Four words that I, for one, ever expected to type in this sequence, but here we are.
June 12, 2012
June 8, 2012
Last year I wrote a piece for Humanities Magazine about considering Ray and Charles Eames as artists, not designers. I don't mean by rewriting history or retrofitting a contemporary definition of artist onto them. It's just that I think there's a lot of insights to be gained today by adding them and their studio and their collaboration and their output to the discussion of contemporary artistic practice.
Of course, the fact that the Eameses made a molded ply sculpture in 1943 and showed it at MoMA in 1944 kind of complicates my "they weren't artists but" conceit a little bit.
But just a little. The show at the Modern was called Design for Use, and was curated by Serge Chermayeff, so about as all-applied and non-art as you could get.
Even though it couldn't be more useless. And so it was shown on a pedestal, like a sculpture, away from the array of useful products. Also, it nominally has a front [top].
And though Christie's East decided it belonged in an "Important Design" auction when Chermayeff unloaded it 1999, this time around it's in--oh, it's in decorative arts & design. Guess I had my browser tabs confused for a second.
But then, this is how they're pitching it, after basically attributing its form to Ray's Arp-meets-Hofmann paintings:
Despite their furnishings being successfully received, Charles remained frustrated at the absence of suitable plywood molding technology -- a situation that was to alter when, in early 1943, the Eames' received a commission from the U.S. Navy to produce lightweight plywood leg splints -- the first ever fully three-dimensionally molded plywood structure. Embracing the opportunity to experiment with professional industrial molding equipment and high-strength waterproof adhesives, the Eames' created a series of hand-guided machine-made forms, structures and sculptures, including the present example, that must be regarded not solely as experimental industrial products, but as resolved artistic expressions that were to define the identity of post-war design.So it's not a design study, or a manufacturing experiment. Or not only that, but a "resolved artistic expression," or as their ambitious mid-six-figure estimate would have it, "a highly important and unique sculpture."
June 7, 2012
Ray Bradbury reading a poem, "If only we had taller been," at JPL in 1971, just as Mariner 1 was about to go into orbit around Mars. Here's the text, which was published in a collection of Bradbury's poems, When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, in 1973. [via boingboing]
UPDATE: A reader, Sara, noticed differences between the version of the poem Bradbury read in 1971, and the one he published in 1974. Sure enough, there are a few additional lines, and a tweaked word or two. Interesting.
June 3, 2012
Like, apparently, a lot of folks, particularly writers who are bombarded with awful art press releases, 303 Gallery's announcement for their current show of Richard Prince paintings came as an atypical surprise. It begins:
303 Gallery is pleased to announce our first exhibition of new works by Richard Prince since 1991.And it goes on with a refreshing WTF-ness that clearly had to be the artist's work, not the gallery's. [That it reminded me of some crypto-poetic, surreal, and increasingly cultish press releases from the early days of the shuttered Daniel Silverstein Gallery only reinforces my impression that Lisa & Mari or whoever did not come up with this stuff.]
Some people see leaves falling from a tree and see it as, leaves falling from a tree. Others see it as an inexhaustible mystery of the signified from the mundane closed-off simulation of a world sign.
The world is intolerably dreary. You escape it by seeing and naming what had heretofore been unspeakable.
Naming the unnamable and hearing it named.
These paintings should be shown to the man from Mars.
What still left me scratching my head, though, was a passage from Richard Prince's deposition where he totally hates on press releases, even when they're written well. Patrick Cariou's lawyer Dan Brooks asked Prince whether he agreed with the press release Gagosian director Louise Neri wrote for Canal Zone [pp293-8 or so]:
DB: But do you find this to be an apt description of your paintings in the Canal Zone exhibition?And so I was kind of amazed that Prince would actually write something for a press release. And so I, like a lot of folks, read it and wondered what it all means.
MS BART [Gagosian's attorney]: Objection to form.
RP: It's not necessarily the way I would have described it had they asked me to write the press release. But I don't write press releases and I don't read them.
DB: And this is the first time--
RP: I find them -- sorry.
MS. BART: No, you were talking. He interrupted you.
DB: Go ahead.
