God bless the Internet and all who surf upon her. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what I thought was an esoteric topic, even for the fantastical lost machines from "Three Lessons of Architecture," Daniel Libeskind's exhibition at the 1986 Venice Architecture Biennale.


And yet, within hours of posting about them, I got an email from one of the guys who had been Libeskind's grad student at Cranbrook and who had built and installed the machines. Hal Laessig is now artist/architect/developer in Newark, and he was gracious enough to share his stories from the "Three Lessons" project, and from Libeskind-era Cranbrook. They range from insightful to hilarious to outrageous, and I'm working on putting our interview together right now.

In the mean time, here's a clarification about the references for the machine Laessig oversaw, the Writing Machine, which I had incorrectly described as being inspired by Raymond Roussel's Reading Machine.

As it's described here, at the very bottom of this ancient article on hypertext, the Reading Machine Roussel exhibited in 1937 was basically a book on a Rolodex. Color-coded tabs helped the reader navigate through multiple layers of cross-references and footnotes. Interesting, but nothing at all to do with the form of Libeskind's version, which took its inspiration from somewhere else entirely.

And so far, I can't find it anywhere:

UEZ: when your work first started to appear and was classified as Conceptual art, did you have a secure visual language which you knew would be viable over time? Or could you have arrived at completely different forms of presentation, or made your photographs the basis for videos?

BB: We did make a film once, on the Hannover mine.

HB: Actually, there's no need at all to talk about failures.

BB: Because that was such an enormous complex. We made a film about it because we wanted to show the atmosphere. Then we looked at the shots, still uncut, and were totally disappointed.

UEZ: How did you make the film?

HB: We borrowed a 16mm camera from Sigmar Polke. The advisor was Gary Schum, in part, who has made a load of beautiful artist films, with Gilbert and George, for example. The idea was that this colliery was not a tightly knit conglomerate, as is usually the case, but rather a diffuse structure held together by belts, by roads.

BB: The atmospheric element was important. On top of that, we were in a hurry. We thought that if we photographed our way through the whole plant, it would take years. Then we made the film in two or three days.

HB: The thought was to drive through this very extensive industrial estate, to show the connections among preparation plant, winding tower, power plant and cokery. But as it turned out, there was so little movement there that the only movement in the film was provided by the camera.

UEZ: Because the colliery was already shut down?

HB: No. Strictly speaking, if you look at a mine like this, the only thing that moves is the wheel of the winding tower. I was thinking at the time of the early Charlie Chaplin films, where the camera sits on the tripod and everything else moves in front of it. Or Hitchcock's film Rope, which takes place in one room.

UEZ: How strange that you give us these examples, as in fact you didn't let the camera stay still.

HB: But panning the camera, up and down, right and left--that was no good.

UEZ: When did this experiment take place?

BB: 1973-74.

UEZ: Did you destroy the film in the end?

BB: No.

UEZ: We're talking about a black-and-white film?

BB: No, it was in color.

That's from an interview the Bechers did with Ulf Erdmann Ziegler in 2000. It was originally published in Art in America in 2002.

The Hannover Coal Mine was one of ten mining sites the Bechers photographed as early as 1966, but with a concentration in 1971-74, and presented in an "un-Becheresque" way: by site, not by typology. The Van Abbemuseum acquired one portfolio, 85 prints of the Hannibal Mine in Bochum, in 1976, but most of the hundreds of images from each site were unpublished negatives.

And at the time of the interview, the SK-Stiftung in Cologne [which houses the couple's portfolio archive], began working to process and print images. They did a show, which traveled to the Huis Marseille in the Netherlands. And a catalogue, Zeche Hannibal (Coal Mine Hannibal), which sounds rather interesting.

Hannover Mine 1/2/5, Bochum-Hordel, Ruhr Region, Germany, 1973, Bernd & Hilla Becher [via moma]

As it happens, 200 of over 600 photos the Bechers made at Hannover have just been published in their own book. Zeche Hannover (Hannover Coal Mine) came out in Germany in July.

