April 15, 2012

Our Man In Venice

I've liked this explanation Gerhard Richter gave in 1972 to Rolf Schön about the relationship in his work between photography and painting for a long time, but it's been particularly awesome lately:

RS: How do you stand in relation to illusion? Is imitating photographs a distancing device, or does it create the appearance of reality?

Illusion in the trompe-l'oeil sense is not one of my techniques, and the effect isn't illusionistic. I'm not trying to imitate a photograph; I'm trying to make one. And if I disregard the assumption that a photograph is a piece of paper exposed to light, then I am practising photography by other means: I'm not producing paintings that remind you of a photograph but producing photographs. And, seen in this way, those of my paintings that have no photographic source (the abstracts, etc.) are also photographs.

How objective, in the documentary sense, is your photographic painting?

It isn't. First of all, only photographs can be objective, because they relate to an object without themselves being objects. [hmm, well. -ed.] However, I can also see them as objects and even make them into objects--by painting them, for instance. From that point onwards they cannot be, and art not meant to be, objective any more--nor are they meant to document anything whatever, whether reality or a view of reality. They are the reality, the view, the object. They can only be documented.

Richter's interview with Schoen was first published under the headline, "Unser Mann in Venedig [Our Man In Venice]," in Deutsche Zeitung, on April 14, 1972, exactly 40 years ago. It was included that summer in the catalogues for both the German Pavilion and the Venice Biennale.

It's also included in both The Daily Practice of Painting and the reboot edition, Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961 - 2007 [pp. 59-60].

April 15, 2012

Weiwei's Red Lantern

An interesting detail from The Economist's report on Ai Weiwei's house arrest, and the irony of the police order to stop broadcasting his own webcams:

And he knows of at least 15 police surveillance cameras mounted within 100 metres of his home. Spotting them is easy, as the police have helpfully chosen to decorate each camera with a bright red lantern.
Which can be seen in David Gray's photo for Reuters, as published on msnbc's China blog, Behind The Wall:


One thing, though: this tweet from March 27 seems to indicate that Ai hung the 15 lanterns himself, not that the police did.

In January, when Ai was taken in for questioning and accused of "damaging" the CCTVs trained on his studio, he said that "he had once hung a red lantern under one of the cameras 'to make them look nicer'."

And in December, BusinessWeek reported that only a single CCTV camera, the one in front of Ai's door, had a red lantern on it, "marking National Day of the People's Republic of China." Which would be October 1st.

So did the police let Ai put up 14 more lanterns? Or did they replace Ai's lanterns with their own? Do we call these lanterns knockoffs?

House Arrest in China: Orwell, Kafka and Ai Weiwei [economist via new-aesthetic]

Annunciation after Titian, CR 343-1, 1973, collection Hirshhorn Museum, image:

I confess, I love Gerhard Richter in the 70s. Here are some of the best/funniest excerpts from a interview he did with art historian/curator Gislind Nabakowski that was first published in Heute Kunst in 1974. The subject was Annunciation after Titian, a series Richter painted in 1973, after visiting Venice in 1972 for the Biennale.

The first in the series, above, is in the Hirshhorn's collection. The series has not been shown together since it was first exhibited in 1973 at the Galleria la Bertesca in Milan.

GN:What made you choose a fifteenth-century painting as a model and create a sequence based on Titian's Annunciation?

GR: Because there's something about this painting, or any painting, that grabs me if they're good--irrespective of the impact they had at the time, why they were made, the story behind them. I don't know what motivated the artists, which means that the paintings have an intrinsic quality. I think Goethe called it the "essential dimension", the thing that makes great works of art great.

I beg your pardon?!

John Powers has been on me for months to read ">Nicholas de Monchaux's Fashioning Apollo, the incredible and unlikely history of the development of the Apollo spacesuits.

And I have been meaning to, I swear, but this insane photo may be just the thing to push me over the edge. Because in his otherwise heady interview with de Monchaux, Geoff Manaugh only captions the images as being from the book.

Which I will have to buy, to find out what this three-story dolly was doing in this massive, origami-ended space lined with sound-deadening foam pyramids. Because seriously, holy smokes.

Spacesuit Interview with Nicholas de Monchaux [bldgblog]


I've got a few reservations, but I'm really quite smitten with London-based Scottish artist Robert Montgomery's poetically critical billboard artworks.

