October 3, 2011

Creative America


This interior shot of Fuller/Sadao's US Pavilion at Expo67 almost has it all: installation view of the giant paintings Lichtenstein, Newman, Warhol and Johns made for Alan Solomon's American Painting Now; plus a giant photomural of the moon, perfect for posing in front of.

There's another photomural, earthrise from the moon, on the other side, which was a backdrop for the lunar landscape diorama. You can see it in Carl Harstad's photo:


And the satelloon-like weather balloons were just out of both pictures' edge. Fortunately, Bob Charlton's mother captured them below:

American Pavilion - Expo '67

The underside approach for the lunar platform has this awesome installation [image from fan train's flickr], a series of panels or canvases with abstracted elements of the American flag. It's a little Ellsworth Kelly, a little Helio Oiticica, and a little Richard Lippold at Lincoln Center, all rolled into one piece of exhibition filler created, I assume, by Cambridge Seven.

American Pavilion

This other photo from Carl Harstad of the Hollywood section of Cambridge Seven's exhibit features, what? I don't know. I'd guess it's left over from Joseph Manciewicz's disastrous Cleopatra shoot, in front of a giant, multipanel headshot of Humphrey Bogart.


Cambridge's exhibition carried the overall title, Creative America, and I think it very successfully steamrolled everything--paintings, photomurals, dioramas, film props, spaceships, cultural effluvia--into a single, unified, spectacularized drive-by aesthetic experience. And it was all done by and for the US Government. As I go on about reconsidering 'non-art' things like photomurals and satelloons in an art context, I keep coming back to the Expo67 pavilion. At one point, it was all art, or something like it. And vice versa.

[note: I've seen it elsewhere, but I took that top photo from former USIA design director Jack Masey's powerpoint deck on the history of postwar World's Fairs, which he presented last October at the National Building Museum. I'm about to listen to his archived talk now.]

September 27, 2011

Off The Golden Record


I was stoked to see [thanks to Paul's link from the Walker's Off Center] that Trevor Paglen included Murmurs of Earth on the reading list he shared with art21. The book is the authoritative account of the making of the Golden Record, the galactic greeting devised by a committee led by Carl Sagan and attached to the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes launched in 1977.

Designed to last a billion years in the vacuum of space, the gold-plated copper records each contain messages and information about life on Earth for whomever might come across the spaceships, which left the solar system in 2008. The disc includes messages from President Jimmy Carter and UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim; greetings recorded in 55 languages; nature sounds; and 90 minutes of music [plus one unauthorized, scrawled greeting from the recording tech]. It also includes 116 images, in both black and white and color. The cover includes a map to Earth and instructions for playing the disc. It also includes a stylus.

Which is all great. But what I love most, beside the disc itself, which is gorgeous, is the fact that the images are all recorded in analogue. The upper right quadrant of the cover explains how to decode the rasterized data, one line at a time, into a 512-line image. Color images are encoded three times, in RGB, for reassembly.


The images themselves are mostly information, science, nature, not art, except in the largest sense, that the entire, inspiring folly, a golden object made in a bid for connecting across time, is an artistic project. Or as Carter put it:

This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.
And there are a few images which aspire for aesthetic distinction, like Wayne Miller's photo of his own child being born [above], which was included in Family of Man, the landmark photo exhibition Miller curated with Edward Steichen at MoMA.

For my money, though, you can't beat the idea itself; I wonder how these objects, and how this content would be received. As objects, machines, sounds, images. I want to output the images from the disk and see what they turn out like. Maybe make some prints, even. Truth be told, I want a Golden Record of my own.

So far, I haven't found one. You have to imagine that NASA didn't take delivery of all the copies, did they? Aren't there a few hanging around in the libraries or attics of Sagan's committee members? Has there ever been a facsimile edition? [I think not.] Don't you think there should be? [Yes.]

Copyright holders for recordings and images on the disc had originally only given permission for playback outside the solar system [seriously]. But after many years of negotiation, Sagan also managed to clear all the music and all but one image for a CD-ROM, which accompanied a 1992 reissue of Murmurs of Earth.