RP: I find press releases incredibly silly and boring, and I just don't -- I've never wanted anything--because they're really just trying to hype the work. And I don't particularly like to get involved in that.
DB: And, again, this is the first time you're seeing this press release?
RP: This is the first time I'm seeing this.
And it means that I, like most people, haven't read enough of Richard Prince's writings, because if we had, we'd recognize the press release as excerpts from the artist's ongoing accumulation of quips, quotes, comments, and Deep Thoughts, which he has termed, "Bird Talk."
There are a few mentions of it online, and Prince quotes it on his book tumblr, Fulton Ryder, but I can't yet figure out yet when Bird Talk began. The range of texts, though, shows it to be a living document. One comment about audience ["I would imagine my immediate audience are people just like me. People who are thirty-five."] sounds like it's from 1984. A rare book dealer's catalogue description for a proof of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow comes from 2003. Most bits sound like Prince's observations ["Heavy metal is retriabalizing. (sic)"], but there are two [uncredited] Marshall McLuhan quotes, a reference to a 1965 Ad Reinhardt interview with himself, and at least one fantastical speculation ["Vermeer lost over one hundred paintings in a ship wreck."]
Which means Bird Talk could be seen as a miniature Atlas or Arcades Project on the one [ambitious/generous] hand, or as Prince's fridge door on the other. Whatever it is, it's a useful and highly accessible primary source for the artist's thinking, and even his work ["Rephotography could be a form of re-adjusting sensory bias."] Which almost no one has ever quoted or discussed; on almost every quote I checked, Prince's own website was the sole Google result.
Bird Talk [richardprince.com]
Fulton Ryder, Prince's bookstore/imprint/gallery/tumblr [fultonryder.com]
2010 Prince interview mentions Bird Talk--and the Cariou case [russhmagazine.com]
April 29, 2012
And speaking of big universes and small worlds, I'm starting to listen to the 1991 recordings of John Cage's Diary: How To Improve The World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse), and just ten minutes in, I'm reminded that Cage's childhood friendship with the unorthodox-but-nearly-canonical Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley is the most unlikely Mormon/modern music connection since La Monte Young [grandson of Brigham].
Without intending to, I'm going from lake to lakeWhich, hmm, if it only served to get me into a transcribing-and-posting mind for the next excerpt Cage read, then it's worth it:
I hadn't seen him since high school days
I asked him what he thought about other planets
and sentient populations.
"Yes," he said, "throughout the universe.
It's Mormon doctrine."
We'd said goodbye.
I opened the door of the car,
picked up my attache case,
and everything in it fell out on the grass
and the gutter.
"Something memorable always happens."
Things we were going to do
are now being done by others.
They were, it seems, not in our minds to do.
Were we or they out of our minds?
But simply ready to enter any open mind
any mind disturbed enough not to have an idea in it.
April 27, 2012
Can you tell I'm trying to clear out the to-post photos from my desktop? In Februarry Christie's sold an interesting, large Richard Prince Joke painting in London that was made in 2007. The date is significant for reasons that the lengthy catalogue description studiously avoids.
on closer inspection, beneath the dripping paint which adds such texture to the surface of Untitled (Portrait), it becomes clear that the entire background is comprised of images of the supermodel Kate Moss either topless or wearing a bikini top. Untitled (Portrait), then, is a contemporary palimpsest, a conceptual layer cake of imagery which allows Prince to juxtapose a range of seemingly discordant materials in order to play a complex game with the recognisability of celebrities from the art world and indeed the world in general: Pollock, Moss, and of course Prince himself.The auction house namechecks Pollock, and goes on about Prince's de Kooning paintings, which he'd just completed in 2007. But the action paint-on-tearsheet collage Kate Moss painting is very similar in medium and process to the first work Prince made from Patrick Cariou's Yes Rasta photos.
The piece, actually titled Canal Zone (2007), consisted of a loose grid of 34 or so overpainted pages torn from Prince's copy of Yes Rasta, mounted on a board, and exhibited in a small show at the Eden Roc Hotel in St. Barth's over the Christmas/New Year holiday in 2007. Prince had purchased Cariou's book at a local shop, and then began writing, sketching, and painting in it over the course of his annual visits to St. Barth.
