Rasta: Selected Court Documents, &c., &c. in hardcover, 290 pages, $24.99 [updated link, see below]

More info on Canal Zone Richard Prince Yes Rasta in the original post.
See a couple of sample spreads from the electronic edition.

Anyway, Gharraie sums up nicely the digital future where artisanal books still thrive in a tablet world:

If anything, I would rather have it both ways: the book and the blog; the lavish endeavor of the lovingly prepared new edition and the take-out convenience of the virtual text.
And I humbly announce that the future of both art and literature is here. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get to work on my book trailer.

APR 2011 UPDATE: The hardcover is temporarily unavailable, but there is a new, expanded softcover edition, which now contains Prince's entire deposition transcript, an additional 101 pages, plus other key legal documents. Also, it's from a new, nicer printer.

Thanks for the support and feedback on the Canal Zone Richard Prince YES RASTA: Selected Court Documents &c., &c. book. [updated link info below]

Some folks who ordered the electronic version--the first to get the compilation in their hands, since the print editions take a few days to arrive--have emailed wondering where "the rest" of Richard Prince's deposition transcript is, because there are gaps and missing pages.

That's exactly right, and it's why I decided to make this thing in the first place. As far as I can tell, the entire 378-page transcript of the 7-hour deposition was not entered into the court record, only the excerpts that pertained to quotes or points referenced in the two sides' various legal motions. As I was reading those scattered snippets in various places in the court record, I realized it would be more useful to have a single compilation of all Prince's testimony. And it'd be easier if it was in order. So I took apart the pdfs and sorted the pages, then interlaced the other exhibits [i.e., images from Cariou's book and Prince's show and catalogue] as they came up in the course of testimony.

Here are a couple of sample spreads taken from my original [sic, heh] pdf. There are about 250 of these transcript pages in total, four per printed/pdf page.

pp. 125-8, 149-152

pp. 178-181 and Exhibit 15, installation shot at the Eden Rock Hotel, St. Barth's

APR 2011 UPDATE: Here is the link to buy the new, expanded edition, which includes Prince's entire deposition transcript--an additional 101 pages--plus other key legal documents. It's a new printer, and the finish of the book is nicer, I think.

What with all this Prince in my head, I start seeing and reading and remembering things in relation to the Canal Zone case. For instance:

In conjuring up a meaning for Richard Prince's Canal Zone work that fit the crime she was convicting him of, Judge Batts cited part of a 1978 essay on Appropriation Prince wrote, which he was asked about in his deposition. 1978!

I feel that I like to get as much fact into my work and reduce the amount of speculation. I believe there's too much--I like an artwork where that when you see something, like a cowboy or a girlfriend, I mean these are, in fact, true.
Batts decided that this meant Prince appropriated Patrick Cariou's photos because he was trying to convey the same "core truths" about Rastafarianism as Cariou. But it actually made me think of a quote from Greg Foster-Rice's essay in his just-released anthology, Reframing the New Topographics, where he discussed the influential early 70s photography show in terms of systems theory, and in particular the system of photography itself:
Photographs, in other words, are distinct from other forms of representation in that their connoted messages are built upon a widely held belief in the medium's denotative status as an almost perfect copy of the real.
I have to say, I really hated Canal Zone when I first saw it, but the more I study and think about it, I'm coming around. In one sense. Prince was making paintings about photography, and about the different expectations of truth and subjectivity, fact and fiction, each medium embodies. Which is nice.

Then there's the kicker from Steven Stern's review of Spiritual America: The Guggenheim Retrospective in Frieze:

Perhaps the key joke for the retrospective is one that appeared in several different paintings: 'Man walking out of a house of questionable repute, muttered to himself, "Man, that's what I call a business ... you got it, you sell it, you still got it".' A museum is, after all, a house meant to settle questions of repute. And this particular museum exhibition was, among other things, a comment on Prince's clearly impressive 'business'. Like the one described in the joke, this industry depends on a seemingly magical economy: the slippery way that things that aren't exactly objects - such as images and sex - get valued. Prince is a connoisseur of such economies. For better or worse, no matter how much he's sold, he's still got it.
That is just awesome.

