Category:writing

OH IT GETS BETTER 25 June 2015 UPDATE

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[This image needs a disclaimer all its own] Cady Noland, Log Cabin Blank with Screw Eyes and Café Door (Memorial to John Caldwell) (1993), collection Norman & Norah Stone, image: stonescape.us

In a lawsuit about the unauthorized log replacement in and failed sale of Log Cabin, filed by buyer Scott Mueller against Michael Janssen Gallery, seller Wilhelm Schürmann, and adviser Marisa Newman comes this glorious gem:

15. Noland called [Mueller's dealer/agent] Shaheen. Noland angrily denounced the restoration of the artwork without her knowledge and approval. She further stated that any effort to display or sell the sculpture must include notice that the piece was remade without the artist's consent, that it now consists of unoriginal materials, and that she does not approve of the work.

16. Noland also sent by facsimile a handwritten note to Mueller on or about July 18, 2014, stating, "This is not an artwork" and objecting to the fact that the sculpture was 'repaired by a consevator (sic) BUT THE ARTIST WASN'T CONSULTED." (Emphasis in the original.)

Hmm, technically, this is more a reflection of a disclaimer than a disclaimer itself. But it is awesome. Frankly, Noland's demands as characterized in P15 don't seem that egregious, or like a dealbreaker. "This is not an artwork" is pretty solid, though. Maybe people could try to engage Noland before altering her work. Is that so high maintenance?

The only way this could get better is if the "Plaintiff Mueller," who is seeking the return of his remaining $800,000 were "an individual residing in Chagrin Falls, Ohio." Hey guess what! [via a rather snide artnet rewrite of courthousenews's report. Read Mueller's original court complaint here.]

Also, speaking of "chain of provenance": Mueller's suit says Log Cabin is owned by Schürmann, but it is installed at Norman & Norah Stone's art vineyard in Napa, who call it "an integral part of Stonescape," and "a singular work in the Stones' contemporary art collection"? And who, like the artist, were very close to the late SFMOMA curator namechecked in its title. How was this work owned by Schurmann or for sale in the first place? And how much rotting does wood do in Napa anyway? The Stones' picture dates from at least 2009, but still, it looks totally fine. Oh hey, here's a 2008 photo by Michael Sippey. It looks like 15yo wood, which would be totally appropriate. Who would up and decide restore this thing? Or sell it for the price of a San Francisco 2-bedroom condo? Honestly, Noland sounds like the sanest one in this whole story.

I am going to bet anyone a dollar that there are two outdoor Noland sculptures titled Log Cabin, and that in the Google frenzy to report the story, every outlet has confused the visible Stone/Caldwell work for the cabin Schürmann left in front of a German museum to rot. I propose the next disclaimer read "THIS IS NOT THE ARTWORK BEING SUED OVER."

Indeed. The sales agreement filed as part of the lawsuit makes it clear Log Cabin is not the Stones'. It was on loan from 1995-2005 to the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen, and the conservation report & log replacement took place in 2010-11. It was exhibited at KOW Berlin in 2011 and, according to the agreement, "An image of the artwork was initially posted on KOW, Berlin's website and was subsequently taken down, as Cady Noland did not approve of the context of the exhibition; and did not want to be shown along side with Santiago Sierra." A glimmer of a disclaimer, though the exhibition website still shows four other Noland works.

BEGIN ORIGINAL POST

Benjamin Sutton tweeted the Cady Noland Disclaimer for "Rawhide," a cowboy-themed exhibition at Venus Over Manhattan:

VENUS
MANHATTAN
DISCLAIMER

Because Ms. Noland has not been involved with the chain of provenance with many of her pieces, there are more situations like this show which place demands on her time and attention to ensure proper presentation of her artwork--including its representation in photographs--, than she has time or capacity to be involved with. She reserves her attention for projects of her own choosing and declined to be involved in this exhibition. The artist has not given her approval or blessing to this show.

[via @bhsutton]

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Peter Brant posing with a study for a Cady Noland work-in-progress, photo: bfa.co

The differences between it and the disclaimer posted at "Deliverance," at the Brant Foundation last fall are few, and give the air of repurposing, if not appropriation. Since the VOM show is curated by Dylan Brant and Vivian Brodie, maybe it just came down from Greenwich with the art:

Cady Noland has requested the Brant Foundation Art Study Center post the following disclaimer:

"Because Ms. Noland have [has] not been involved with the chain of provenance with many of my [her] pieces there are more situations like this show which place demands on her time and the artist's attention to ensure proper presentation of her artwork (including its representation in photographs), than she has time or capacity to be involved with. She reserves her attention for projects of her own choosing and declined to be involved in this exhibition. The artist, or C.N., hasn't given her approval or blessing to this show."