And so it goes that the US intellectual property industry somehow managed to outcrazy the idea of communicating with extraterrestrials by sending records into outer space. Nice hustle, fellas.

Inspired Reading | Trevor Paglen []
Voyager Golden Record [wikipedia]
"Please note that these images are copyright protected. Reproduction without permission of the copyright holder is prohibited." []
Buy Murmurs of Earth in some format [amazon] shows all 116 images []

September 15, 2011

Small World Keeps On Turning

image: nymag

The awesomeness of David Byrne's giant, inflatable globe shoved under the High Line gives us a good chance to look back.

To remember David Byrne's pioneering show of PowerPoint Art at Pace in 2003.


And also to hope that Joshua Foer's got someone updating his "A Minor History of Giant Spheres," which is, of course, my too-infrequently cited source of inspiration for my satelloon fixation.


Oh brother, I have this giant post mostly written about how Leo Steinberg's awesome 1997 lecture Encounters With Rauschenberg includes all these references that show that, not only did he recognize the intimate interrelationships between Johns' and Rauschenberg's early works, he also identified hints of dialogue, reference, in works made decades later.

And of course, I'm referring to Steinberg's discussion of The Ancient Incident, the 1981 Combine/sculpture of a pair of lover/chairs pyramided atop some old steps, which is going to be in Gagosian's Rauschenberg show in Paris next month. [Hold on, unless that's the bronze replica Rauschenberg made of the sculpture in 2005. I think it may be. Except I just read the title of the image file, so no. 9/14 update: Except I just read the caption on the email announcement of the same show, and sure enough, this is patinated bronze, and, confusingly, is also titled The Ancient Incident (Kabal American Zephyr), but it has a date, 1981-2006, like it's the same work, except it's a different one, or. Anyway.]

I was really going to publish it, but it feels a little, I don't know, sappy, hokey, romantic, even. But not crazy, AFAIK. As I write out these 2.25 paragraphs, I'm starting to wonder if the best way to put the info out there isn't as an annotated, footnoted, republished version of Encounters With Rauschenberg, which reveals the lecture to actually be a secret, epic poem of the founding of Bob & Jap's hometown of Zembla. I so totally called it.

But while busily not writing that, then, and worrying my over-conversational voice, over-excited art historical imagination, and my over-reliance on semicolons and footnotes is a sign of my over-doing it on the David Foster Wallace homage front--but see, Maud, my footnotes are from Pale Fire, not Infinite Jest! I don't think I'm not copying Wallace; I think I'm not copying Nabokov! Nice work in the NYT Mag, btw!--John Powers matter-of-factly produced the greatest post ever. On his own blog, Star Wars Modern.

It's all about the connections between previously overlooked satelloon mentions by Arthur C. Clarke and J.G. Ballard and Robert Smithson and Spiral Jetty. And with some steampunk Contact thrown in for free. I bow my head in awe and gratitude, and I look forward to seeing you back here after you've finished reading it.

And then I didn't post it last night because, well, Libya, of course. Did anyone else notice this crazy, masking tape rebel flag behind these doctors treating a pro-Qadaffi soldier? [nyt/ap]


And then I didn't fix the post because I was interested in Art In America's report [via rkjd] that several months ago, John Chamberlain and Gerard Malanga quietly settled their lawsuit over the sale of 315 Johns, which Malanga and like a million other people insisted was his work, made of tons of silkscreened Chamberlain portraits as "an homage" to Warhol, but which Chamberlain claimed he had traded for with Warhol, and that Andy, he, and Henry Geldzahler had cooked it up in the first place, which is how Chamberlain managed to get it authenticated--and which he sold for $3 million at Art Basel "to an unidentified collector." Mhmm.


My favorite part is how the case got resolved "a few weeks before the May 5 opening of Chamberlain's first show at Gagosian." Actually, that's my second favorite part. My favorite part is the awesome quote Malanga's lawyer Peter Stern gave AiA:

"[T]here has been no retraction of allegations in the complaint and no one has acknowledged that they are in possession of or know the whereabouts of the painting.
Well now. Glad that's all cleared up.


I've had Michelle Kuo's interview with Robert Breer [artforum, nov 2010] open in my browser tabs for months now, ever since Steve Roden posted about his incredible little toy Float, which was sold at MoMA's gift shop in 1970, at the same time one of Breer's original Pepsi Pavilion Floats had been liberated from Expo'70 in Osaka and set loose in the Abby Aldrich Sculpture Garden. [A PDF of The Modern's Aug. 25 press release for the piece, titled Osaka I, said the toy Floats would be sold for $7.95, or two for $15," in the Museum's Christmas Shop.]


Kuo's is one of the best interviews I've seen with Breer; most never got past the basic, "how did you get into animation?" "So you lived in Paris on the GI Bill?" chestnuts. With what is now a terrible lack of urgency, I'd made a few attempts to track down Breer this year, in hopes of following up with him about what he'd probably consider the least important aspects of his creative practice: the commercial work and product design and TV animation [including still unidentified segments on The Electric Company] he would bring up--and then insist be kept separate.

Because Breer's consistently innovative filmmaking and playfully minimalistic/animalistic sculptures--and the fact that he did his most monumentally awesome art work for Pepsi--hinted at the potential relevance of the work he kept in his commercial closet.

Which, amusingly, is not really the point, except to say I want to find a Float of my own, please.

No, the immediate point is, wow, how awesome is Breer's 1966 sculpture, Rug? This was the work that introduced Breer's sculpture to me, at a show that also opened my eyes to the revelatory breadth of his filmmaking. It was recreated for the first time in decades in 1999 at AC Projects. Their small second floor space in off-Chelsea was creeping and crawling with little Breer sculptures, while the Mylar Rug slowly shifted around in place. The other works felt alive, droid-like. Rug's movements were creepier, more ominous, like something was alive underneath it.

Good for the Walker, it looks like they acquired the mylar Rug [there are others, in other colors/materials] just this year.


Anyway, while poking around GB Agency, Breer's Paris gallery, I came across this sketch, dated 8/71, which includes an incredible proposal for a Rug piece made from an American flag. [The text underneath reads, "float flat on floor (flags) + motors".] The storyboard-like drawing not only ties Breer's sculptural and animation projects together nicely; the other three sequences--"cloud in sun," "bushes in breeze," and "daisies"--help site Breer's work in observation, duration, and the natural world. Which may have mitigated the political implications in 1971 of something lurking under a crumpled US flag.

In any case, I expect, if not exactly look forward to the day when, this work will be realized for a future Breer retrospective.


I've been moving art and life at our storage unit in Long Island City several times the last couple of weeks, and it's given me time to really look. Look across the water to the most spectacular structures built in New York City in the last five years: the massive, stainless steel egg-shaped digesters at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Thumbnail image for kapoor_sphere_portrait.jpg

I mean, really. I refuse to be swayed or disheartened [too much] by it--it's totally different, I say. I really want to put mine in the Pantheon anyway, I say--but several thoughtful folks have expressed their sympathies upon seeing Anish Kapoor's Leviathan at the Grand Palais photographed from its more satelloonish angles.

Thumbnail image for echo_satelloon_color1.JPG

But you know what they say in the sewage treatment business, what goes around comes around. If Kapoor has the intestinal fortitude to keep working after the opening of these unsurpassable 145-foot tanks, I can certainly forge ahead with replicating a satelloon.

If anything, it's even more relevant and imperative than before. Because Newtown Creek is actually designed by Polshek Partners [now Ennead], who also designed the Rose Center at the American Museum of Natural History, an early inspiration for my Project Echo project.

In a way, then, the idea for putting a satelloon in a museum space was hatched from the eggs of Newtown Creek. In another way, though, no, gross.


Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant digesters up close and symmetrical on Google Maps [google]


Andy helpfully pointed out this mirrored glass ball, which I'd missed in the catalogue for Phillips' upcoming design auction.

Everyone knows the Bauhaus was a huge party school. And during the Winter 1929 semester, Oskar Schlemmer had put an extra emphasis on partying, "to preserve the character of the Bauhaus community." And so what had started as a metal shop farewell get-together for Marianne Brandt on 9 February 1929 with the tasteful theme, "Church Bells, Doorbells, and Other Bells" [Hmm, one of the few cases where it sounds better in German: "Glocken Schellen, Klingel Fest."] became a raging, balls-out "Metallisches Fest," which took over the entire, iconic Dessau building. As MoMA's 2009 catalogue tells it:

The pure qualities of metal lend themselves to costumes with decorations that magically transform the Bauhaus through shimmering, reflective surfaces. According to Schlemmer, "The Bauhaus was also attractive from the outside, radiant in the winter night: the windows with metal paper stuck inside them, the light bulbs--white and colored according to the room--the views through the great glass block--for a whole night these transformed the building of the 'Hoschschule fur Gestaltung."
Party on, Oskar! I'm glad the Bauhaus Arkiv is so careful with all their materials, they don't let anything more than a postage-stamp-sized image slip through to the web.

I can't remember where I found this copy of the Bauhaus wallpaper sales brochure which came out soon after the Fest, but it wasn't the Bauhaus Arkiv:


And Marianne Brandt Geselleschaft only had a tiny version of this Brandt self-portrait taken a mirrored glass ball.


Though to their credit, the firm did throw another Metallische Fest in 2005, even if the guest of honor had long since departed for good.

Lot 130 Bauhaus Mirror Ball, est $5-7,000 []

Previously [as in previously on, but after the Bauhaus, obv]: Shiny Space Balls? Yes Please!
Oh wait, Muybridge was before the Bauhaus


I just watched Tarkovsky's 1975 film The Mirror for the first time as an adult, basically; when I saw it in college, I had no clue and was bored out of my gourd by it. In fact, for a long time, I'd conflated it, burning houses and whatnot, with The Sacrifice.


Anyway, the largely plotless, highly autobiographical film is a memory-like collage of documentary footage and vignettes set in disparate time periods. When I say, plotless, though, I mean it's a movie about a guy who spent ten years trying to make a movie about his childhood purely as an excuse to show the awesome scenes of a Soviet military balloon from the Spanish Civil War. At least that's how it looks to me now.




Previously: an image of a guy on a balloon inspecting Echo II at Lakehurst, NJ


Believe me, I know how this looks.


But also this. Balloons and the Grand Palais go way back:


And anyway also this, Leviathan has a groin vault:


and is the venue for a concert performance by minimalist composer and maximalist stuffed animal shaman Charlemagne Palestine:


[image of Anish Kapoor posing in front of Leviathan via mymodernmet, as baited by starwarsmodern. Images of Charlemagne Palestine performance inside Leviathan via Monumenta 2011]

Hm, OK.

I think we're in the clear here, satelloon-wise. It is true that Anish Kapoor's Leviathan is inflated, and 35 meters tall.


But when you enter the Grand Palais to see Leviathan, you enter Leviathan itself. It's a space, a bulbous, three-chambered cathedral of a space, "like going into the belly of a whale," says the Guardian. Though of course, it's really going into the belly of a cinematic whale. So it's a belly of imagination.

But it's a space, not an object. At least, not at first. When you exit, though, it's a thing. And well, hm. At first, things look pretty grim, which is to say, satelloonish.


But ultimately, it's a different thing, very different. One thing that's emphasized in Kapoor's talk to the Guardian is the light and space of the Grand Palais, and its vast expanses of glass:

"This is a terror of a space, probably much more difficult than the Turbine Hall," Kapoor said. "It's three times the size, huge horizontally and vertically and above all the light is a killer. It's almost brighter than it is outside."
There are any number of spaces--dirigible hangars, stadiums, train stations--that could hold a 100-ft mirror-skinned aluminum sphere; but in this time, there are no art spaces except, now, the Grand Palais. And that's part of the point.


Not only can satelloons not escape the problems Gerhard Richter diagnosed for spheres--they're too beautiful and perfect--they blow these problems up [sic] to gargantuan scale. Which is kind of interesting.

Monumenta 2011 has a Facebook wall []

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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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Category: satelloons

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