And it looks like MoMA acquired a selection of the Bechers' mine landscapes in 2008. When seen together, they end up forming a higher-level series, a typology, not of structure, but of site. So they're looking more Becheresque all the time. I'd still like to see that film, though.

It's funny how I think I know the history of the Pasadena Art Museum, when all I'm doing is projecting back and assuming a bunch of stuff based on a bunch of great-sounding anecdotes:

Common_objects_poster.jpgFirst museum shows for Duchamp, Lichtenstein, Warhol; Walter Hopps and the ur-Pop Art show; great posters [Ruscha, Duchamp, Warhol]; Pasadena Brillo Boxes; Serra's massive 1970 fir tree installation; the increasingly intrafamily-related theft of Norton Simon's nephew's Warhols; Lichtenstein signing his Pasadena billboard.

But then I read through Paul Cummings' 1975 AAA interview with John Coplans, artist, Artforum co-founder & editor, and former Pasadena curator and director, and it sounds like the place was a total shitshow:

ladies' auxiliaries overruling curators to keep buying local artists' crap; architects calling the fire department on curators for hanging shows; firemen ripping lights and cords off of Rauschenbergs; trustees scheduling Warhol shows with Castellis behind their curators' and directors' backs; trustees not putting up a dime, or asking their friends to donate; trustees demanding shows that include work they own who then sell that work without notice a few weeks before the opening; and people freaking the hell out when some crazy East Coast guy with a Jewfro drops a dozen fir trees in their precious museum and calls it art.

And on and on. There are definitely some additional sides to the stories I'd love to hear: trustee/collector Robert Rowan, for one. He's the guy who was apparently running the show during the late 60s, and who plotted the Warhol show with Castelli. And whose Temple of Apollo painting was featured so prominently on Lichtenstein's billboard.

Also, Norton Simon, who apparently refused to lend all kinds of stuff as a trustee, but who obviously made a deal at some point, otherwise it'd still be called the Pasadena Art Museum.

Hopps, of course. Irving Blum, who drove around LA with a bottle rack in his trunk, waiting to get Duchamp to sign it. Even though a lot of folks have died, there are still plenty who are alive and perhaps willing to talk.

UPDATE: Well this sounds like a start. Tyler points to Susan Muchnic's 1998 biography Odd Man In: Norton Simon and the Pursuit of Culture, which apparently "comes alive" with accounts of "the bizarrely bitter politics of Los Angeles museums."

It's taking me a while to warm to Tom Houseago's sculptures, but that's fine. It took me a very long time to come around to Rachel Harrison's work, and boy, is it worth it, so I'm happy to give it time.

Meanwhile, this long, impassioned, fascinating, and quite awesome speech he gave at The New School in May as part of his Public Art Fund group exhibition, "Statuesque" [which is up right now, and which just got a too-condescending review in the Times, and which Andrew Russeth just posted a nice commentary about] is worth every one of its ninety-plus minutes.

Talking about him leaving his studio in Belgium? His heartfelt shoutout to the Rubells who, really, wow. Give them grief if you want, but they are some of the most dedicated, hardcore lookers and supporters of artists around, and they continue to be. Also, Leeds football hooligans and Star Wars and late Picasso and bongs for babies? Houseago makes a crazy/infectiously compelling case for his work, and for art itself.

Great stuff that should be seen by more than the 338 YouTube viewers and the 250 people in the New School auditorium who've seen it so far.

After watching the first segment at maryandmatt's blog, I was hooked. Mike Wallace, shooting a 1965 episode of WCBS news show Eye on New York in and about The Museum of Modern Art's blockbuster exhibition of Op Art, "The Responsive Eye." [Part 2 and Part 3]

The music, by Specs Powell, a jazz pianist and percussionist who was on staff at CBS, is as stunning as it is jarring. I kept waiting for irony, or Mondo Cane-style sensationalism, or--worse and more likely--the snide philistinism of Wallace's future 60 Minutes colleague Morley Safer, who infamously sandbagged contemporary art in 1993, resulting in, among other things, Glenn Lowry's awesome shutout of Safer from covering the Museum's 1998 Jackson Pollock retrospective. But there was absolutely none. The entire show was serious and straight-up. Part 3, particularly, focuses on arts coverage in the media, and media's culpability in hyping, distorting, or even fabricating trends for their own purposes. I can almost imagine the pitch meeting for "Eye on New York" as a rebuttal of Time magazine's dismissive coverage of "Op Art." "Responsive Eye" curator William Seitz nails it when he kind of laments to Wallace about the impact of superficial arts coverage:

And this, in a sense, does worry me, because it is really, an impact of a--

Well, it's really the absorption of modern art into modern life. And that's something we all wanted, but, uh, it may change the character of the art a bit, too.

But should this be at all surprising? CBS's founder Bill Paley was the Modern's president at the time. Already a long-time trustee, Paley was tapped by David Rockefeller for the position in 1962, and to succeed him as the first non-family chairman in 1968.

cbs_logo.gifA couple of folks on Twitter have suggested, rightly, that MoMA should screen this awesome program. As it turns out, they already have been, since 1967. That's when the Museum's Junior Council announced the creation of a Television Archive of the Arts, a three year effort which had actually begun identifying, reviewing, and acquiring film and television media about art and artists in 1964. The Archive began when museum officials learned that some of the films and tapes--they don't say which--were in danger of being destroyed or lost.

The Archive was to be housed and made available in the new International Study Center, which was under construction. [It's now demolished, but it stood on the west side of the sculpture garden, about where Taniguchi extended the glass corner of Cesar Pelli's tower. It's funny to remember a building and space so clearly, only to realize that not only is it gone, it's just as likely no one knows what you're even talking about.]

The PDF archive of MoMA's press releases is absolutely incredible, by the way. Here are the announcement of the Archive, and the initial checklist. The first 64 programs from ABC, CBS, NBC, National Educational Television, and NYC's Channel 13 included dozens of artist interviews and documentaries.

One thing that stands out, though, is that only CBS, and only programs like "Eye on New York," donated their own archive of complete interviews and extra footage. Maybe this was because Gordon Hyatt, the producer, was also on the Junior Council's committee which put the archive together.

I'm probably long overdue to point this out, but this is really why I'm writing this post: for almost ten years, I was the co-chairman of MoMA's Junior Associates, which is the successor group to the Junior Council, and I joined the Film Department's committee after stepping down. And yet so much of this history is completely new to me. So much of the Museum's activities and programs are professionalized now, but I can still recognize the deeply ingrained culture of, for lack of a better word, "amateur" involvement. It's really rather remarkable, and it has been for a very long time.

[, thanks andy]

neel_selfportrait.jpgI watched the documentary Alice Neel last night, made in 2007 by the late artist's grandson Andrew Neel. It's pretty good, definitely worth a watch. Documentaries by family members come with a whole set of conflicts and challenges baked in, but Neel succeeds, I think, at identifying the craters and unexploded mines as he maps out the family's emotional landscape.

Neel's story is intense--John Perreault, variously a critic, colleague, friend, and sprawling nude subject of the artist, thinks it's long overdue for a Hollywood adaptation--and it's hard to imagine that the definitive significance of the paintings left behind is somehow "worth" the suffering and abuse and privations endured by Neel's kids (and grandkids). But then, that's not a fair tradeoff. Neel's rightwing son Richard is right to recognize that if it weren't this set of problems, it would've been something else. Neel had to make her art; it was an obsession, really. And being able to make it, Perreault argues, made Neel a "better mother (and person) than if she had lived a horrid life of creative frustration. And took it out on her sons."

But that's not the point. I mean, it is, but what I was wanting to post was the hilarious interview with Alex Katz, who Andrew effectively cast as "Figurative Painter #4," When Katz finally manages to stop talking about his own work and how actually, he was doing whatever it was Neel was doing, only earlier, all he can say about Neel is that she was "an angry housewife." You stay classy, Alex.