I believe the bracketed grammatical corrections were made by Andrew Russeth, who reported the text for ARTnews. Which may mean that Ms. Noland simultaneously refers to herself in the third person as Ms. Noland, the artist, and C.N. To which I say, brava; the art world can only be improved by a multiplicity of Cady Nolands.

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NO NOLAND PHOTOS AT THE BRANT FOUNDATION: Except for Bill Powers slippin'em to Purple, apparently

In 2012 Chris D'Amelio, who worked with, or at least showed, Noland in the 1990s, had a very special, personalized disclaimer in his booth at Art Basel, and in the fair catalogue:

At the request of the artist, D'Amelio Gallery has agreed to display the following text:

"This exhibition is not authorized or approved by the artist Cady Noland, nor was she consulted about it. Neither Christopher D'Amelio nor the D'Amelio Gallery represents Cady Noland or her interest. Ms. Noland does not consider Christopher D'Amelio to be an expert or authority on her artwork, did not select the artwork being displayed in this exhibition, and in no way endorses Mr. D'Amelio's arrangement of her work."

[ibid.]

Of note, then, is the absence of a disclaimer in a show bracketed by Brant's and D'Amelio's: the two-person show, "Portraits of America: Diane Arbus | Cady Noland," at Gagosian's street-level Madison Avenue space in February 2014. What this silence says about Noland's involvement in the show and the artist's view of Gagosian's expertise w/r/t her work can only be inferred. Same goes for Skarstedt's 2013 Kelly/Noland/Prince/Wool group show including Noland's work, "Murdered Out."

Additionally, there appears to have been no disclaimer published in relation to "The American Dream," the De Hallen Haarlem exhibition of Noland's work in 2010-11, which, incidentally, ran alongside a Diane Arbus show.

This post will be updated with more Cady Noland disclaimers if and when they appear.

Or when they are remembered.

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Cady Noland, Oozewald, 1989, as illustrated by Sotheby's Nov. 2011, incorrect base not shown

When Sotheby's sold a 1989 sculpture Oozewald in November 2011, Noland inspected the piece. Through her attorney she required Sotheby's to compose the following disclaimer:

Please note the stand with which the lot is being displayed is not the stand that Cady Noland designed for this work and this stand is not included in the sale of this lot. As a result, subsequent to the sale, the buyer will be provided with a new stand, which will be in accordance with Ms. Noland's copyrighted stand design for this lot, and which will be an integral part of the complete work.
Internal documents produced during the court case Jancou v. Sothebys & Noland indicate the artist would approve the disclaimer text before publication. Since it was published, we can assume she did.

And last fall when Sarah Thornton published her book of artist interviews, 33 Artists in 3 Acts, the Cady Noland chapter carried a footnote reading, "* Ms. Noland would like it to be known that she has not approved this chapter." [Thanks to Grant for the reminder.]

It just does not get any better, though I am sure it will. OH IT DOES UPDATED 6/25

March 11, 2015

The Tonight Series

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Arthur Dove moon drawings, from Helen Torr Dove & Arthur Dove's diary, 1936, image: aaa.si.edu

In 1936 Arthur Dove and his wife Helen "Reds" Torr were living upstate, in Geneva. That fall Reds went to Hartford to take care of her injured mother, and was gone for what turned out to be more than two months. Alone and pining for his wife, Dove eventually began making sketches of the moon each night in the diary they kept together.

From Jennifer Stettler Parsons' 2012 essay on Dove and the moon:

In addition to recording the temperature and weather conditions, Dove began making drawings in his diary (1936 diary, p. 137). These sketches, with their shadings and mysterious markings, appear to be evidence of the artist tracking the moon. The moon drawings continue each day with notations of temperature and barometric pressure, until Reds returned home on 8 November 1936.13 (1936 diary, p.155, 160). They mysteriously cease for two days on 15 and 16 November, but recommence on 17 November. (1936 diary, p.164-165) Dove continues to draw the moon every day until the end of the year. The new 1937 diary contains no moon drawings.(1937 diary, p.2) The drawings do not directly correspond to any established system of astronomical recording. The lunar notations, with their symbolic shadows and arrows (which change and move in each drawing), might be said to represent an individual system that Dove invented to document his observations in a personal and meaningful way.
Dove and Torr's papers are at the AAA, which has digitized their diary.