The Kate Moss painting seems to have been made in a nearly identical way, from similar source material--reproductions of highly aestheticized, black & white photography--at about the same time. It's not a stretch to imagine Cariou's photos taken--or at least simulated--by Steven Klein, just more of the same genre Prince is already working with.
April 4, 2012
Not really a blog, I suppose, but more of a journal. Some notes. They feel pretty perfect, though, very authentically him, for better or worse. Generally for better, though.
I've been going especially deep on Prince for the last few weeks as I try to prepare the script for a live reading/restaging of the artist's Cariou v. Prince deposition, which was won by some lucky bidders at Art Fag City's benefit auction in February.
That means turning the 400-page, seven-plus hour transcript into a couple of hours of informative, relevant, and hopefully entertaining highlights that accurately communicate the real issues of the copyright infringement lawsuit; and that capture the key elements of Prince's history and practice, and how this Canal Zone series fits into it. Even in the totally oddball pressure cooker environment of a deposition, where basically every question is adversarial, leading, and contested by the other lawyers in the room, Prince's reality comes through. He's not cynical, but he is a pessimist. He has very clear, even compelling insights about his work and his controversial methods. He's occasionally funny and awkward and pissed. A human, an artist, not a construct or a brand.
I keep meaning to go through the Canal Zone Richard Prince Yes Rasta book and post some highlights. Maybe in relation to this staging, I will. Meanwhile, here's one: Dan Brooks, the lawyer for photographer Patrick Cariou, who questioned Prince, definitely seemed to be operating under the hypothesis that Canal Zone was conceived as nothing but a giant moneymaking venture. In various times and ways, Prince rather convincingly refuted that, I think, but never more powerfully than when Brooks asked about a film pitch, and Hollywood, and turning Canal Zone into a video game:
DB: Where do the video game rights come into this pitch?OK, maybe the two million dollar part undercuts the never selling part a bit, but the point is, it's not about the money, people. It's getting Roberta over there to write about your show.
RP: Is that--are you asking me--you're asking me?
Q: These are your words in the interview?
Q: What did you mean?
A: I think I was thinking about the fact that I know nothing about video games and--but my--all my stepson's friends play them. And I felt that there might be a possibility to--I had seen some of the graphics involved in some of these games when they play, and I felt that the different tribes that take over the different hotels and they kind of, you now, it was just a thought. And I think I ran this by Michael Ovitz and he loved the idea.
Q: So you viewed this whole thing as an extremely commercially successful potential venture, paintings--
A: the pitch?
Mr. Hayes: Objection.
Q: Paintings, movies, and video game rights, right?
Mr Hayes: Objection as to form.
A: No, I've never thought that what I do or what I produce or what I put out will ever, one, sell.
I've made art for 34, 35 years and nothing sold. What I--my experience in terms of what i make, it seems that a lot of people just couldn't dig it. And to tell you the truth, it was not one--when I put up the Canal Zone show at Larry Gagosian's there was not one review in any newspaper, in any magazine. And I find that incredibly unsuccessful.
Q: But weren't some of the paintings sold before the show even opened?
A: They were sold, yes.
Q: For millions of dollars?
A: I wouldn't characterize it for millions. For a couple million dollars, there were two paintings I believe that were sold before the Lehman Brothers meltdown, yes, there were two paintings that were sold for approximately 2-million dollars.
March 31, 2012
Well that's an unexpectedly awkward situation I just stumbled into.
greycu.be: what, you mean your car doesn't have a domain name?
A week or so ago, I decided my new car needed a domain name. So I registered greycu.be. Partly because the tweeters these days are all hot for the short URLs. But mostly because my car, a little art hauler and storage unit runner, is a Scion xB. Which is the perfect canvas upon which to realize my previously all-talk idea of commissioning artists to do vinyl wrap art cars. [additional posts here, here, and unfortunately, here.]
Needless to say, greycu.be was available. But it did get me to thinking, so I threw whitecu.be into the whois search for the Belgian DNS operator. And it wasn't registered, per se, but "quarantined." A 40-day limbo following the non-renewal of a domain name on dns.be. Which went until April 1. And sure enough, when I checked in this evening, whitecu.be had been released. So I registered it.
