Huge Needlework Aubusson-esque Rug By The Great Dane

In the mid-1960s, with his arthritis acting up, and after decades of designing stage sets for the London theater, Oliver Messel began designing houses on Mustique for fancy people like Princess Margaret, the hard-partying sister to Queen Elizabeth, who’d married Messel’s nephew Antony Armstrong-Jones (aka Lord Snowdon)*.

Messel bought himself a house on Barbados, and renovated it into his Caribbean fantasy show palace with his partner of 30 years, Vagn Riis-Hansen. It would appear that Riis-Hansen spent most of that time embroidering this rug.

It is nine feet wide, and ten and a half feet long, and it is gros-point, a large-stitch needlework technique, made on four panels, each 30 inches wide. The pattern is inspired by Aubusson rugs of 18th century France.

Can you just get a pattern for making an Aubusson rug? Do you have one created after your own Aubusson and counted out? [Messel designed fabrics, scarves, and at least one unproduced Donegal carpet.] Do you stencil it onto the heavy grid of fabric that is your base? Do you complete each panel, and then stitch them together? Are they ever off by a row?

It is not that I, who have been typing on a computer for thirty years, am not unfamiliar with tedious, repetitive, and precise handwork. But I am at a loss to picture Messel and Riis-Hansen entertaining the international jetset while also one of them is sewing a big-ass rug for days or nights on end. I feel like I’m missing some key details about the making of this rug.

OK, for starters, it looks like it was in Messel and Riis-Hansen’s apartment in London, which was published in Architectural Digest in 1963, and presumably photographed in 1962. It does not look new. This recap article on AD calls Riis-Hansen Messel’s lover AND manager**, since the 40s. Also, he was apparently, big, and gruff, and annoyed his in-laws and Cecil Beaton, who nicknamed him The Great Dane. And he still found time to embroider a giant carpet.

In 1978 Messel died, a year after Riis-Hansen, and Armstrong-Jones got the rug. In 2017, Armstrong-Jones died, and now anyone can get the rug, if they move in the next three days.

Lot 103: A GROS-POINT NEEDLEWORK CARPET WOVEN [sic?***] BY OLIVER MESSEL’S PARTNER VAGN RIIS-HANSEN, est GBP 1500-2500, ends 24 Sept 2020 [update someone bought it for GBP1000, the opening bid.][]

[update, somewhat related: In 2012 artist Matthew Smith created an exhibition and archival intervention at Nymans, the Messel family’s house to bring Messel and Riis-Hansen’s relationship into parity with the other family stories depicted at the National Trust property. (pdf)]

*Apparently Messel did not attend the 1960 wedding because he could not bring his partner. Or maybe his partner was busy sewing a massive rug.
**Thinking of this while doing the dishes just now I remembered reading a memo from Walter Hopps in the Smithsonian archive of the 1976 Rauschenberg retrospective, saying that though the museum would cover the travel expenses of artists and their wives, they would not pay for Bob’s “friend.” [scare quotes in the original] Maybe if Messel and Riis-Hansen were traveling together in an era where their romantic relationship was literally a jailable offense, being a manager would offer all the explanation they’d ever need.
***Maybe this whole post is a misplaced over-reliance on one word, which feels inaccurate technically–does someone stitching a rug consider it weaving?–but which must reflect a received story, if not a history per se, of how this rug came to be, and why it was kept? Or maybe it’s just so obvious to anyone interested or involved that “woven” means “had woven,” and you’d have to be daft to entertain the notion that it should be considered literally? And what possibly could be going on in this, the approaching autumn of the Year of Our Lord 2020, that could possibly account for channeling this much mental space into the backstory of some knockoff Aubusson rug an ancient British playboy stashed away after cleaning out his gay uncles’ Barbadian retirement cottage? What, indeed.

Cady Noland Zillow

Before anyone gives Cy Twombly on a dog crate the crown for greatest art in real estate listing photography, please check out the listing for the former Ice House of the Vanderbilt estate that was Dowling College, which went bankrupt in 2016 and was liquidated in 2018.

That is Cady Noland’s Tower of Terror (1993-94) in all its in situ glory. Can you even imagine? A pleasant walk past the massive, aluminum group stockade on the way to campus. I guess the bench was in the shed.