Absence and Presence: Arthur Dove's Paintings "From the Radio" by Jennifer Parsons [aaa.si.edu]
Helen Torr Dove and Arthur Dove diary, 1936 [aaa.si.edu]

January 9, 2015

Uber, But For Artists

Monochromes. Why's it always gotta be monochromes?

In his recent NYT Magazine profile of Stefan Simchowitz Christopher Glazek writes about the emerging artist Kour Pour that "several artists I spoke with had initially assumed that Pour did not in fact exist -- that he was a computer-generated figment of Simchowitz's prodigious imagination." One reason Glazek gives is that Simcho's email was the contact link on Pour's website. Another, he infers, is because Pour's digital image tapestry paintings seem so perfectly suited to Simcho's Instagram- and minor tech billionaire collector-centric art dealing operation.

But Glazek saves the biggest reveal for his annotation of his own article on genius.com: he'd heard that Simcho had already fabricated an artist, and had put his work up for show and sale in 2011. That artist's market-optimized multi-culti name was Chen Obogado.

An artist told me Simchowitz had approached him to make paintings under a false name, though it seems possible that Simchowitz actually painted them himself. I'm not sure if money ever exchanged hands for the paintings. It may have been more of a prank than a scheme, and the art world is forgiving of pranks.
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China Art Objects, Mind Games, installation view with Chen Obogado [L] and actual artist Evi Vingerling [R], Jul/Aug 2011

Let's review Obogado's known body of work and brief exhibition history. It won't take long. As far as I can tell, Chen Obogado made his debut in a summer group show at China Art Objects called, appropriately enough, "Mind Games."

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Chen Obogado, MS6 01, 2011, resin, pigment, aluminum, image: caog.la

Like many actual artists at the time, simulated artist Chen Obogado [SimChO?]'s practice interrogated chemical process-based abstraction; two works are pigmented resin slabs, possibly on aluminum panels, but definitely in tray-like aluminum frames. They retain the traces of their skll-less pour [!]: bubbles, pour lines, and pigment mixed unevenly within each batch. I guess this is supposed to be works' content. If I were trying to sell them, I'd reference the foam scenes from Fischli & Weiss'sThe Way Things Go and let the zombie abstraction momentum do the rest.

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Chen Obogado, MS001PB001, 2011, polyurethane, aluminum, image: caog.la

The third, smaller work is made of polyurethane in aluminum. It is glacial, sculptural and reductive, and appears to be a piece of Stingel-ian insulation board that's been scraped with a solvent-dipped spackling knife. They have inconsistently formulated serial numbers for titles. Their irrelevance is a standout, even among the forgettable flotsam that seems to have washed up in Culver City that summer. [Like car crash videos in drivers ed, anyone starting a new painting series should be forced to surf 3-yr-old group show installation shots.]

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Chen Obogado, CO MSM 001 S1, 2011, resin, platinum powder, aluminum, est. $3,000, opening bid: $1,500. image: laxart

Which wasn't enough to actually forget them. The fourth and last Obogado to make a documented public appearance was in November, at the LAXART benefit auction. This work was made of resin and platinum powder on/in aluminum. Which sounds like it might be kind of metallic and shiny, a poor, stupid, unconnected man's Jacob Kassay.

It was listed as a "donation of the artist and an anonymous donor," which makes little sense in the benefit auction context, and even less if he actually didn't exist. But it does seem like the credit line of an artist who didn't exist who wasn't buying his own materials. Last summer Simcho told Artspace, "I help dealers decide which artists to represent, how to represent them." Was SimChO presented to CAO and LAXART as a Simcho joint? Was he pitching the glorious future where artists-as-brands soared free of the foibles and frailties of actual artists? The next step in the end of authorship? That would be more than a scheme OR a prank.