I confess I have no plans for it at this point. And also that buying it was motivated partly by the sheer novelty of being able to buy a domain name again after it has expired, something the shady/annoying backorder/resale adsquatting "services" in the US domainspace have made basically impossible. [I happen to be at least the second owner of greg.org; the first, an outfit called Global Real Estate Group, had let it expire in 1997.]
But even in this somewhat oddly punctuated, awkwardly unpronounceable incarnation [whitecu dot be? whitecu point be? whitecu pwahn be? It just doesn't work, except as web text], a chance to connect with one of the foundational paradigms of contemporary art theory was too awesome to pass up.
Since they first appeared in Artforum in 1976, Brian O'Doherty's essays, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space have provided a powerful critical framework for examining the impact of the commercial art market on the creation and exhibition of art. Even 35 years on, artists grapple every day with the political and financial implications of the white cube, which persists as the central site of art's instantiation as a commoditized luxury good.
Which has been deeply influential on my own education and experience with art, and with my history as a collector, and more recently as a writer and maker.
Powerless Structures No. 15/12 Hours of White Paint, 1997, Elmgreen & Dragset
Which is presumably why, in 1993, Jay Jopling chose to name his London gallery White Cube. Now he has three, and they're among the most important and well-known in town. Their website is whitecube.com.
Which would seem plenty clear, distinct, and obvious, unlike, say, whitecu.be. Yet it turns out that Jay did not think so. Or at least he thought that the artist and gallery portfolio hosting service that went up on whitecu.be last year looked a little too similar to his gallery's web presence. Or that any reference to a white cube was de facto confusing to his 2008 [!] trademark on the term. Because he filed a trademark infringement claim with dns.be against the service's creators attempting to have the domain name canceled.
Still from The Cube, a 1969 NBC teleplay by Jim Henson about a guy who finds himself stuck in a white cube.
The site's creators, a pair of young designers in Florida, prepared a lengthy response to Jopling's claim, but apparently they did not formally respond to it. And so the third-party arbitrator appointed by dns.be issued an extraordinary ruling in Jopling's favor. The findings for which seem to ignore the entire basis of the domain name and TLD system:
The mere fact that the Licensee inserted a full stop between the letters "cu" and "be" is not likely to outweigh the massive similarities and the replications of all the letters contained in the Complainant's trademark, in the same order, with the same meaning.And which also ignores the highly significant, and widespread common use of the term "white cube" in an art context and its history which predates Jopling's commercial use and [very recent] trademark claim for the term. And which ubiquity was, in fact, the reason Jopling chose it.
The existence of legitimate interests in the litigious domain name appears quite dubious...And then there's a remarkable finding of bad faith:
It is obvious from the record that the intention of the Licensee was to divert internet users from the domain name by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant's trademark.Well, I still don't know how to say it, or what it'll be used for, but the new owners of whitecu.be can assure you that it will not be in the business of being mistaken for Jay Jopling's fine and reputable establishment. Which is at the obvious, widely known, and easily pronounced whitecube.com.
It is the opinion of the Third party decider that this clearly constitutes a case of typo squatting, with the intent of commercial gain and potential damage for the distinctive character or the reputation of the Complainant's trademark.
March 12, 2012
Henry Codax, Untitled (Dark Grey), 2011, via christies.com
Wow, do I owe Henry Codax an apology.
Last week I'd declared the fictitious painter's beautiful gray monochrome a failure because, not only did it not "Strip away any obvious authorship," the Christie's catalogue text for the painting laid authorship down in thick coats by stating as fact that Codax was "a pseudonym created by New York-based artist Jacob Kassay and the Swiss conceptual artist Olivier Mosset."
installation shot, Henry Codax paintings, Carriage Trade, June 2011
I'd been surprised to see the attribution laid out so definitively, especially after re-reading the source of that attribution, Andrew Russeth's Gallerist NY article on the Codax show last summer at Carriage Trade. Russeth did indeed report that "a source"--who he did not characterize in any way--had told him about the Mosset/Kassay collaboration, but Carriage Trade would not comment on Codax's origins--and still won't, btw--and both real-life painters' galleries stated they had no idea about the work or the project.