Cady Noland was not consulted and does not approve of these photos, but they have been certified by Douglas Elliman. The ice house sold for $376,938. The sculpture sold for $2,207,501. [Thanks reader dg]

Previously, related: Cady Noland GOAT

Twombly’s Schifano

That painting, no, the other one: Horst at the Palazzo Franchetti-Twombly, which is not the name, I know, but [points to wristwatch emoji], 1966

The subject of precariously perched Twomblys prompted Claudio Santambrogio to email, wondering about the painting on the left in this iconic 1966 Horst photo. Surely, it’s not a Twombly.

My first check, of Google, turns up many of the times this Vogue photoshoot of the House of Franchetti-Twombly has been re-published and discussed, and absolutely none of them have a caption or credit for this painting. This shoot is legendary, but atmospheric.

It is also marketable. I have not pinned down when it happened, but there is something swirling around the web in upscale, merchy places like 1stdibs and Artsy, called The Cy Twombly Rome Portfolio. Horst’s images, made for and owned by Condé Nast, are available in limited editions in various sizes, with the “authorization” of the Horst Estate. Interestingly, though, less than half the Twombly photos feature Twombly’s paintings. This feels like a mix of adding the entire contact sheet to the shopping cart, and the Twombly Foundation flexing its vetoing muscles.

Untitled #6, aka the Horst photo formerly known as Twombly’s Richter

Anyway, there is no such compunction to publishing the photo of Twombly’s Richter (Untitled #6), or a straight-on shot of this painting (Untitled #12). None of these photos have caption or credit information (or a Nicola del Roscio to keep them in line.)

These installation composite credits showing your five-figure, five-foot-wide limited edition print of an outtake, tho, no problem: Design Credit: Elizabeth Roberts Architecture & Design, Photo Credit: Dustin Aksland. image via: 1stdibs

Next step: the date of the photo puts a pretty tight constraint on who it could be, and so does Twombly’s circulation pattern. So it’s probably someone he knows in Rome, and likely someone he knows from his gallery at the time, Galleria la Tartaruga. Janis Kounellis made stark black on blank/white paintings around this time, but his are more expressionistic and brushy. Oh wait, Twombly and Kounellis showed together at la Tartaruga in 1961. with Mario Schifano. Who absolutely made paintings like this from 1960-61.

So this is Twombly’s Schifano, which seems to have been mentioned by no one, ever. Was it so utterly obvious that it didn’t need mentioning? Did Mario Schifano have a boyfriend who took over a foundation mighty enough to make even Google blink?

Previously, related: Cy Twombly’s Gerhard Richter
Cy Twombly Rip

Find The Twombly

Honestly, I cannot say what is more shocking to me at this point: to see a Twombly propped on a dog crate in the spare bedroom, or that someone selling an Upper East Side pre-war has not staged their apartment before putting it on the market. I am thus convinced this is an epic staging flex, the equivalent of sprinkling some hay on your Mercedes Gullwing and calling it a barn find. Or maybe it’s just an homage to the way Twombly installed his Richter. [s/o Katie via Andy]

On The Conversation

A few weeks ago I spoke with Michael Shaw for his long-running art podcast, The Conversation. And when I say long-running, I mean both he’s been doing the podcast for a long time, and holy smokes, not only did we talk a long time, he got two whole episodes out of that content. (Granted the first part *does* have “meandering” right in the description.)

Part 1: #275, Greg Allen of…meandering…

Part 2: Naked Stratification

I’m kind of on a writing crunch at the moment, but I’ll circle back to add some links to posts/topics we discussed. (Or there’s a search bar?) Thanks, Michael, and enjoy, everyone!

The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction In Art

Richardson Warhol Richardsons flanking a portrait of Richardson’s cat Lulu, image: The Art Newspaper

In 1973 John Richardson had his portrait as a middle-aged leather daddy painted by Andy Warhol. Warhol also photographed Richardson as a middle-aged Upper East Side art daddy. Both portraits were displayed prominently in Richardson’s loft on lower Fifth Avenue. Except the photo is an enlargement Richardson made from a Warhol Polaroid. And the painting, at least when Rizzoli and The Art Newspaper came to visit, was a giclée print Richardson had made, because he’d donated the painting to Tate Modern.

Richardson Warhol Richardson, 2017? 40×40 like Andy used to do, but giclée on canvas, in artist’s (sic) frame, lot 257, est. $2-4,000?? lmao

These, along with homemade collages of the Miros and remoulades of the Giacometti furniture you cashed out, are my favorite categories of reproductions of art. Not only do they have to look like the artwork they look like, they have to stand in for them and actually do their work, like Hercules holding up the heavens for Atlas. Or like the Tethereds in Jordan Peele’s Us, which were created amidst power and privilege, share the aura of their originals, and occasionally take their place without anyone noticing–until they dramatically do.

That signature really is choice, tho: Richardson Warhol Richardson facsimile objet, before 2014? 17×14 in. photo in 24×20 in. artist’s frame, lot 258, est. $200-400

Richardson welcomed these and many more doppelgängers into his well-appointed homes, the contents of which are now for sale, while their true natures are free for contemplation.

Continue reading “The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction In Art”

Untitled (Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide), 2020

I have three deadlines at the moment, so of course I needed to take a couple of hours to tackle a project that has been on my to-do list for seven+ years: figuring out how to print the world’s greatest webpage at full-scale.

I hadn’t figured out how to print the Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide in the time between it first going viral and when its wonky html code finally got fixed a few years later. I bought myself some more time by publishing the original page on my site as a work, Untitled (embroidery trouble shooting guide), one of my collection of zombie art websites.

But I have always wanted to see it printed out. A book never turned out right, and the exponentially growing font size made a joke of any remotely normal printing process, even to look at it.

Today though, I decided to just print the webpage as a pdf, and see how big one sheet needed to be to hold it all. And it worked. From that, I figured out how big the font on the last line of text actually is. [I mentioned this triumph at dinner, and my wife just said, “Can’t you just calculate it from the code?” Reader, I married her.]

Study for Untitled (etsg), 2020, inkjet on paper? uv on vinyl? 175 x 330 feet, though, that I know

Anyway, the answer is a single page 175 feet tall and 330 feet wide, slightly larger than a football field. Rendered in 6,093 point font, the last, largest line of text is almost 85 inches tall.

Study for Untitled (These are some of the normal problems you may experience during the Embroidery Process.), 2020, inkjet on paper, 85×3927 in.

Surely, there is a 96-inch wide, 500-foot long roll of paper waiting to take this work. I do know a guy with an Epson printer; maybe I should just print it on primed Belgian linen folded in half instead.

Previously: Untitled (Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide), 2013
also: ⌘S

The Political Prints Of Richard Serra

Fake President, 2017, stamp and silkscreen on paper, 24×18″, $2000, ed. 250, published by Gemini GEL, at one point to benefit People for the American Way, though the Gemini site doesn’t mention that. PFAW’s website has them available, along with a Ruscha.

Richard Serra makes a lot of prints, and a lot of them are published as polit..ical fundraisers. They are collected here, mostly from Serra’s Gemini GEL page, where a lot of them are still available, even long after their specific election has passed.

[Caption ganked along with photo] NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 25: “Fake President” art work by Richard Serra the People For The American Way Event For Election 2018 on October 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for People for the American Way)

The most recent, published in October 2018, is the most atypical. Fake President commemorates Norman Lear’s 95th birthday, and was one of several works created to raise money for the People For the American Way, which Lear founded. The reflection in the Getty Images pic from the drop party–just two weeks before the election, so riding the wave, not making it, I guess–looks like a bronze plaque, or at least metallic foil, which would be weird and awesome. The force behind these prints, often part of portfolios, is Gemini G.E.L., which I assume means Sidney Felsen.

Continue reading “The Political Prints Of Richard Serra”

Vern Blosum @Karma: “A Gay King”

Vern Blosum’s Betony, 1962, installed at “(Nothing but) Flowers” at Karma through Sept. 13, 2020

I had to go into Manhattan for a meeting, and so I slipped into a show I’d been aching to see: “(Nothing But) Flowers” is a sprawling delight of a group show filling both Karma galleries for the summer. It is a rich and fascinating respite, and a quiet, disarming way to approach what painters do with the simplest of subjects. Plus there was that Manet Moment the other day.

Anyway, one of the things I most wanted to see in person was this 1962 painting, Betony, from Vern Blosum. When I went up to the Berkshires almost ten years ago to meet the artist who’d painted under the name Vern Blosum, I was obviously interested to see his paintings in real life, but I was also nervous, concerned that this pseudonymous project had been a joke, a hoax, which he would disown, relegating his works to orphaned oddball status.

Turns out there was no chance of that.

Continue reading “Vern Blosum @Karma: “A Gay King””


“But what does it MEAN?” A painting given by the Agalarovs to Trump as a birthday present, right in the middle of the Trump Tower collusion meeting and DNC hack leak in 2016 [via SSCI Report Vol. 5]

I’ve been tracking the trouble #painting has been getting itself into for a while now. I’ve always imagined sitting down and sorting them out some day, when there weren’t pandemics or multinational criminal enterprises masquerading as governments running amok. Of course, #painting didn’t want to wait.

In Volume 5 of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s bipartisan report released today [pp. 373-78], paintings turn up at the center of the secret meetings between the Trump family and campaign and Russian intelligence agents during the 2016 presidential election. In June 2016, the day after Emin and Aras Agaralov, a pop singer and his real estate oligarch father, respectively, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower, they gave a giant painting to Trump as a birthday present, with a handwritten note attached. Four days later, on Trump’s birthday, the Washington Post reported that the DNC servers had been hacked; Guccifer 2.0, the Russian operative working with Roger Stone to release the stolen DNC files, dropped Hillary Clinton’s opposition research on Trump the next day. Two days after that, Trump sent the Agalarovs a note thanking them for the gift, and the best birthday ever.

Continue reading “Trumptych”

Kusama Accumulated Self-Portrait

Yayoi Kusama, Accumulation of Letters, 1961, gift of the artist to Stella Waitzkin, sold at Sotheby’s in 2013

There were so many avenues to pursue in writing about Yayoi Kusama and her work; one that I found among the most compelling and the least considered is her practice of photographing herself among her work. I mean, it gets mentioned by various historians or curators, but I didn’t find anyone doing a deep, critical look at Kusama’s always deliberate, constructed, and embedded imagemaking of her body and her [sic] artworks.

Midori Yamamura’s research found examples of Kusama doing this at the very beginning of her artistic practice, organizing shows of her own watercolors at the Matsumoto civic center as a teenager. But it’s there with the Infinity Net paintings, and it’s there with the Accumulation Objects, too. And in between these two bodies of work, it is here in this 1961 work on paper that is related to the Air Mail stamp works she made and showed beginning in 1962.

Even though it interests me, I take auction catalogue essays with a raised eyebrow, but Sotheby’s nailed this one:

Accumulation of Letters is arguably one of the most art historically important works by Kusama. In many ways it can be read as a self-portrait, the artist’s name, or signature, standing in as a metaphor for the self. Known for her promotional talent and flair – Kusama regularly arranged for professional photographs to be taken of her with her work often wearing outfits that matched the paintings or sculptures – Accumulation of Letters acts as an artwork-cum-advertisement. In the exhibition catalogue for Kusama’s 2012 traveling retrospective, Rachel Taylor writes that Kusama “situated herself at the centre of her artistic universe, the key protagonist in a world populated by proliferating forms, endless nets and infinite polka dots”

Lot 309, Sotheby’s NY, 25 Sept. 2013

This Accumulation of Letters is made by cutting up hundreds of left over gallery announcements from two shows at Gres Gallery in Washington, DC: one was a solo, and the other a group show of Japanese artists. Beyond the obviously laborious process, and the artist’s totalization of herself and the work, I am struck by the wrenching pathos of this piece, of those stacks of invites sitting in her studio. All these cards left over from shows out of town that no one in New York would see, or had seen. What was she supposed to do with them?

As it turns out, she gave this piece to a friend, an artist named Stella Waitzkin, who’d fled to downtown from the stifling patriarchy of suburban Long Island. Since surfacing at Sotheby’s in 2013, Accumulation of Letters has been shown at Kusama’s museum in Tokyo.

Previously, related: The Kusama Industrial Complex

What A Difference A Year Makes

Tyrus with Mack Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform), enamel on MDF, actor from Andi Mack, installation shot, 2019

Last year this time, I surprised myself by making a work related to* Sturtevant’s repetition of Felix Gonzalez Torres’ “Untitled” (Go-Go Dancing Platform) that appropriated props (and would enlist actors) from the series finale of the Disney Channel middle school soap opera Andi Mack, and was deep-looking and cross-referencing Leo Steinberg, Bruce Hainley, and tumblr superfans. This year we’re protesting outside the condo of the postmaster general to prevent the throwing of the election via the dismantling of the post office. What a world.

Sturtevant, Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Go-GO Dancing Platform), 2004, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, Photo: Axel Schneider, Frankfurt am Main via larb

* One thread of thought I ended up on was about a Leo Steinberg reference to what kind of act is involved in the creation of one artwork that is connected to another artwork. Tbh, I had to re-read these posts twice and can barely follow what was apparently so epiphanically clear then.