The Kassay mention above is interesting because Summer 2011 was when Kassay had his first show in LA, and L&M. And Henry Codax had his first show in New York. Is it too late to organize an east coast/west coast monochrome show of these two non-existent artists? Please say no. #Sumer2015

Though rumors of Kassay and Olivier Mosset's involvement in Codax's work were reported at the time, I've come to think that Codax must be a gallerist's dream: all that margin without all those hassles. Assuming it sold, of course, and you could keep it moving. And maybe that's what doomed SimChO's work: Simcho couldn't keep up the act well enough to sell it, or maybe it sucked so bad even his buy-it-now yesmen network didn't click, and so Simcho decided to eat the cost of two buckets of resin and call it a day?

It's worth considering Chen Obogado in the Simcho's own preferred, network/platform/disruptor context [My favorite quote, from another of Glazek's annotations: "All he demanded was a minimum level of respect. 'You can't say I'm bad--I created the post-internet movement!'"] Stories of artists feeling exploited by Simcho remind me of reports last year of the drivers who were the pawns in Uber's anti-competitive attacks against Lyft. Which LOLjobsWTF when Uber's CEO talked about how psyched he was to replace all the drivers with robot cars. If Chen Obogado's any indication, Simchowitz may feel the same way about artists.

Christopher Glazek annotates himself [genius.com]
When he has a fawning audience Simchowitz really lets the vision flow. Must read. [artspace]

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Auguste Rodin, The Three Shades, plaster, for The Gates of Hell

This edition of Better Read, an experiment in transforming art-related texts into audio works, is awesome. I really feel like the kinks are working out, and this whole computer voice-generated pseudo-podcast thing is really going to take off in a big way very soon.

Like an hour from now, when you've finished listening to "Sincerely Yours," by powerhouse art historian Rosalind Krauss. In 1981 Krauss published one of her foundational texts, "The Originality of The Avant-Garde," in October Magazine, which prompted a long, irate response from Rodin scholar and curator Albert Elsen. "Sincerely Yours" is Krauss's fierce, icy, and vigorously argued, 9,200-word response to Elsen's criticisms. It was originally published in October 20, in the spring of 1982. And it is performed here by Ava, an American English synthetic voice from Apple with a surprisingly good grasp of French pronunciation. The 80mb mp3 file lasts around 56 minutes. Like I said, this is going to be big, I can feel it.

Sincerely Yours, Rosalind Krauss (1982), read by a computer [dropbox]
Previously: Better Read: A Lively Interview with Ray Johnson c. 1968
The ur-text: W.H. Auden's poem "The Shield of Achilles" read by a machine

It's taking longer to gather these things together, but I just found another fascinating statement-as-question from the Q&A session of a panel discussion. This time, it's "Fractures of the Civilization," a discussion by composer/philosophers C.C. Hennix and Henry Flynt, along with John Berndt, held in June 2013 at the Goethe Institut in NYC. The talk was organized in conjunction with a realization of Hennix & Flynt's 'The Illuminatory Sound Environment" at ISSUE Project Room.

I've been a fan of Flynt's music for quite a while, but in the last couple of years I've also tried to step up my engagement with his writings, his talks, his ideas. I must say, it's exasperating; there's real genius and groundbreaking thought, action and insight there, but Flynt's a maddening interviewee, and even more frustrating on a panel. My operating theory is that he's been not listened to for so long, he can't but vent. And his views often have that determined, hermetic brittleness of someone who's had to figure out the world and what's wrong with it by himself. His far-ranging intellect and the rapid vigor with which he makes leaps and pronouncements makes it basically impossible for anyone to ask a follow-up question, or to challenge or probe something further.

My hope is that someone smart enough and well-versed enough will go deep with him on the art and music where his contributions are still only feebly understood. Anyway.

ISSUE Project Room's video of the talk is here; the question comes at around 1:19:00:

There's like this thing that I think about sometimes--
oh, thanks [gets mic]
There's this thing that we--about the Cold War, Progress science in the 20th century, there's this fight between the superpowers in order to get to some,
you know, higher place
to prove some sort of animalistic thought
When that fell apart with the end of Communism,
with this idea that,
you know, Capitalism,
Neo-liberalism's gonna go all through the world
people don't have this thing to fight against, as far as this race,
we've kind of--
the science that we have--
the futurism that we've come to
it's very social and helpful,
but it's not the futurism that we had in the 60s and 70s that idea of what we'd be like
now.
So there's this need
or something
for these
you know people,
Futurist Transhumanists,
to fill in this blank area, that's sort of this faith area that I think you're talking about
where,
you know
they're taking this place of--
basically we work more, as humans now
at some point they thought
robots were gonna
DO most of the work
And people were actually worried
what the lower classes are going to do with all their free time.
But apparently, we work more
than we did in the 60s and 70s,
at least in this country.
So there's this, like,
WANT
for
something to happen with futurism,
this futurism that might be based on a science fiction or something, but
essentially these people are running away with it
and it captures people like a relgious-type
experience.
So I just wanted to say
what do you have to say about that?

Previously: 'I'm going to fail,' or Protocols of Participation

I like to keep up with the discussions and presentations at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts. They recently posted video of a panel I'd been waiting for from late April titled, "Protocols of Participation: Recent Models of Socially Engaged Art in the United States and Europe," where Creative Time's Laura Raicovich, and Xavier Douroux and Thérèse Legierse from Nouveaux Commanditaires, who commission and mediate public artist projects in France. IFA's own professors Thomas Crow and Alexander Nagel participated as well. [It was organized as part of ART², a whole month's worth of events I missed across the city.]

It was an interesting comparison of the two systems designed to facilitate artists' engagement in their politics, culture, and communities. So watch the whole thing.

I had it playing in the background while I worked, and during the audience questions, I was suddenly alerted to the change in cadence. I knew what was coming: the long, winding, potentially discourse-derailing statement disguised as a question.

It's a cliche of the panel discussion/public lecture format, the kind of interaction that organizers sometimes like to head off by explicitly warning against, or even by soliciting written questions. It's almost always an uncomfortable, flow-breaking moment, met with either indulgence or annoyance. No one's come to hear some rando bounce his pet theory off the headliners.

It breaks form, yet it is the form. Such questions and their possibility are intrinsic to the very format of open, public discourse. So when the breach of protocol came for an event titled, of all things, "Protocols of Participation," I resisted the urge to close tab or tune out. And I was transfixed by this unseen, unidentified woman's speech, how she said it, and even what she said. It occurred to me that probably no one would ever take her comment seriously, or even know about it.

[I vividly remember my first audience question in New York City. It was to Brice Marden at MoMA's Cy Twombly artist panel. Years later, when WPS1 posted the audio of the event, it omitted the audience Q&A segment entirely. Which can be interpreted on several levels.]

In every panel or discussion I attend, I, like everyone else, always fantasize about revolutionizing the format. Or at least fixing it. It never feels optimal. And yet it never, ever changes. So I'm going to start collecting these marginalized, random, dodged, cut-off, derailing statement/questions from audience members and see what comes of it. Do you have a favorite? Send a link, let's add it to the collection!

As you can see from the complete transcript of the audience member [with a couple of interjections and a response by Prof. Nagel], maybe these things should be written down and studied after all. Because as a text, I think it's rather fascinating. Expectations and context.

Watch/listen to the question, beginning around 1:27:10. I wanted to capture the sense of hearing it, so I left in the ums and repetitions. Line breaks are pauses.

I'm going to fail
um I missed a little bit, but I was misdirected to the wrong place, sorry
um

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Usually the Internet solves mysteries by yielding definitive information. Sometimes it makes it worse, though, and more confusing. Tumblr, I'm lookin' at you.

Artist/artist book hero Dave Dyment emailed the other day, wondering what I thought about the source of 10 Rules For Students And Teachers From John Cage, which was famously on the wall at Merce Cunningham's studio for years, and which has been circulating online in various photocopied and scanned forms.

Except for Rule 10, which is a quote from Cage's book SILENCE, Dave didn't think it really sounded like Cage, and I certainly agree. And he'd never been able to find the other texts in Cage's published works. So who might have written it, if not Cage? And if he didn't write it, how did it get attributed to Cage, while it was hanging on the wall of Cage's longtime partner's studio?

In 2012, Brain Picking had said that despite what everyone thought about Cage, 10 Rules' actual author was everyone's favorite serigraphicist nun, Sister Corita Kent.

Which was funny, because in 2010, blogger Keri Smith wrote about 10 Rules because she'd heard exactly the opposite: that despite what everyone had heard about Sister Corita, those rules were actually written by John Cage. And one source of that information was none other than Laura Kuhn, of the John Cage Trust.

Smith's post attracted some seriously high quality comments in 2010-12, including students of students of Sister Corita who remembered the Rules; and scholars of dancers who remembered the flyers. Then in June 2012, Jill Bell quoted "Richard Crawford who was in on the creation of 'The Rules'." Crawford was a student of Sister Corita's in 1967-68, and says she gave the class the assignment to come up with a list of rules one night, and then to design and print them up. Cage's quote was contributed by one of the students.