The one above was unfurled at a Stop The War protest in Trafalgar Square last October. It reads:

If the stark white-on-black text and the clouds and the protest didn't already remind me of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, this particular photo, which ran on Purple's blog, even has a bird in flight in the upper right corner.

Montgomery's standard M.O. is to paste his billboards guerrilla-style, without permission, on top of existing advertisements. But for
an exhibition last month at KK Outlet, the gallery got authorization to install a series of three billboards with something of an Occupy theme. [Occupy had been occupying nearby at Shoreditch, and the artist had a collaborative project planned, but, as he told the Independent, "they got turfed out on 25 January so that didn't happen."]


The deployment of poetry as protest takes its cue, Montgomery readily acknowledges, from the Situationists and Guy Debord, which, baby and bathwater and all, I will accept. My ambivalence, such as it is, really has more to do with Montgomery's apparent activism on the fashionista front, his day jobs at Dazed and Confused, his carousing with Olivier Zahm, even the galleries that tout their Occupy shows one month, and their design studios working for LVMH the next.

But who's to complain, seeing as how I followed the linkstream to his work while surfing for extraordinary calf leather shoes myself?

Let he who is without consumerist sin throw the first stone. Is being the global street fashion industrial complex's social conscience is any more damning than being the art world's anything?

Montgomery's disarming, enticing, depressing, enlightening poems are still there, still catching advertising-conditioned passersby, only to release them with an unsettling thought in their heads.

Givin' me 500 Errors right now, though: Robert Montgomery portfolio site []
It turned out this way cos you dreamed it this way []
Robert Montgomery opening and installation shots via KK Outlet's flickr [flickr]
The artist vandalising advertising with poetry []

February 20, 2012

'Collectors Are My Power Base'

It's well worth looking at the fuller context of that awesome Jeff Koons blurb about abstraction and luxury being the guard dogs of the upper class. [most recently tweeted by @berfrois] It comes from a late 1988 interview with Brooks Adams and Karen Marta, who were then working under the name Burke & Hare, which was published in Parkett 19:

I try to be effective as a leader. I'm very interested in leadership. I think that my own work has been helping to direct a dialogue, and it's been participating in it for quite some time. I'm anteing up the pressure and trying to increase the stakes continually. I've found that collectors are my power base. You know, I'm able to work as a function of thier support of my work. I think that they have to have some interest in debasement and its political possibilities, even for their own use. I mean, it really has to be for their own use. I think that I give them a sense of freedom. I don't think that I'm debasing them and not leaving them a place to go. I'm creating a whole new area for them once they're feeling free. I see it as my job to keep the bourgeoisie out of equilibrium letting them form a new aristocracy.

I think it's necessary that the work be bought, that I have the political power to operate. I enjoy the seduction of the sale. I enjoy the idea that my objectives are being met. I like the idea of the political power base of art, but it's not just a money thing. It has to be a total coordination of everything, and money is a certain percent of it, maybe 20% of it. Look, abstraction and luxury are the guard dogs of the upper class. The upper class wants people to have ambition and gumption because, if you do, you will participate and you'll move through society into a different class structure. But eventually, through the tools of abstraction and luxury, they will debase you, and they will get your chips away from you.

1988 was right after his Banality show, the Complete Spot Paintings of its day, which opened, outrageously, in three galleries at once in New York [Sonnabend], Berlin [Max Hetzler], and Chicago [Donald Young]. But it was before Made In Heaven, it was before he basically went bankrupt--and nearly took Deitch with him--making his balloon dogs and whatnot. It was a Koonsianism several orders of magnitude less intense that the Koonsianism we see today.

Jeff and Felix sittin' in a tree. P-A-R-K-E-T-T

His political interpretation also resonates with Felix Gonzalez-Torres' discussion from 1994:

At this point I do not want to be outside the structure of power, I do not want to be the opposition, the alternative. Alternative to what? To power? No. I want to have power. It's effective in terms of change. I want to be like a virus that belongs to the institution. All the ideological apparatuses are, in other words, replicating themselves, because that's the way the culture works.

First, Happy Birthday, Mr. Richter.

Destroyed 1964 Richter painting, image from Gerhard Richter Archkiv via Spiegel

I don't know if Joerg knew at the time he first tweeted about it--he is plugged in and German, so who knows?--but I certainly had no idea when I picked up on the topic of Gerhard Richter "destroying" paintings by painting over them. But it turns out that the 74 paintings listed as "[DESTROYED]" on Richter's website are only a fraction, barely half, of the paintings he's actually destroyed so far.