And last but certainly not least, is Pablo Picasso, who Prince cited repeatedly as a model and an inspiration for his work. This quote is from an awesomely forthright talk Frances Stark gave at Mandrake Bar in LA in December 2009 as part of the Contra Mundum series. Ro/Lu, you're off the hook, but the rest of you out there, are in deep trouble for not telling me about the published version of Contra Mundum I-VII. I'm the big man, need the info. Anyway, Picasso:

"But of what use is it to say what we do when everybody can see it if he wants to?"


Paddy and her commenters have already done a pretty good job sorting through the decision in the Cariou vs. Prince & Gagosian case, and there are other folks out there with far more expertise and time than I who are also weighing in.

And while I still think this case is really troublesome for the whole fair use ecosystem as it applies to the art world--or more specifically, to artistic practice--that effect may not be lasting or widespread. Fair use and transformative work are still messy, ambiguous principles, almost by design, and artists are gonna do what artists have to do. And really, Judge Batts' decision is so poorly constructed, and ignores or misconstrues so many basic facts of the case, that it can't hold up to the inevitable, coming scrutiny, much less serve as any kind of practical impact going forward.

Still, it's so awful, I can't let it go without calling out a few of the most egregious passages, arguments, and errors. So here goes.

1) Cariou's Photos Are Copyrighted. NO $#%ing DUH.
This is the first section of Judge Batts' decision, and it has gotten a lot of media mention from the skimming crowd, even though it seems utterly and entirely irrelevant to anything at all. [p.10]:

Cariou's ownership of a valid copyright in the Photos is undisputed. However, Defendants assert that Cariou's Photos are mere compilations of facts concerning Rastafarians and the Jamaican landscape, arranged with minimum creativity in a manner typical of their genre, and that the Photos are therefore not protectable as a matter of law, despite Plaintiff's extensive testimony about the creative choices he made in taking, processing, developing, and selecting them.

Unfortunately for Defendants, it has been a matter of settled law for well over one hundred years that creative photographs are worthy of copyright protection, even when they depict real people and natural environments.

I have looked, and I cannot find any documents where Defendants actually made this ridiculous claim that Cariou's photos--arty, black & white, published in a book--are not copyrightable. It's like the stupidest tumblr excuse ever [I found this image on the Internet, so it must be public domain!], not the argument the copyright lawyer for the most powerful art dealer in the world would make. Why is this even in here?


Look, the closest argument/evidence I could find is an exhibit [Doc. 61-1] rounding up dozens of Google Image searches for Rastas and Jamaican jungles and ganja tours, but that was to counter Cariou's inference that the only way to take pictures of Rastas is to do what he did, and live with them for ten years. [Which, according to his deposition, it turns out he didn't do, But whatever.]

Wow, is it really 12:30? I've gotta get some sleep. OK, we're back. And what follows is, by any measure, too long.


Holy smokes, Richard Prince, Patrick Cariou, Larry Gagosian, Judge Batts, Bob Marley, Richard Serra [! I know, right?], Brooke Shields, $18 million in artwork, the fate of appropriation, the implosion of the gallery system, copyright apocalypse, there's so much mayhem to discuss, where to start?

Let me cut to the chase here, and focus on the single most important takeaway of the Cariou v. Prince & Gagosian Canal Zone case: he won't be suing me.

During a deposition, Cariou's lawyer Daniel Brooks asks Prince about his 2005 work Spiritual America IV [above], for which he appropriated Sante d'Orazio's photo of an adult Brooke Shields re-staging the 1975 Gary Gross photo of a 10-year-old Shields which Prince rephotographed and showed in 1983, in a temporary storefront gallery he rented on the Lower East Side and called Spiritual America:

NYT Mag staffer Aaron Retica posted some childhood recollections from Akira Kurosawa of the horrible aftermath of the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, and the xenophobic hysteria that followed.

It makes me wonder, though, if Kurosawa ever spoke about his decision not to depict the earthquake in film.


While trying to find out where and how to make a photomural, or at least how they used to make them, I found this slightly ridiculous 1966 Popular Science article about making photomurals in your very own home. And how you basically shouldn't do it, but instead just mark up a negative and send it off to a photo enlarger somewhere.