Olivier Mosset paintings installed with bikes by Jeffrey Schad and Vincent Szarek, 2011, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica
In the Wikipedia age, though, where truth is trumped by verifiability, Russeth's article was proof enough for the paintings to find buyers. And for at least one buyer, who apparently figured they'd cash in on the recent Kassay mania by flipping the dark grey monochrome at auction. And for Christie's, who ignored the work's similarities to the venerated-but-less-marketable Mosset's work to assert that "In the present example, Kassay's iconic silvery paintings have been replaced by a sleek, anonymous grey surface."
Yes, well. Actually, no.
At Christie's First Open sale last Wednesday morning, the Codax had been bought in, which means it didn't sell, either because bidding didn't reach the reserve price, or because there was no bidding at all. At first, I'd figured the work wasn't Kassayish enough after all, or that its conceptual conceits were too cute for the speculators in the market.
Henry Codax and Stephane Kropf at Susanna Kulli Gallery, Zurich, Oct. 2011
But then someone who attended the sale told me that Christie's had read a statement, known as a saleroom note, before bidding began, in which Kassay said he'd "had nothing to do with" the painting, and that his "name should not be associated with it." [In trying to confirm the text of the actual statement, I contacted Christie's, first as press, and then finally as client. The specialist who worked on the lot was helpful, if circumspect. But she also referred me to the sale results page, which, I was told, would have the saleroom notice appended. Except, of course, it didn't, because Christie's deletes online references to unsold lots completely, in order to not taint their saleability in the future.]
Whatever was said was apparently enough to dissipate the Kassay cachet. [Christie's did not receive a similar demand from Mosset.] But more importantly, or more interestingly, it also reopened the speculative possibilities surrounding Codax's work and who might have made it. And how it closes and generates gaps between an object and the projections upon it.
Olivier Mosset work in 1107 Manhattan Ave, a group show at Spencer Brownstone, which also included works by studio neighbor Kassay, Sept. 2011
The real [fictional] Codax, the character in Bernadette Corporation's collectively authored novel Reena Spaulings, was known for "expensive, impressive monochromes." Yet these were neither, and after failing to sell at auction, they were even less so. Reviewing the show for Frieze, Piper Marshall noted the authorship issue's resonance with Mosset's earliest practice, when, as BMPT, he and three fellow painters, Daniel Buren, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni, would make and sign each others' work.
Jacob Kassay installation, eight square, silvered paintings at Art Basel, June 2011, image via gallerist ny
But once Gallerist published their persuasively well-informed speculation, these large, uniform, anonymous paintings suddenly became a roomful of *wink* Kassays, which, unlike the roomful of square Kassays just shown at Basel, were available to buy. Even if you weren't "a real museum." And at up to 95% off. As long as you didn't mind the uncertainty. And as long as you were happy with an unsigned painting accompanied by a certificate authenticating the work only as by "Henry Codax." And if the work is ever captured by the market, the artists will deny all knowledge of its existence.
Our capitalist culture is based upon the premise that corporations are people, too, and legal disputes are regularly resolved by exchanges that include "no admission of wrongdoing." With a political system where plausible deniability is S.O.P. and legal motions are made that "neither confirm nor deny" their subjects. It does makes one wonder why the art market can't accommodate a painting by a fictitious artist derived from a collectively written novel by a fictitious gallerist published by a corporation, even without the unconfirmed involvements of two well-known, living artists.
So Henry Codax, I sincerely apologize, and I salute you, for you are truly an artist of our time. C-A-L-L M-E.
January 29, 2012
Alright, the mourning process seems to be ending, but the Guggenheim still hasn't posted video of the crazy/awesome/all over the place speeches from "The Last Word," the TED-like symposium marathon organized last weekend for the end of Maurizio Cattelan's "All." And for his supposedly looming retirement from artmaking.
So I've gone ahead and posted a Storify recap of the livetweet commentary I did, almost involuntarily, when I stumbled across the webcast, about mid-way through Francis Naumann's discussion of Duchamp's supposed retirement.
Let's see if this works: