Holy smokes, people, just watch how these things turn out. In April, I spotted this photo at MoMA; it was in the second floor hallway just past the cafe, with no caption, and a date: 1970. I spent a few weeks trying to search up the name of the artist who made this remarkable, undulating acrylic structure in the Garden, to no avail [MoMA's records didn't have any more info about the photo.] I looked through the archive of shows, trying to match it, nothing.

Look at that thing, though, it's like an ur-Dan Graham. an ur-Greg Lynn, for that matter. A more permanent Ant Farm inflatable. Suddenly, it occurred to me to ask John Perrault, who's probably forgotten more than I'll ever know about postwar art in New York. Sure enough, he nailed it: Les Levine. Star Garden, but 1967, not 1970.

Turns out 1967 was a great year for Levine--actually, looking through his works at the Center for Contemporary Canadian Art, a lot of years were great years for Levine. The Silver Environment (1961), vacuum-formed mirrored plastic? fabric? The perceptually disorienting acrylic bubble structures like Star Garden or Supercube Environment (1968)?


Disposables (1968) [above], a pop-minimalist grid of vacuum-molds of household objects, sold cheap and meant to be thrown away when their moment is over? Wow, Levine's Restaurant (1968), New York's only Canadian Restaurant, operated as a artist project, like Gordon Matta-Clark's Food or Allan Ruppersburg's Al's Cafe, only earlier? Is that really TV test pattern print clothing there in 1978?


And then there's Slipcover, a 1967 installation at the Architectural League [image via], which ran concurrently with Star Garden: three rooms covered in sheets of mirrored Mylar, where the space is constantly in flux because of the giant Mylar balloons inflating and deflating. The NY Times article shows Levine working on a balloon while one Linda Schjeldahl seals the edges of the Mylar wallcovering. Schjeldahl, Schjeldahl, where have I heard that name before?

Of course! The University of North Dakota's archives of Gilmore Schjeldahl, founder of the Sheldahl Company!

The Company was the primary contractor for the Echo II Program. There are also files which contain information about the Echo I and II satellite balloons, as well as samples of Echo I and Echo II skins, and a file containing information about an art exhibition by artist Les Levine in 1967, at the Architectural League in New York City, which featured rooms made of Sheldahl's Mylar laminates.
Billy Kluver, whose company Bell Labs operated the Project Echo satelloons, introduced Andy Warhol to Mylar and helped him make his 1966 Silver Clouds.

Meanwhile, the manufacturer of those satelloons supplied the same Mylar for Les Levine's 1967 Slipcovers. Who had some help installing from his friend Linda Schjeldahl, the daughter-in-law of the company's founder. A friend who, like her husband, Peter, was somewhat involved in the New York art world at that point.

Wow, I knew about the Moon Museum segment because Jade Dellinger emailed about it. But I didn't know the first episode of this season's History Detectives also included a whole segment on satelloons and Project Echo. I love how they search for satelloons online--and then crop out the top few search results.

I guess if the Detectives suddenly discover an undocumented Richard Neutra house in Utah, I'll have to start making some calls. Meanwhile, watch History Detectives on your local PBS station! I'm sure you'll like it! [thanks cliff for the heads up]


This one's been sitting on my desktop since April when I posted about that Jan. 1961 Popular Science article about how they made the Project Echo satelloon on a long table with giant clothespins. It was in May, only a couple of months after NASA's peaceful communications satelloon was made freely available to the world, that Pop Sci informed us of Project Saint, the US Air Force's program to put the "First Warship In Space."

That's Saint on the left up there.

Saint, we read, would disable enemy satellites using one of four techniques: spray paint [for spy cameras' lenses]; sand [for simulating meteor shower damage]; solar mirrors [for roasting electronics]; or an H-bomb.

Project Saint was canceled in 1962 before any test launches were accomplished.

Oh wait, it wasn't since April; it was since March. That's right, April was when I recognized the target, the intersecting circular satelloon depicted on the right. It was called a corner reflector, designed to optimize radar wave reflection, and it was included in the LIFE Magazine cover story from June 3, 1957 about Project Vanguard and the race to launch "the first man-made moon," a race the US would lose a few months later.