While Googling the quote, I found thanks to Time Out London, that Neel and Katz are having a portrait facedown at the moment. Though it's hardly a fair fight. The Whitechapel Gallery's having an Alice Neel retrospective, while Katz is showing new work at the National Portrait Gallery, including this lovely work, his portrait of Anna Wintour.



A couple of weeks ago, I watched Henning Lohner's film essay/documentary about working with John Cage to make One11 and 103, Cage's only feature film project, completed just before he passed away in 1992.

It's on YouTube, chopped up in several parts, and mostly in German [One11 and 103 was made for German TV], but now Ubu has posted the English version, so you non-Germans can actually figure out what's going on. [ One11 and 103 is online, too, though it has the 3sat logo burned into the upper corner, which turns the whole thing into a 90-minute promotional bumper for the station.]

For One11, Cage and his collaborator Andrew Culver used a computer program to generate a series of chance operations, instructions for light placement and movement within an empty soundstage; for camera movement and positioning; shot length; and for editing.

Narrative- and nearly content-free, the 17-segment film was accompanied by 103, a 17-segment orchestral composition that was also based on chance operations. The film's title follows Cage's numbering system: the eleventh composition for one performer, in this case, the camera man. So while Cage explains the film as being "about the effect of light in a room," it's also very much about the perception, movement, and recording of the cinematographer, Van Carlson.


Cage made the point to Lohner early on that his idea wouldn't "waste" any film. And sure enough, it turns out the final shooting ratio was an astonishing 1.4:1, with less than 600 meters of extra footage--which, we are told, was used in the opening and closing credits. It's almost like Cage went to film school during the Depression.

The obvious appeal of an abstract light show aside, watching all this self-conscious randomness [I've been going through and replacing "random" with "chance," since that's the specific term Cage uses. I think there's a meaningful difference.] really puts the conscious decisions of location and content into high relief. It also makes me want to remake One11 in another environment and see what happens. I'd also wonder how many more decisions could be randomized, and to what effect? Eventually, if you put a decision factor into play, the randomness of it will generate a distinctive effect, if not an actual style. It's one of the conundrums of Cage's work that I like picking through.

One11 and 103: the making of []
You know, at $27, it wouldn't kill you to buy Mode Records' DVD version of John Cage: One11 with 103, either, from The Complete John Cage [amazon]

NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT UPDATE: You know, posting this really seems like a departure for Ubu. I mean, Ubu began posting vintage, impossible-to-buy-or-even-find works, but with One11 and 103, they basically ripped a commercial DVD published in 2006 by a small, well-known, high-quality independent publisher of modern music. Am I missing something here?

UPDATE UPDATE: Yeah, Ubu's versions of both One11 and Making of One11 first appeared on The Sound of Eye, an equally amazing art film and experimental music blog, albeit one with a different approach to posting works that are readily available in the commercial market. Ubu announced a collaboration with Sound of Eye a little while ago.

In anticipation of Creative Time Summit II--it's October 9-10, just a few weeks away!--I've been watching some of the talks from last fall's Summit, organized by Nato Thompson held at the NY Public Library. [For an overview, check out Frieze's write-up of the quick-fire speechifying marathon.] Like the Oscars, speeches are cut off right on time by pleasant music. It can be kind of harsh [sorry, Thomas Hirschhorn and guy from Chicago's Temporary Services making his big, final pitch for help] but rules are rules.

So far, I've found the longer [20m vs 7m] keynote speeches to be the most fascinating. From the super-low viewer numbers to date, the fan club is pretty small. Anyway, watch these and pass them around:

Teddy Cruz, the Tijuana/San Diego architectural investigation guy has the single most intense 6:30 min talk I think I've ever seen. Almost makes up for not being able to see his slides.

Art historian Morris Dickstein's keynote about Evans, Steinbeck, Astaire, and art of the Depression was interesting and timely, easily the most wrongly underappreciated, too:

Okwui Enwezor's talk was smart and incisive, unsurprisingly, and made me wish he'd talked longer--and about more than a single documentary photo used by Alfredo Jaar.