Someplace like--hey-o!--the outfit mentioned in a caption, "Compo Photo Color, 220 W. 42nd St., NYC, specialists in murals and exhibition prints who did famous 'Family of Man' photo show." And so it comes pretty much full circle, back to the most famous photomural exhibition of all.

So who is Compo Photo Color? Or was. Immediately available references are pretty scarce, but Compo seems to have been in business from the 1950s until the early-to-mid 1970s. Its principals were a German immigrant photographer Richard J. Schuler and Ernest Pile, and it was eventually consolidated into Wometco Photo Services, a division of the Miami-based movie theater owner. But back to the apparent heyday, in the 50s.


In a 2001 interview, photographer Wayne Miller, who was Steichen's assistant and co-curator on Family of Man, and who contributed the most images to the show, talked about working with Compo on the prints:

Riess: About Gene Smith, can I ask you to repeat the story that I lost last time about asking Gene Smith for a print of that image in The Family of Man?

Miller: Oh yes. In The Family of Man, after we had made our final selections of what pictures we wanted to have in the exhibition we asked some local photographers if they'd like to make the print for us, or would they give us the negative and we ll have the print made by Compo Photocolor in New York. Actually we wanted Compo Photocolor to make all of them so the prints would have a commonality, and they would match the other prints quality-wise. And they were very good technicians.

But in this case, because of Gene, he wanted to make the prints, he didn t feel anybody could make the print as well as he could. And he invariably spent not only hours, but days in the darkroom. In fact, in a Life story he would disappear in the darkroom and return, and you almost-- here he was seemingly weeks or months afterwards, with a beard and other things, and with the final prints. And it would drive the Life people mad.


In this case, we had a print that I'd found in the Life morgue of what he [Smith] called "A Walk in Paradise Garden," something like that, of two children walking out from underneath this frame of bushes. A nice picture, and we wanted to use it at the end of the exhibition. It was going to be about, maybe 30" x 40".

I told Gene we wanted to do this and asked him if he'd like to make the print, and yes, he
certainly wanted to make the print. So I arranged for him to get the necessary paper and
chemicals to do this, because his wife Carmen said, "Don t give Gene the money for it, because he'll spend it on other things." So after he told me what he wanted, I did get the materials for him. And I gave him a deadline, knowing that he was often not able to meet a deadline, of about three weeks early. So he took this material.

Now the print we had that I'd gotten out of the files had been handled a great deal and it had some cracks in it. It was dog-eared, and it wasn't a fine print at this point. So at the same time I gave these materials to Gene I sent the print from the Life files over to Compo Photocolor and asked them to make a copy of it, make a negative, and make a print to size. Just so we wouldn t get stuck in case he didn't come up with the print. Later, when he did do it, we could always replace it. And sure enough, the deadline came and went and we had to put this copy print up on the wall. Because Gene hadn t shown up with his.

A couple of weeks later Gene shows up with these photographs rolled up under his arm. We went up to the museum exhibition space in the morning because the museum didn t open to the public until noon. And I took this print that we had down off the wall, and he unrolled his prints. He had half a dozen of them there, different qualities, and he laid them out beside this print. I was worried about this because I know how he struggles and works so hard on it. He will darken this or lighten that, and he ll use ferro cyanide to bleach little bits. And the delicacies with which he treats a print are just great, they re very great. So I was interested in seeing how it would work.


He laid his out, and he stood back there and looked at these prints. And he walked around a little bit and looked at them some more. Finally, he said, "You know, I think the print you have on the wall is the best one. Let s use that one." [laughter] So he rolled his up and went along.

That I think points out the fact, I believe, that when you make a photograph, a print of a
photograph of larger than normal size, it picks up a new quality other than one of maybe an 11"x14" or something. But one like this, maybe 30"x40", it has a new quality to it.

You know, it didn't occur to me at all until just now, but Paul Rudolph designed the installation for Steichen's Family of Man, which was photographed by Ezra Stoller, in January 1955,


the same year Robert Rauschenberg was collaging photos into such giant combines as Rebus. Hmm.


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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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greg [at] greg [dot ] org

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about this archive

Category: interviews

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