My first thought on seeing this bouquet in a garbage can on the corner of 73rd St & West End Avenue was that it looked like the Lila Acheson Wallace-endowed bouquets in the Great Hall at the Met.
My second thought was that guerrilla flower arrangements should be a thing. And as soon as I saw the credit line spraypainted on the sidewalk “[LMD x NYC]” in Jeffrey Toobin’s picture, I realized it already is.
Lewis Miller recycles flowers from private commissions and events into impromptu, public flower arrangements. They’re instagrammed, and admired for a moment or two IRL–then scavenged and destroyed by passersby.
The old Fountain, a urinal on its side, since lost, was captured in a single photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. The ex-post-facto Stieglitz of our future’s Fountains is @SqueezyMcCheesy. Who did not, AFAIK, attend Betsy DeVos’s niece’s wedding, but did drop by the 2016 ranch dressing pop-up shop for the Cartoon Network comedian Eric Andre.
The ranch dressing fountain appeared at the pop-up shop exactly two years ago tonight, and then, like the urinal a century ago, it disappeared.
That shape. That surface. That material. I mean just look at it. The sound you hear is not the ranch dressing pump; it is Paul McCarthy weeping. He was so close, and yet.
Where the ersatz backdrop for Fountain (1917) was a painting by Marsden Hartley, the new Fountain was shot in front of a banner with Andre’s catchphrase, “Ranch me, Brotendo.”
If we only had ranch dressing Fountain to guide us in making art for the next 100 years, we would be busy. But pretty damn white. Fortunately, there are other Fountains. Behold Fuente de Queso.
What other food can be melted and dribbled in shiny, pulsating skins over a tower of stainless steel domes? What can’t, right? [I just googled ‘soylent fountain.’] Let’s fount’em all. And like our every food, our art will be liquefied and pumped and recirculated through an endless, nauseatingly spectacular cascade. How will we even notice?
That led me to Open This End, a 2015 traveling exhibition from of works from Byrne’s collection, organized by various college museums and his Skylark Foundation. One stop was Ohio State University, which housed most of the show at the Urban Art Space, except for this: “Just off campus on the façade of the former Long’s Bookstore on the corner of 15th Ave and High St, is a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled(For Parkett) (1994).”
Which made me wonder how that worked? Actually, I’d wondered for several years how Felix’s Parkett edition billboard worked in real life. It comes rolled up in eight big, silk screened panels, and once it’s installed in a site, that’s it; it’s permanent. So far, my attempt, begun in 2012, to document all 84+15AP editions had gone nowhere. But now I had a new datapoint. Maybe. How does a one-and-done billboard in a traveling show from a private collection work?
Sure enough, here it is on Google Street View in 2015, facing the OSU campus entrance right by the Wexner Art Center. Let’s scrub forward to see how it has held up?
I emailed Skylark Foundation executive director Barbara Schwan to find out what happened. She looped in Joseph Wolin, curator of Open This End, to explain. After much consultation with the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation and Parkett, Byrne donated his edition of the billboard to OSU, where it was installed for several months on a building that was slated for demolition.
When the building came down, the billboard came down with it. Wolin wrote:
We were told, I forget if it was by Parkett or the Foundation, that this was one of the very few times, if not the only time, the billboard had been installed as a billboard, so we were pretty excited about that. Blake himself had acquired the work at auction and had it rolled up in storage for many years, so for me it felt rather wonderful, if bittersweet, to be able to realize it as the artist had intended. Apparently, when the work is installed indoors, as in Parkett’s exhibitions, the panels are often just pinned to the wall and rolled up again after.
So many questions answered, so many questions raised. Six years ago I lamented that “Untitled” (for Parkett) is “doomed by its own nature to exist in a state of fungible incompleteness, or worthless realization, or inevitable destruction.”
Which, thanks to a generous donation and successful realization with full knowledge of its destruction, we realize is a feature, not a bug. I hope more owners of “Untitled” (for Parkett) follow Byrne’s lead by realizing their billboards and letting time take its toll in public rather than in storage. It is what Felix would have wanted.
Where to even start? As a huge Charles Sheeler fan from early on, my first reaction was “GET IT.” This 1941 Sheeler photo is unusual so many ways. First off, the subject is a person, though one who is surrounded by the artifacts of early Americana that provided a grounding for the artist’s own modernist and precisionist leanings.
More on this person in a second, but second, this print was just deaccessioned by the Museum of Modern Art, and I missed the end of the Christie’s online auction because I was driving–and I forgot.
The print was a gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the Modern’s co-founder. It is unsigned. The back has adhesive residue and an accession number. So I guess technically it might have been an exhibition print; back in the day, the connoisseurial taxonomies of photography were obviously less rigid, as were the accession guidelines of the Department, never mind there was a war on.
Anyway, such an illustrious provenance should smooth over any concerns. And yet the Christie’s estimate was only $5-7,000, a tiny fraction of a more typical Sheeler print. And the thing only got one bid, $1,500, and sold for just $1,875.
Maybe it’s time to go back to the first and most obviously striking thing about this portrait: the subject, an elderly African American woman with an apron, sitting in an antique kitchen, who, according to the photo’s title, is “Aunt Mary.” But whose Aunt Mary? Not the photographer’s, presumably, and not Abby Rockefeller’s, right? Well.
“Aunt Mary” turns out to be a character, a fictional enslaved worker in the kitchen of the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg, another Rockefeller-founded culture venue that had just opened in 1934. On decades worth of Williamsburg postcards “Aunt Mary”, described as a “servant,” sits, head down, in a placid, domestic tableau.
To his credit, Sheeler photographed this unidentified performer as a person, not as a prop. Who was she? What was her job like? Assuming she’s from the area, southern Virginia, she looks too young to have been enslaved herself, but certainly old enough to be the child of former slaves. Until a push by activists and historians in the 1970s, “Aunt Mary” was one of the very few non-white historical characters in Williamsburg.
But why was Sheeler making it? I know and love his documentary photos from the Metropolitan Museum, but did he cover Williamsburg, too? Last year Kirsten Jensen curated a show of Sheeler’s fashion photography for the Michener Art Museum in Pennsylvania. What other Sheeler series and projects are lurking undiscovered in archives out there?
On a first visit to Eileen Gray’s masterpiece e-1027 since its restoration (still in progress), I was impressed by the details as much as the overall design. Gray’s house on the sea at Roquebrune Cap Martin, built in 1929 on the far side of Monaco, isn’t perfect, but it is extremely well thought through and basically marvelous.
The lights stood out. The front door, which is sort of a back door, and a patio where dinner was sometimes served.
The lower bedroom for Jean Badovici, or for guests, which had this interesting construction over where his desk would be (the desk is out to improve circulation in the tiny space, which felt small even with just the six people on our tour.). In addition to light, the fixture was positioned to mirror and double the view of the Mediterranean from the bed. This use of mirrors and reflectivity is a feature throughout the house.
like I said. This shaving mirror in the corner of Badovici’s room has a light embedded, and another mirror on an articulated, chrome-plated arm, at Badovici’s request, so he could shave the back of his head. It’s a style that’s come around again.
These fixtures are all replications; the first and third pieces were long lost, but the original overhead light was stolen, probably to order, in 2003.
While reposting those old Daddy Types entries about the US’s imprisonment of Japanese American citizens, I came across a couple of images of Topaz, Utah that were new to me. They were added to the University of Utah Library’s collection in 2012, and originated in a 1987 documentary about Topaz produced by KUED, the local PBS station.
The top image is sort of mundane, but the form of this make-do scrapwood sign just sticks with me. That might be an actual blackboard, or maybe not.
It doesn’t stick with me like the object in this image, though. Four unidentified people standing in front of the Service Flag for the “community” of Topaz, which included one star for each detainee serving in the US military. 325 at the time this photo was taken. Soldiers serving while their families were in prison because of politicians’ racial bigotry and fear.
Guernica is a big painting, 3.5m x 7.75m, which spent much of its early life on world tour, and which was parked at MoMA at Picasso’s request, from 1943 until a democratic Spanish government was able to bring it back in 1981. Including a couple of construction-related rehangs, MoMA packed and moved Guernica twenty times during its stay. Still, for touring exhibitions organized by the Modern in the 1940s and 50s, they sent a scaled down, but still large, photograph of Guernica instead.
Exhibition requests blossomed for Nelson Rockefeller’s authorized, full-scale tapestry replica of Guernica, which he commissioned in 1955. Like the photos, the tapestry became a stand-in for the original, expanding and amplifying its reach.
Two other tapestry versions were eventually produced, which ended up in museums in France and Japan. Rockefeller loaned his to the United Nations, where it’s gone on to have its own loaded history.
[Goshkua Macuga borrowed the Rockefeller tapestry for a 2009-10 show at the Whitechapel Gallery which referenced Colin Powell’s 2003 war speech at the UN where he covered the tapestry while lying about Iraq.]