But by far the best, the most moving, the one that got my head nodding and made me want to write things down for later, was Sharon Hayes' reminiscence of moving to New York in 1991, smack into the middle of a teeming downtown art/activist community dealing with the AIDS crisis. It was gripping, and made me remember how important, vital, art can be, not for the the objects it generates, but for the effect it has on people, singularly and together, at a moment and in a place.

Creative Time New York YouTube Channel [youtube]

July 21, 2010

Dali's Pen Is


While scoping out the 1974 video art conference at MoMA, "Open Circuits, the Future of Television," filmmaker Jose Montes Baquer decided that for some reason, Salvador Dali should be the artist he would collaborate with for his documentary. Baquer tells the story of gaining audience with Dali at the St Regis to pitch the project in an all-too-short interview with Christopher Jones for Tate, Etc. Magazine in 2007:

Then Dalí took a pen from his pocket. It was plastic and ivory coloured with a copper band at the centre. He said: "In this clean and aseptic country, I have been observing how the urinals in the luxury restrooms of this hotel have acquired an entire range of rust colours through the interaction of the uric acid on the precious metals that are astounding. For this reason, I have been regularly urinating on the brass band of this pen over the past weeks to obtain the magnificent structures that you will find with your cameras and lenses. By simply looking at the band with my own eyes, I can see Dalí on the moon, or Dalí sipping coffee on the Champs Élysées. Take this magical object, work with it, and when you have an interesting result, come see me. If the result is good, we will make a film together."
The 2008 MoMA exhibit, "Dali and Film," says this quote came from a letter from the artist. The resulting film, Impressions of Upper Mongolia, Hommage to Raymond Roussel, concerns the relationship between macro and microscopic, and was shown on Spanish TV in 1976. As interesting as it is, Baquer's interview doesn't exactly help make sense of what the film actually turned out to be. But the mentions of painting over film stills, and Vermeer, and the Dutch penchant for mapmaking as an art form, almost persuade me to put up with Dali's pompous shenanigans to watch it.

Dali: The Great Collaborator []

July 7, 2010

On Gilbert & George


I didn't make it the first time, of course, but I did see Gilbert & George's reprise of "The Singing Sculpture" in 1991 at Sonnabend. It left a pretty deep impression on me in a way their photo compositions really haven't. And there was always something about their conceptual conceit of being "living sculptures," and not separating art and life that seemed a little precious.

But holy crap--no pun intended--have you seen these guys work? No wonder art and life aren't separated, they have turned their entire life into the most systematic, all-encompassing, hyperefficient artmaking process I think I've ever seen or heard of.

I watched a 2000 interview/documentary/archive visit with them ["un film de Hans Ulrich Obrist," seriously], and I imagined Hans Ulrich dying right there on the spot and going into archival heaven. It was that intense and organized and incredible. When Gilbert [the non-balding one] is talking, George is training his gaze straight into the camera, as if he were hammering the point home. It's just--just watch it.

Fortunately, it sounds like the boys have finally gotten a little digitization in their process. Robert Ayers visited with them in 2007, and they now use a computer and a hi-res scanner to compose their images using the tens of thousands of photos they have taken and categorized and archived over the decades.

[One thing that I wonder about, from the movie: George holds up a model of an unidentified gallery which would house a show they've conceived of their entire 1977 series, Dirty Words Pictures, which to that point had never been seen together. The first person to identify the location would win "a special prize," he said.

So how'd that turn out? Because less than two years later, the Serpentine did show the Dirty Words Pictures, but that gallery mockup doesn't really remind me of the Serpentine.]


Anyway, if they weren't interesting enough, in 1975, on the occasion of a show in Dusseldorf, they commissioned Gerhard Richter to paint their portrait. He ended up painting eight of them, using melanges and overlays of various photographs. Anthony d'Offay donated a pair to Tate Modern, where they are in the Richter Rooms. So strange, but the National Gallery of Australia's, above, is even stranger.

The Secret Files of Gilbert & George (2000), 35min, dir. Hans-Ulrich Obrist []
[images: Gilbert, George, all 1975, all Gerhard Richter. Top: via Tate, above: via]

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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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