In an interview with Ulrike Knöfel for Spiegel, Richter talks about the 60 or so photo-based paintings he destroyed in the 1960s during a very self-critical period of his career. Not to worry, though, because, being Gerhard Richter, he photographed them first

These photos, most of which were never published, are now either in the Gerhard Richter Archive in the eastern German city of Dresden, where the painter was born, or in a box in his studio in the western city of Cologne. They are testaments to his refusal to compromise.
Mhmm. Though the ambivalence/regret/equivocation Richter expresses in the interview reveal that a refusal to compromise is not automatically a win. Couldn't he have just put them away and not looked at them for a while instead?

None were apparently included in Richter's first catalogue raisonne, the source for his website's "[DESTROYED]" list. And many appear to date from the earliest phase of his recognized work, 1962-4. Oh but wait, his much-discussed 1962 Hitler IS online, described as "believed to have been destroyed."

Hitler, 1962, image via

That seems like a new category, loaded with ambiguity. I like it much better than "[DESTROYED]" or even "Richter painted over this work in ___. The painting is now entitled ____." Which, it turns out, has another example:

Today, Richter says he's surprised at how many works he continued to destroy after the 1960s. Perhaps he will return to one motif or another, he adds, noting that "otherwise it would be a shame." One painting, in particular, comes to mind. It was painted in 1990 and shows two young people standing in front of Madrid's Museo del Prado, Spain's national art museum. However, two years later, he painted over this work, turning "Prado, Madrid" into "Abstract Painting, 1992."
Which, yeah, there is no Prado, Madrid in the CR, and there are at least 279 Abstraktes Bild done in 1992, so, this'll take a bit of digging. I'll update the post when/if I find it. [I'll have to do an update post anyway, because I've already found at least two other overpainted paintings.]

This painting over thing is one thing. The other, which I'm kind of fascinated by now, is the relationship between painting and photography as it plays out in these destroyed paintings. Which, of course, still exist as the artist's photographs. It's like Barthes' Camera Lucida; they're gone, but not. I can't tell if this is Spiegel's interpretation or reportage:

Still, since his urge to destroy some of his paintings also made him feel uneasy, he photographed them before doing so.
But someone has to have already looked at this backup, insurance, documentary, archival, post-mortem, forensic, ghost aspect of the way these two mediums intertwine. Right?

Photo of destroyed Gerhard Richter painting, 1960s, by Gerhard Richter, image: Gerhard Richter Archiv Dresden via Spiegel

Meanwhile, the obvious thing--and isn't that what I'm here to point out?--is to recreate these destroyed Richters. Whether you paint the archival photo, crop marks and background and all, in a meta-Richterian gesture, or just try your darnedest to bring their destroyed, painted subjects back to life, I'll have to figure out. But paintings based on a painter's photographs of paintings based on photographs? What's not to love?

It'd be trivial to the point of meaninglessness to just print the Spiegel jpgs on canvas, or to order them up from Chinese paint mills. But I'd be interested to see just how much more meaning could be gleaned by painstakingly copying them by hand. Even if the answer is very little, that's still an important datapoint.

His Own Harshest Critic | A New Look at Works Destroyed by Gerhard Richter [ via bigthink]

February 8, 2012

Douglas Gordon On Painting

Got posts stacked up like flights at LaGuardia, but I can't get past these paintings by Douglas Gordon [right?] coming up at Christie's London sale next week.


They're 1-m square monochromes of acrylic housepaint with a text and date that's a reference to a work by another artist. Gordon did these particular paintings around 1993, the same time he was working on his awesome, breakthrough film installation, 24 Hour Psycho. Which, in retrospect, makes it a tough year for a Douglas painting to get much attention. But yet they kind of nagged at me.

And then as I found one of the only discussions of Gordon's paintings, in a 1993 interview with Thomas Lawson for Frieze, it sounded slightly familiar. But of course, I'd not noticed it much, if at all, at the time. Here's part of that discussion, which segues so nicely from the one project to the other:

DG: The idea is that these paintings, the way I imagine them, do have a 'transcendental' aspect, although I hate that word. Part of the background here is the whole range of 'endgame' painting theories, you know, like the Peter Halley/Sigmar Polke/Gerhard Richter positions, and also the Last Exit stuff that you wrote. These 'thinking' painters were important to me, partly because of the whole fuss about 'Glasgow Painting' in the 80s.