Which, even if it's definitive, still doesn't explain how they got to Cage, and to Merce with Cage's name. The Rules circulated among Kent's students and school. They were included in the 1986 edition of the Whole Earth Catalog, with Cage's name in parentheses following Rule 10. Whether Kent sent the Rules to Cage before this, or after, or Cage found them and posted them, or a Merce dancer found them, they were connected to Cage and had a resonant presence in Cunningham's and Cage's community. If the last two years have uncovered any additional history from the MCDC side, I haven't seen it, but I'd love to.

2012: 10 Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life by John Cage and Sister Corita Kent [brainpickings.org]
2010: You Know I Love A Good Mystery [kerismith]

I don't want to pick on Ruth Graham, just the opposite. I have had "Word Theft," her Poetry Foundation essay on plagiarism open in my tabs for two months because the relentlessly negative framing of the issue is so representative of the way text copying or reuse is discussed practically everywhere.

Graham focuses on a particular type and context and history of plagiarism: the republishing of poetry. Most of the cases she describes involve less-established poets rewriting or adding to poems published by someone else. They often happen across borders or continents, with poems transplanted from one national/regional ecosystem to another, from one tiny journal to another. Invariably, the original writer is not credited or notified when her work is reused.

Here is how Graham tries to explain these plagiarists' sins, starting with a set-up from Ira LIghtman, a British poet who became a sort of plagiarism vigilante last year, unearthing unauthorized copying and notifying the victims:

"I don't see them all as these sinister, plotting, Machiavellian characters," he said. "I see it as a corruption. And we're all vulnerable to corruption." He suggests that transgressors retreat to self-publishing for a few years, prove themselves honest, and then return to the fold.

If plagiarists are not sinister and Machiavellian, then why do they do it? This question gets asked every time there's a fresh revelation of plagiarism, whether it's in the literary world, journalism, or academia. There's never a satisfying answer, but there are at least lots of guesses, often somewhat at odds with each other: laziness or panic, narcissism or low self-esteem, ambition or deliberate self-sabotage.

First, I love this notion of a self-publishing wilderness these sinners are supposed to wander. But it's really the professed bafflement at the copyists' motives. It is apparently impossible, ever, for the poetic imagination to muster even a non-pathological explanation for copying or reuse, much less a sympathetic one. And if the poetry universe were ever to come into contact with a constructive or affirmative explanation, a defense, a championing of plagiarism, I'm sure it would annihilate in a flash of crackling heat.

And yet. And yet, Graham's own historical set-up notes that Coleridge was "an inveterate thief," and Hart Crane "borrowed heavily from a lesser-known" contemporary. Literary outlaw Laurence Sterne's success with Tristram Shandy is an historical disgrace, according to Graham's telling, but frankly, despite her scolding, the novel comes out sounding kind of awesome.

Again and again, it strikes me that the pieces are there to assemble a clearer, more productive view of plagiarism, but people are too blinded by the pain, the hurt, the effrontery of it all.

Is there a way to pick this dynamic apart, though, and look at its constituent elements? Cultural norms and expectations of each field differ. People may not know them, or they may ignore or reject them, or they may challenge them. This matters. I think the direction of reuse matters: up, down, or across? So does the perceived tenure or seniority or insiderness of the parties, or conversely, their tenure-seeking, amateurism, or marginality. The utility of publication for a career, or a brand. The effects of not being credited, not "getting one's due," recognition in a field where recognition is almost the only compensation available.

Is there a way to even have a conversation about plagiarism where it's not a priori evil? How would that go? How would it be if poets whose work was reused or reworked thought it was great, not offensive? What if complete internalization and adoption of a poem by a reader was considered the highest praise and achievement, not an insult? What if Google or whatever obviated any presumption of undetectable reuse, and everybody came to expect that sources or similarities were always only a search away? What if, when it came to expecting or demanding credit, poets took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference?

Word Theft, by Ruth Graham [poetryfoundation.org]

Last summer I wondered about finding and visiting Walter de Maria's Las Vegas Piece, three miles of trench bulldozed into the Nevada desert in 1969. [Technically, I wrote about the Center For Land Use Interpretation's account of leading curator Miwon Kwon's graduate seminar on a hunt for Las Vegas Piece, and about how the artist prepped people for visiting the piece, and about just recreating the damn thing already, we have the technology! Did you know Sturtevant worked on plans to make a double of Double Negative? On the ravine on the Mormon Mesa right next to Michael Heizer's fresh original? Holy smokes, people, read Bruce Hainley's book. But that's another post.]