Previously: Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform), 2019
Notes on Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform)

Untitled (#WatermelonDay), 2020

Untitled (#WatermelonDay), 2020, box of books needing to go to the storage unit for four months, box of grandparent mementos needing to go to the storage unit for six weeks, watermelon with seeds too big to fit in the fridge and moved in a rush to make room for a hot pan, 26 x 16 x 13 in., via IG/gregdotorg

I was updating my documentation, and when I realized it would be my 200th work, I said why yes, I absolutely am making this in painted bronze. 200. what a world.

The Chalice of Abbot Suger

The Chalice of Abbot Suger of Saint Denis, 2nd/1st century BCE carved sardonyx cup in a 12th century gilded silver & jewel-encrusted mount, in the National Gallery of Art‘s West Building medieval galleries

When I went back to the National Gallery the other week, I didn’t just see some little paintings. I visited the empty medieval galleries to see the one thing that has been considered a literal treasure for longer than anything else in the museum: the chalice of Abbot Suger of Saint Denis.

During Power and Pathos, the epic 2016 exhibition of Hellenic bronzes, Getty curator Kenneth Lapatin talked about these rarest of all antiquities in their contemporary context. Turns out, even when bronze sculptures were made of heroes by the most celebrated sculptures of the day, they were not considered valuable, or even necessarily important; such bronze sculptures literally lined the streets and crowded the grounds of every temple in town. And of course, when their metal was needed for spears, or helmets, or the next big wrestling star, they were readily melted down. They’re rare today precisely because they weren’t valued as more than scrap.

Lapatin looked at what the rarest, most precious objects of the Hellenic Age were? What did they spend their biggest money on? What contributed the greatest social status? What were the most completely extraneous and frivolous and conspicuous luxury purchases that influenced the political and social forces of the day? What, in other words, was their Art?

It was blingy dishware, but not just gold, which was also quickly reduced to its metallurgical value. The pinnacle was carved hardstone in exotic patterns from far away or unknown sources. Records show cups of porphyry that sold for more than a villa. The delicately fluted and translucent sardonyx cup in the chalice is one such cup, made 2100 years ago in Alexandria, and then transformed 900 years ago for the sacramental use of the kings of France.

In whose private chapel it remained until the revolution, when it was nationalized, then–lol wow ok–stolen in 1804 and smuggled to England via Holland inside a plaster cast of the Laocoön, whence it circulated in the market until it was bought in 1922 by Joseph Widener, who ended up donating it to the National Gallery. Sounds like its roughest time was the last 200 years. But then, Abbot Suger never said where it came from or how he got it, so who knows.

Chalice of the Abbot Suger of Saint Denis [nga]
Uses and Abuses of the Luxury Arts, Symposium Lecture [nga]
Medieval treasures catalogue going deep on the history of the chalice [nga/pdf]

OSB Pikachu Tail

I was in the back seat or maybe the jump seat of a Tesla, going to the pool. A public radio host was driving, but he didn’t look or sound like Scott Simon; I can’t figure out who it was, maybe 40? dark hair? My mom was in the passenger seat; he was doing and saying things to impress her. We drove through a subdivision under construction. A couple of houses had unfinished sculptures of OSB in the center of their circular driveways. Angled, wedgy, like a thick version of the lightning bolt emoji, Pikachu’s tail, or that knot of brushed steel powerpoint arrows in the traffic island in Rosslyn. Or maby they were more like riffs on the In ‘n Out sign.

Turning the corner, another house’s sculpture was in the process of being covered with gold-colored bronze sheet, hammered and nailed like a vintage-look trunk, but the kind you see in Restoration Hardware, or maybe World Bazaar. Actually it looked more like that spec house being built on Old Chain Bridge Road, which has had gold-finish panels uncovered for months. I keep waiting to find out they’re the protective coating of something else. I’ll get a picture one of these days.

Anyway NPR guy turns into a parking garage, and I’m like, are we taking a short cut through the parking garage? He takes the ticket; day care center-style rooms are seen on the same level, like the garage is now the lobby. MVRDV did that one bldg for VPRO where everything was a ramp, like they’d adapted a parking deck, but this wasn’t like that. He turned, and started heading down the giant statement staircase, babbling something. I hopped out, like I’d been in a rumble seat, but really like I was a first-person video game character, even though I don’t play video games. The car went bounding down the stairs like a Mini in The Italian Job, except that it bounced so high it flipped over, at which point I startled awake.

I am not a dream rememberer, much less a dream journaler, but after deciding I didn’t have any anxiety about my mom’s safety, I felt like documenting the unommonly vivid sculpture visuals. Even though, as I type them out and reflect on them, they really do sound bad and perhaps better forgotten.