The paintings that you have seen have come about as a result of the attitudes and strategies that I had developed through working outside of a studio; you become steeped in a research, which isn't based on physical materials.

I was in a show in New York a while ago, and it turned out that the space was the old Betty Parsons Gallery. So I did some research on the place and started making lists of the paintings that had hung on those walls during the 40s and 50s. I ended up making a series of paintings that related directly to these works by people like Ad Reinhardt and Ellsworth Kelly. But although this series came out of a response to a situation, the thing about painting in general is that it satisfies a desire to make work free of a specific context.

TL: I think I'm hearing you admit that you actually make paintings on spec, just like a studio painter would?

DG: Yes. You've found me out. But my premise is to take the field of painting as a context in itself - you know, you say the word 'painting' and hundreds of expectations or prejudices come to mind. It's obvious that my interest in painting is not so much in the practical, physical side, as in the idea of it.

I'm interested in the fine line between my intentions and the perceptions of others; that moment when someone encounters something and realises that there is more to it than meets the eye. I'm interested in the moment when someone opens the letter, recognises that it is for them, and starts to wonder why they got it, and what it really means. The same can happen with these paintings: someone sees the piece that uses the title of a Baldessari book and thinks, well, yes Brutus did kill Caesar. But in 1976? And isn't this the title of another artwork, by someone else, somewhere else, and so on? I would say that all of the work plays with recognition and expectation in this way.

TL: Is there a particular pay-off with the paintings if you crack the code, or is it enough to know generally that these texts refer to works by other artists not on show here? Is it enough to know that there is a clue, without needing to know what the clue is?

DG: I don't think there's a particular pay-off. People who don't recognize the text as a title to a specific piece of art can still have a certain intrigue to play with. If you didn't know that Slow Motion 1969 refers to a piece by Robert Morris, I think you can still find something that will resonate. Maybe people who aren't trapped in an art history background can find more.

TL: Do you fetishise your material? Are they well made stretchers, well prepared linen grounds, and all that?

DG: I don't make a big deal of production values. The paintings simply have to be clean and pragmatic so that there is nothing about them to distract from the ideas they contain. I use available materials and choose colour from a standard household paint chart. I just want the paintings to appear as neutral grounds, no drips, no spots.

TL: I don't know. By the time you get done they'll be agitated with blobs and cross hatches, and you'll be talking up a storm about expressivity.

DG: Probably. Working with shaped canvases, and everything. The paintings are an important project for me, alongside the other things. I'm interested in the 'big' media. All those traditions with too much baggage. For instance, I've been interested in film for a long time. I always wanted to make an epic as my first film - a real movie, not Super 8 or anything. I thought it might be interesting to take an existing film and re-make it. I wanted a picture with a story which was very familiar to a broad audience; so I started to work with Psycho. What I decided to do was alter the narrative of the original by making it 24 hours long, and without sound.

Sounds crazy, but it just might work!

Hello, It's Me! [frieze]
Feb 16, 2012, Lot 241: Douglas Gordon, five paintings, est. £50,000 - £70,000 [christies]

A couple of things that I still wonder about about Rauschenberg's Erased de Kooning Drawing:

What did de Kooning think? The story of making it is always told by Rauschenberg, or from his side. Did de Kooning ever tell the story? Did he ever see the result? Or talk about it? Did anyone ever ask him about it? I've never found any reference at all.

When did Rauschenberg actually make it? The date's all over the map. SFMOMA currently says it's 1953. For a long time, it was dated 1953-55. James Meyer had it as 1951-2, but I don't think I've seen anyone else put it that early. Even the extraordinary timeline in John Elderfield's de Kooning retrospective catalogue has only the basics of Rauschenberg's travel schedule and his account to go on ["Probably April or After," it says, since April 1953 was when Rauschenberg returned from his European trip with Twombly.]

[UPDATENever mind. I got the EdKD dating ambiguity mixed up with Johns' Flag, which has been variously dated between 1954 and '56, whereas the date for EdKD has consistently been given as 1953 from its very earliest forays into the public view. Thanks to Sarah Roberts, research curator at SFMOMA, who took a moment from her multiyear project documenting Rauschenberg's work, to point out my error.]