I have not seen any mention of any of these photo replicas still existing. A full-scale prop version of Guernica appeared in a scene in Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film Children of Men, and points to the very recent development of printing technology that allows a 3.5m tall image to be reproduced on one panel.
Which, I think I must now do if I can’t find these earlier photo versions. And even if I can.
I’ll be honest, when I first heard that the ICE immigrant family detention centers full of Central American refugee kids and moms had animal-themed cell blocks like red bird and blue butterfly, I imagined they were using Eric Carle drawings, and I got a dark, blogging thrill.
But no. The South Texas Residential Center in Dilley, the largest family detention center in the world, run by the for-profit prison contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, was too cheap to license Carle’s work, and just used random clip art instead.
Also, the government’s punitive detention of these people is shameful, and it can’t end soon enough. Most of these families are fleeing war, violence, and abuse in their home countries and have already qualified for refugee hearings the US, but remain in these remote prisons, guarded by actual prison guards, temping in khakis and polo shirts, as a feeble deterrent to other refugees.
I resisted comparing ICE’s outsourced prisons to the desert detention centers Japanese-American families were forced into during WWII, even when I saw Bob Owen’s photo in the San Antonio Express News, which is a damningly straight-up evocation of Dorothea Lange’s photos of the War Relocation Authority’s internment camp at Manzanar, California.
Ansel Adams also took photos at Manzanar, which he published in a book, Born Free And Equal, alongside a text that reads today as disturbingly upbeat in its praise of the gumption and loyalty of American citizens forced into desert prisons. I’ve always viewed Adams’ project as a protest, a condemnation of the injustice visited upon Americans because of the racist fears of their neighbors and political leaders. But that is over-optimistic hindsight. Re-reading Adams’ text now is pretty depressing. To think that it’s all the Constitution and fundamental principle that wartime white America could handle at the time.
At least it helps make sense for how this country could get so cross-wise with its own professed ideals today; we really have not changed that much at all. And when I tried to put some evolved distance between the ironies of Adams’ treacly government-reviewed-and-approved fluffing and this account from inside Dilley, I couldn’t. So here it is:
While children wait for their mothers to talk to lawyers and legal aids, they are usually watching kids’ movies dubbed in Spanish, namely Rio or Frozen. The children of Dilley, like children everywhere, have taken to singing Frozen’s iconic song “Let It Go.”The Spanish-language refrain to the song “Libre soy! Libre soy!” translates to “I am free! I am free!” It’s an irony that makes the adults of Dilley uneasy. Mehta recalls one mother responding to her singing child under her breath: “Pero no lo somos” (But we aren’t).
Do you know the chorus of “Let it Go” in Spanish? I did not, but it is one helluva song for kids to be singing in a corporate prison in 2015:
Libre soy, libre soy
No puedo ocultarlo más
Libre soy, libre soy
Libertad sin vuelta atrás
Y firme así me quedo aquí
Libre soy, libre soy
El frío es parte también de mí
I am free, I am free
I can’t hide it anymore
I am free, I am free
Freedom without turning back
And I’m staying here, firm like this
I am free, I am free
The cold is also a part of me
Dave Masaharu Tatsuno ran the dry goods store at Topaz Mountain, where Japanese Americans from the Bay Area were imprisoned during WWII. And he took a bunch of 8mm home movies, using color film which he’d pick up on buying trips back east. And then he edited the movies together into Topaz Memories [or Topaz, which is how it was listed when it was accepted onto the National Film Registry], a film/presentation which he gave at organizations around the country after the war.
Or maybe beginnin the 1990s, I haven’t watched the end of the local PBS documentary on Tatsuno, produced after his death in 2006, to figure it all out yet. I was so amped up by these detainee-made sleds at 20:05, I had to post them right away. That’s Bill Fujita, Tatsuno’s brother-in-law, pulling David Fujita and Tatsuno’s oldest son Sheldon in 1943.
The Tatsunos were expelled from their home when Dave’s wife Alice was nine months pregnant, and their second son Rod was born at the Bay Area assembly/processing center at Tanforan race track. Their daughter Arlene was born at Topaz.
You’d think that as a parent, I’d be less surprised by now at the constant discoveries of the extent of my own ignorance.
Last night, while surfing through the archive of the War Relocation Authority’s nearly 7,000 photos of WWII Japanese American internment camps for “furniture,” [right, I know.] I was confused by the number of search results that included George Nakashima and his daughter Mira.
The internment camps only imprisoned Japanese Americans on the west coast; Nakashima, modernist woodworking master, lived in New Hope, Pennsylvania, so he should’ve been totally unaffected.