Yes, the piece is supposedly lost, and now de Maria is, too. And so all we're left with is his description of Las Vegas Piece from his 1972 oral history interview with Paul Cumming.

But no, there is another. The late curator Jan van der Marck wrote about visiting Las Vegas Piece in the catalogue for an exhibition of "instruction Drawings" from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman collection at the Bergen (NO) Kunstverein in 2001. van der Marck was a founding curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and was involved in organizing artists' response to the police violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention. But that's another post, too. Here's van der Marck's crazy story of what amounts to an Earth Art junket: [with paragraph breaks added for the internet]:

Earth art turned into a personal experience for me in February 1970 when Virginia Dwan invited me and a few German art writers and museum directors to join her and the artists Michael Heizer and alter De Maria on a quick inspection of some new works in the Nevada Desert. From the Las Vegas airport our small band traveled ninety-five miles in north-northeastern direction on unpaved roads, in the back of Heizer's pickup truck.

That afternoon was going to be devoted to De Maria's Las Vegas Piece, which he would describe to us only as "an extensive linear work on a flat valley floor." An hour before sundown we arrived at our destination and were gripped by the stillness of the landscape. Before us stretched a freshly dug, eight-foot deep ditch in the sage brush-covered desert soil, in the distance loomed the purplish mesas.

We had to lower ourselves into the bulldozed trench, which wind and erosion already had given a natural look, and we were to start walking. Other trenches would branch of, the artist warned us, and choices had to be made, but it would not take us long before the layout could be deduced from the turns with which we were faced. The first man or woman able to draw a mental map was encouraged to shout and would be declared the winner. And, by the way, De Maria added, 'don't go the full three miles, because if you do, you are not much of a mathematician!" The configuration we were to discover for ourselves in the least amount of steps was a one-mile incision into the landscape meeting another one-mile incision at a right angles [sic]. At the midpoint of each one-mile stretch a set of half-mile ditches branched off, meeting each other at a right angle and forming a perfect square. Walter De Maria's Las Vegas Piece, long reclaimed by the desert and inaccurately described in the literature, was seen by a hand-full [sic] of people.

Yes, let's take things in order. First, the hilarious image of Michael Heizer blazing down a dirt road in BF Nevada with a truckload of German museum directors. This is a thing that happened.

Next, "declared the winner"? De Maria apparently positioned the experience of his piece as a game and a competition, a mathematical mystery that visitors were supposed to calculate with their bodies and draw in their heads. What is that about? And anyway, who is going to judge this competition? If a curator cracks an earth art mystery in the desert, and no one's within a mile of them to hear it, do they make a sound?

There's a big point I'll get to, but let's jump to the end, where van der Marck calls out [in the footnotes] Carol Hall's 1983 paper "Environmental Artists: Sources & Directions" for an inaccurate description of Las Vegas Piece. Well, my diagram above would need correcting, too. According to van der Marck, the two mile-long lines in Las Vegas Piece met, and each was bisected by a half-mile trench, which met in turn to form the square. Which would look more like a right angle bracket, like this:

demaria_las_vegas_piece_revised.jpg

But the artist himself needs correcting, too. Because the diagram I drew was based on de Maria's explanation to Cumming. And the biggest difference of all, of course, is that de Maria told Cumming the trench was "about a foot deep, two feet deep and about eight feet wide." Yet van der Marck said it was eight feet deep and that they had to lower themselves into it. This is a non-trivial difference. If it was the former, then visitors would be in constant sight of the surrounding landscape and each other. If it's the latter, they're completely cut off. From everything. All they have is the view along the trench, and the darkening sky. It's the difference between a meditative labyrinth path, and an actual FPS-style labyrinth.

Also, if De Maria's piece was really eight feet deep, it would relate more directly to Heizer's nearby Double Negative--and it would still almost certainly be visible, or at least findable.

And now the fact that as august a scholar as Miwon Kwon relied on as ambiguous a guide as CLUI tells me that no one actually knows what the deal is with Las Vegas Piece. Except, perhaps Virginia Dwan.

UPDATE: Indeed. Virginia Dwan donated her gallery's archives to the Smithsonian, but they are currently closed for processing. According to Margaret Iversen's 2007 book on post-Freudianism, Dwan told Charles Stuckey in an 1984 interview that De Maria forbade any photographs or documentation of Las Vegas Piece, partly to abjure the work's commodification.

demaria_las_vegas_piece_aerial_bw.jpg

Yet an unsourced, undated aerial photo reproduced on this French webpage seems to depict Las Vegas Piece. The scale is about right. And when I flipped it 180-degrees, the geographic features look like they match the area just to the right/east of the map marker above. But what are we actually seeing? Isn't that top line a road? And there's a diagonal line. Yet if they're not Las Vegas Piece, who would take this picture here, and why? If it's really credible, I'd guess that the photo was the source of CLUI's coordinates, identified by the same method I just did: by eyeballing.

When Dwan accompanied Calvin Tomkins on a visit to Las Vegas Piece in 1976, they followed a map De Maria made, but never located the work itself. This despite Dwan's having visited the site before. Lawrence Alloway made it, though, for his October 1976 Artforum article, "Site Inspection." [Both accounts are only online as excerpts in Iriz Amizlev's 1999 dissertation, "Land Art: Layers of Memory," from the Universite de Montreal. (pdf). Amizlev also ID's Carlos Huber of Kunsthalle Basel and John Weber in the back seat of Heizer's pickup.]

I said it publicly a couple of times now, and I was more cynical about them then than I am now, but when I first saw Richard Prince's Canal Zone paintings, I thought he was trying to see how bad he could paint. I half-joked that he wanted to see if his new dealer Larry Gagosian could really sell whatever shit he literally slapped together.

The higher concept way of putting that, of course, is that Prince was interested in process over product, in setting constraints and parameters on his practice, and in destabilizing himself by experimenting with techniques he knew he hadn't mastered.

I really came to appreciate the paintings, not so much for themselves--they're still undeniably shitty--but for their catalytic effect, the way the Cariou lawsuit compelled Prince to talk at length and under oath, about his work. His deposition is really pure art historical gold, and the way art is discussed in the legal context is disorienting and exciting to me, language-wise.

gh_banalzone.jpg

Still, as the legal case drags on, I find the paintings themselves--more precisely, the images of the paintings themselves, since almost no one's seen the actual objects for years now--kind of tedious, beside the point. And my interest wasn't rekindled by Banal Zone, Jomar Statkun show of Chinese Paint Mill copies of Prince's paintings. Literally any idiot can order Chinese Paint Mill paintings. Ask me how I know! And anyway, those joints were Inkjets by NancyScans.

But I am glad that Statkun's show serves as the catalyst for Prince to birdtalk about making the Canal Zone paintings. Because CALLED IT:

But aren't I curious about the "Chinese" paintings my anonymous friends ask? No I'm not. From what I've seen they look worst than some of the paintings I've already painted. You have to understand that when I started out painting my Canal Zone paintings I had no intention of making good paintings. In fact most of them were never finished and the majority were an experiment with new painting techniques. (This is the first time I've gone on the record about this stuff). Anyway... there are a couple of Canal Zone paintings that WERE aggressive and satisfying in ways that hard to describe... they were done quickly and under the influence of certain music I was listening to at the time... and part of this "screen play" I was toying around with. They started out as storyboards for a "pitch" called Eden Rock. (You got to start somewhere). They started off innocently enough when I found this Rasta book on vacation and I simply starting to use some of the images in the book for collages. (Early on I pasted a guitar over the body of one of the Rasta's, kind of lined it up so that the Rasta looked as if he was "wailing" away... and there you go... off to the races). I can't say it more simply. Wild History.
Expecting Good Paintings out of Richard Prince is as crazy as expecting Good Photographs. It's just not how he rolls.

BIRDTALK 2/12/2014 [richardprince.com]
Garis & Hahn Presents Jomar Statkun's 'Banal Zone' [hyperallergic sponsor; direct to garisandhahn]

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, 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 greg.org that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
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recent projects, &c.


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eBay Test Listings
Mar 2015 —
about | proposte monocrome, rose
bid or buy available prints on ebay

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It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
about | link

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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
about

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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

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"Exhibition Space"
Mar 20 - May 8 @apexart, NYC


HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
panel &c.


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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
background | making of
"Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

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Canal Zone Richard
Prince YES RASTA:
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99

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