What did people at the time think? Who actually ever saw it? Even someone as early to the work as Leo Steinberg apparently only talked to Bob about it on the phone.

And what about Johns? Who knew about his involvement? What is up with that? For forty-plus years, while Rauschenberg claimed or let others write or publish that he came up with the title, and drew the hand-lettered label, Johns stayed silent about his role in the collaboration. But others surely knew, certainly in the early years when the work was taking shape.

Just before the holidays, I got in touch with Edward Meneeley, and artist and photographer who became friends with many artists and dealers in 1950s and 60s New York because he photographed their artwork. Meneeley created Portable Gallery, a subscription slide service that provided regular installments of art images to libraries, colleges, galleries, and collectors.

I found him because it was his monthly newsletter, Portable Gallery Bulletin, to which Jasper Johns wrote in 1962, explaining that it was artist's prerogative, plus an agreement between himself and Rauschenberg, not "politics," behind the refusal to let Portable Gallery publish and distribute slides of Short Circuit.

In a multi-chapter biography published online by Joel Finsel, Meneleey says that he was friends with both Johns and Rauschenberg in the late 1950s, and that he had an affair with the latter behind the former's back. [He tells Finsel of Johns coming to his loft one morning looking for Rauschenberg, and inviting him in to talk about it, all the while Bob is hiding in Meneeley's bedroom, eavesdropping on the conversation. Which sounds like a dick move to me, but there you go.]

Anyway, after talking to Meneeley for a while about Short Circuit--which he first saw in 1955, when it was first exhibited at the Stable Gallery--I asked him what people thought or said at the time about Erased de Kooning Drawing.

"Everyone at the Cedar Bar knew," he told me, but they thought it was just a stunt, a joke. After finishing it, Rauschenberg didn't do much with it or, as Meneeley put it, "he didn't know what to do with it." Until Jasper came along.

[Remember, Bob apparently acquired the original de Kooning sketch of a woman sometime after April 1953. He met and quickly became involved with Johns in the winter of 1954.]

In Meneeley's recollection of the time, it was Jasper who basically saved Erased de Kooning Drawing from ending up as a barroom one-liner. He mounted it, gave it a title and a label, or really, a drawing of a label. "Bob made it," Meneeley told me, "But Jasper made it art."

Which is why I'm interested in hearing what people thought at the time it was made.

December 21, 2011

The VW Years, Ch. 3: John Cage

The VW bus makes many appearances in John Cage's own writings, especially his tour diaries in Empty Words: Writings '73-78:

After winning the mushroom quiz in Italy, I bought a Volkswagen microbus for the company. Joe's was open but said it wasn't. At Sofu Teshigahara's house, room where we ate had two parts: one Japanese; the other Western. Also, two different dinners; we ate them both.

We descended like a plague of locusts on the Brownsville Eat-All-You-Want restaurant ($1.50). Just for dessert Steve Paxton had five pieces of pie. Merce asked the cashier: How do you manage to keep this place going? "Most people," she replied rather sadly, "don't eat as much as you people." [p. 80]


Tarpaulin centered on the bus's luggage rack, luggage fitted on it. Ends'n'sides were folded over; long ropes used to wrap the cargo up. [p. 82]


We were waiting to be ferried across the Mississippi. We had nothing to eat. We waited two hours. It was cold and muddy. When we decided to leave, Rick and Remy had to push the bus up the hill. Later we learned that the ferry service had been discontinued two years before. [p. 90]


Pontpoint: the company ate by candlelight. Everywhere we've gone, we've gone en masse. A borrowed private care took two, two such cars took six to eight, the Volkswagen bus took nine. Now airplanes and chartered buses take any number of us. Soon (gas rationing) we'll travel like Thoreau by staying where we are, each in his own. [p. 95]

In Richard Kostelanetz's John Cage: an anthology, the dance critic Stephen Smoliar recounted one story Cage told the audience at opening night of the company's 1970 season at BAM:
The Cunningham Company used to make transcontinental tours in a Volkswagen Microbus. Once, when we drove up to a gas station in Ohio and the dancers, as usual, all piled out to go to the toilets and exercise around the pumps, the station attendant asked me whether we were a group of comedians. I said, "No. We're from New York."
This pushes back the end of The VW Years to the 60s at some point.

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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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