See? Here it is, behind the guy bouncing a smaller Mylar satelloon:


US Plans First Warship in Space - Pop Sci, May 1961 []
Project Saint []
A Man-Made Moon Takes Shape, June 3, 1957 [LIFE/google books]

Whoa, check that out! The Moon Museum's on the Tee Vee! Or it will be, June 21st.

The PBS show History Detectives is trying to figure out whether the Moon Museum, a SIM card-sized ceramic wafer created in 1969 by Forrest Myer, with help from an engineer at Bell Labs, which contains drawings by Myer and five other contemporary artists, actually made it to the moon.

The show uses Tampa-based curator/writer Jade Dellinger's copy of the chip as the hook. They're making an open plea to viewers with any info on the identity of "John F," the Grumman engineer supposedly responsible for secretly attaching a chip to the leg of the Apollo 12 lunar landing module.


After I posted the NYTimes' picture of the chip in 2008, it got picked up by Melissa Terras' Blog, where several people involved in the Moon Museum came forward. The comments now hold a discussion between family members of the Bell Labs engineers who worked on the chips, including Fred Waldhauer, Burt Unger, and Robert Merkle.

Though Myers told PBS that 16 or 20 chips were made, Amy Waldhauer [whose mother Ruth Waldhauer donated the chip to MoMA which was exhibited last year at PS1's 1969 show], said there were 40.

Also chiming in: curator Annick Berraud, who exhibited a chip in Paris last year, and who is apparently also working on an extended article on the Moon Museum for Leonardo, MIT's arts journal.

It's all awesome, but it also sounds like I gotta step up my game if I want to get me a Moon Museum chip. Or at least reopen the comments around here.


Bell Labs' Billy Kluver guided Andy Warhol to the Mylar balloons the artist used for Silver Clouds, his 1966 installation at Leo Castelli Gallery. And at Ferus Gallery. And at the Cincinnati Arts Center.

At the time, Bell Labs was operating both Project Echo satelloons; after Echo II's launch in 1964 until Echo I's disintegration on re-entry into the atmosphere in 1968, these two giant Mylar balloons were visible with the naked eye around the world.

Flash forward to this week, when the Mies van der Rohe Society opened the largest Silver Clouds installation ever, somewhere between "hundreds" of balloons and "1,000" at the Illinois Institute of Technology's Crown Hall.

At current Armory Show prices, that's up to $5 million worth of balloons!

ANDY WARHOL'S SILVER CLOUDS FILL S. R. CROWN HALL, through Aug. 1, 2010 [ via c-monster]
video: Warhol and Mies: Floating Silver Clouds [edwardlifson]


The architecture and art collective Ant Farm first proposed The Dolphin Embassy in Esquire magazine in 1974. When they ended up meeting the owner of the Dolphinarium in Australia a couple of years later, they worked it up into a full-fledged proposal, which got funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and a show at SFMOMA.

Basically, the idea morphed from an underwater building into an open, mobile laboratory craft [above] to facilitate human-dolphin interaction in the wild. [spatial agency has images of both early designs.] First, they would deploy the awesome power of video technology to create a common language with the dolphins. Then...

Here's Ant Farmer Doug Michels talking about the project with Connie Lewallen in the catalogue for the 2004 retrospective at Berkeley Art Museum:

The next year and a half for me [from 1977-8] was filled with trying to make the Dolphin Embassy real. There was a lot of time spent with both captive and wild dolphins and researching dolphins, a lot of design time on the boat, and a lot of public relations time communicating the dolphin idea to Australia. Putting it in historical context, we were feeling pretty confident about accomplishing things. The House of the Century had been built, Media Burn had been done, The Eternal Frame--these large-scale productions. Cracking the dolphin communication code, well, how hard could that be?! (Laughs.)

doug_michels_dolphin_tv.jpgCONNIE: Why didn't the Dolphin Embassy get built?

DOUG: Eventually, it became clear that it was a gigantic project beyond the scale we could accomplish with the funds we had raised. While we didn't solve cetacean communication during our mission in Australia, the Dolphin Embassy experience provided a deeper view into the mystereies of Delphic civilization.

A few months ago by Andrea Grover posted this great 1976 photo of a TV-toting Michels having a diplomatic summit of some kind with his dolphin counterpart. Not sure what they discussed.

From the disbanding of Ant Farm in 1977 up until his unexpected death in 2003, Michels kept developing the Dolphin Embassy concept. By 1987, it was retitled Bluestar, a joint dolphin-human-compatible space colony with a 250-ft diameter sphere of water "ultrasonically stabilized" within a wall of space-made glass. My merely 100-ft satelloon bows in awe at the thought.


Anyway, I'm reminded of all this now because, with the iPad and all, it may be time to dust off those Dolphin Embassy blueprints.

Speak Dolphin press release at Orange Crate Art [mleddy via boingboing]
Doug Michels, Dolphin Lover []

A digitized collection of vintage NASA Goddard Space Flight Center newsletters led me to the June 23, 1963 issue of LIFE Magazine. If it were possible for any photo of a Project Echo satelloon to be slightly less than awesome, this photo would move forward to be the awesomest:


It's a technician inspecting for leaks during a test inflation of the Echo II at Lakehurst, New Jersey, which was long the Navy's site for giant inflatable vehicles. From the 1930s construction photos of the massive dirigible hangars to the parades of Navy blimps during WWII, the "Lakehurst" is a stealth candidate for awesomest single search term Google's LIFE Magazine image archive. Unfortunately, this photo is not included. I'd love to find it, though; someone deserves a credit.

Here's one of the same test, only there's no location, and it's misdated. credit: NASA. And it's public domain. Here's one of the first ever photos of an Echo satelloon; famous LIFE photojournalist Grey Villet took it while standing next to the antenna used to bounce the first radio signal off Echo I in 1960.


All of this is related to my master plan to show a satelloon as an art object, sure, but it's also precipitated by NASA's latest, the Bullet 580, dubbed, depressingly, "the world's largest inflatable airship," which was test inflated last weekend. At 235 feet long and 65 feet across, it practically fills the Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, Alabama [below]


If there were a clearer sign that Our Nation has lost its way in the field of Giant Balloons And The Buildings That Hold Them, I can't think of it. A sad, sad day. [images: George Strock/LIFE; AP]

April 27, 2010

Otto Piene's More Sky

otto_piene_more_sky.jpgAlright, all y'all who didn't tell me about Otto Piene's classic of the books-written-in-longhand era, More Sky: what else have you been hiding?

Otto Piene literally opens up new horizons here in both art and art education. His book is a plea for more scope, more space for art--for making public property artful and making art public property--for freeing the arts from the tight economic bonds that give the curators and the collectors a near monopoly. He writes, "The artist-planner is needed. He can make a playground out of a heap of bent cans, he can make a park out of a desert, he can make a paradise out of a wasteland, if he accepts the challenge.... In order to enable artists of the future to take on planning and shaping tasks on a large scale, art education has to change completely. At this point art schools are still training object-makers who are expecting museums and collectors to buy their stuff...."

The first part of More Sky covers "things to do" arranged alphabetically, A-M (Piene will take up N-Z some other time.) Like city planning, clothing, collaboration, electronic music, elements, engineering or government, graffiti, graphics, green toad jelly.

All these notes cohere into a larger statement in support of an environmental art for social use, the interaction of art and architecture and the city and the open landscape, a total ecological and elemental aesthetics.

The last part of the book, "Wind Manual," gives a practical demonstration of things to do in just one area. But it's a big one--the whole sky--and a lot can be done in it, making use of the wind; making human clouds, rain, rainbows; and making things that fly and float. This section is made up almost entirely of full-color illustrations of some of the things that man the artist can do to purify the skies polluted by man the money-maker and rendered fearsome by man the war-maker. The illustrations show different kinds of flags, banners, ribbons, wind socks, wind sculptures, riggings, kids and other things.

The first part was written plain, in the Spring of 1970, with no trace of artspeak jargon. And the second is plainly drawn and colored. (Piene is more versatile than most contemporary artists: he can do his abstract light-ballet things, and he can span rivers with man-made rainbows, and he can draw a recognizable picture of a bull.) The "Wind Manual" was originally drawn for instant use in schools and colleges in Pittsburgh--it was created as part of a Piene-guided public art project called Citything Sky Ballet.

The MIT Press
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02142

Otto Piene's More Sky is available the 1973 edition with the fun, blue cover, and a print-on-demand version with a boring black cover. So heads up when you buy. [amazon]

artfleet_truck_spiegel.jpgWhile researching the National Gallery of Art's Barkley L. Hendricks paintings, which were purchased by J. Carter Brown with money from Michael Whitney Straight, I came across one of the crazier space-meets-art moments in the history of exhibition design: Art Fleet.