And it’s only then that I looked at Nakashima’s bio, and sure enough, the architect, his wife Marion, and his newborn daughter were expelled from Seattle and detained at Minidoka, Idaho in the Spring of 1942. It was only through the protracted petitions of Antonin Raymond, an architect and former employer, that the Nakashimas were able to leave the camp for Raymond’s farm in New Hope.
The picture above, by WRA photographer Francis Stewart, shows George Nakashima at Minidoka in the Fall of 1942, “Constructing and decorating model apartment to show possibilities using scrap materials.” Which, just. Wallpaper made from bookpages and blueprints and a proto-Conoid table made from prison scraps. This room should be in the Smithsonian.
The irony, if that’s the right word, is that it was at Minidoka that Nakashima met Gentaro Hikogawa, an issei hotel manager three years older than he, who’d immigrated from Shikoku to Tacoma. Hikogawa was also a master carpenter, who taught Nakashima Japanese joinery and rural handtool techniques that formed the foundation for Nakashima’s philosophy and later innovations.
Speaking of which, here are two photos of 3-yo Mira Nakashima posing next to two beds her father made, one for her, and one for her doll, in her bedroom in New Hope.
In WWII, Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from the west coast, stripped of basically everything they couldn’t carry, and imprisoned in inland internment camps, rows of tar paper barracks in the desert surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard towers.
Everything else, they had to build themselves. Here are a couple of photos from the War Relocation Authority collection at the National Archives of the preschool playground at the Tule Lake Relocation Center in Newell, CA.
Looks like they had better scrapwood at Tule Lake than at Topaz Mountain in Utah. Or maybe better carpenters. Still, I’d add that unfinished wood slide to the list of injustices perpetrated against loyal American citizen children by their government.
The photo blog on The Atlantic has been running extended looks back at images from World War II. Today’s theme: Japanese-Americans forcibly removed from their homes and businesses and shipped to internment camps in the middle of the freakin’ deserts.
The caption on #39 just bummed me out: “Nursery school children play with a scale model of their barracks at the Tule Lake Relocation Center, Newell, California, on September 11, 1942.” Their barracks.
On the bright side, check out the sweet little pine plank nursery chairs they’re standing on. How many civil right’s a brother gotta give up to score a few of those, I wonder?
America’s imprisonment of its own citizens because of racial bigotry during World War II has been of great interest to me since discovering Born Free and Equal, Ansel Adams’ self-published photobook of Japanese Americans detained at Manzanar, in the early 1990s. It always felt like important history that must be faced and not forgotten. Now, of course, it is a crime being surpassed and magnified, with families being torn apart and children fleeing for their lives being subject to state-sponsored terror at a scale this country hasn’t seen in almost a century, and all for the accumulation of Mautocratic political power.
It is not a sufficient response by any measure, but I am republishing a series of blog posts here which I made over the years at Daddy Types, the weblog for new dads, which I ran from 2004 until my CMS broke late last year. On DT I often wrote about the overlooked or forgotten histories and objects of parenting, with a focus on modernism, design, DIY, and dad-related projects. That included frequent posts on the material lives of Japanese American children imprisoned in detention camps during WWII, including the attempts to provide kids an approximation of a normal environment through schools, playgrounds, and domestic spaces built out of scrap lumber.
And here I am starting to feel about headboards-I-don’t-own-as-readymade-paintings like Dan Flavin ended up feeling about fluorescent lights: stuck.
Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like. Can you just imagine the market pressure? Demanding you to keep repeating your greatest hit, to keep churning out every iteration of the formula, to see the concept through to the bitter end, until it’s ultimately the headboard on your own deathbed, stained with your own hairgrease, that becomes your final, ghostly selfie. The hammer drops, the crowd cheers, your kids want to cash out and move your estate to Zwirner, authorizing faux-finish headboards in posthumous editions.
Damn. That got dark fast. And here I’d only planned to point out that this king-size, faux snakeskin quilted pleather number is most definitely in the top ten of the series. The top five, even. If you want it, you have until next week to let me know, at which point it’ll slip from all our grasps.
This, the 23rd installment of Better Read, texts that are better read aloud by a computer, was inspired by a @ballardian tweet. It is the table of contents of Simon Sellars’ new sort-of-a-novel-sort-of-a-memoir, Applied Ballardianism, which is out this month from Urbanomic. As I type that out, I fear I transcribed it as Urbanomics. Fortunately, probably no one will listen to this. I should’ve kept my trap shut. [update: I did not.]