In an amusingly transparent move to manage his own complicated story, Straight wrote a biography of Nancy Hanks, the founding chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who had been appointed by Richard Nixon. [Straight himself had been approached to found the NEA by the Kennedy administration, at which point, he disclosed his history as a KGB spy. He became the deputy chairman, instead, a post which did not require Senate confirmation.]

Anyway, Art Fleet. We begin in San Clemente, 1970:

In the same spirit of loyalty to the president who had appointed her, Nancy committed the Endowment to supporting a project entitled Art Fleet. She had asked the president, when she met with him in San Clemente, what he would like the Arts Endowment to do. He had replied that "it was extremely important to get the arts out into the country." Nancy had agreed. She was reminded of the technical problems involved in moving art masterpieces around the nation. She dismissed them. As Bill Lacy, our program for Architecture and Environmental Arts, recalls, "Nancy contended that if we could put a man on the moon, we could surely send the Mona Lisa around the country." [p.149]
Surely, why not, but seriously, why?

And what do you want to do with the Mona Lisa again?


Following on to their 2008 retrospective of ZERO, Sperone Westwater is exhibiting work by the group's co-founder, Otto Piene. " Otto Piene: Light Ballet and Fire Paintings, 1957-1967" runs through May 22nd. [16 Miles has very nice installation shots.]

While I am stoked to see Lichtballet, 1961, above, the piece I'd most like to see, the silver sphere hanging on the right, is not in this show. This photo, by Günter Thorn, turns out to be of Lichtraum [obviously] from "Bilder, Objekte, Grafiken und Lichtraum," an exhibition last winter at the Kunstverein Langenfeld.


Last year, the Pompidou had a cheeky, brilliant exhibition, Voids: A Retrospective, which consisted of nine empty galleries, each a different re-creation of an artist's showing of a void. [John Perrault discussed the show at length in March 2009.] I feel I am now tiptoeing backwards into a similar project, a retrospective of artists' shiny silver balls.

Piene was creating these Light Ballet pieces while the Echo I satelloon was orbiting the earth, its reflection visible to the naked eye. He exhibited them in New York in November 1965, at the Howard Wise Gallery. Sperone has reprinted Piene's essay from the small catalogue to that show. Here is an excerpt:

In 1959 I played the light ballet with hand lamps, in 1960 I built the first machines, in 1961 they appeared in large darkened rooms at exhibits and in museums: one object, two objects in a large hall, a waste of space, an elimination of conventional attitudes about quantity. The farther the distance between the projecting device and the light-catching confines of a room, the larger are the light forms. And when they are large, the claustrophobia caused by the ordinary cubicity of our interior spaces recedes.


My endeavor is twofold: to demonstrate that light is a source of life which has to be constantly rediscovered, and to show expansion as a phenomenal event. Everything is striving for larger space. We want to reach the sky. We want to exhibit in the sky, not in order to establish there a new art world, but rather to enter new space peacefully--that is, freely, playfully and actively, not as slaves of war technology.

A rubber skin, helium and the wind, light, electricity and fireworks seem to me excellent media. The revolving beam of a lighthouse and a balloon in the air are more convincing sculptures than the big chunks that are so hard to move. Calder's mobiles can be taken apart. Our objects ought to be inflated or ignited or projected. And environments? As far as a laser beam reaches. Are the jet pilots who write vapor trails in the sky the artists of our time, as Gothic stone-masons were the artists of theirs?

Despite their similar shapes, there is one essential difference between Gothic cathedrals and rockets: a cathedral seems to soar, expressing the yearning of its builders to ascend to heaven; a rocket does soar. The same technical difference exists between traditional sculpture and my objects. Previously paintings and sculptures seemed to glow, today they do glow, they are active, they give, they do not merely attract the eyes, they do not merely express something, they are something. A filament glows and warms, a painted halo only reflects light. Energy in a contemporary form produces the living media. Is the filament in itself a piece of art?

Transformation still has two meanings, one technical, one spiritual. He who leaves his house leaves the light on to make it appear inhabited.

Previously: Otto Piene et al's Centerbeam & Icarus on The National Mall

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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: satelloons

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
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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

Standard Operating Procedure
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
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"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)
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