March 2008 Archives

March 25, 2008

Stuck In "The Office"

I don't know, is it a good thing to be rustled awake in the middle of the night by a compulsion to write about an exhibition you saw in December? It's like having a flashback, only to the Elk Grove Village Marriott instead of the Hanoi Hilton.

"The Office" was curated by Ethan Sklar, director at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, where the show ran from November 30, 2007. Given its focus on the object, material and spatial aspects of the corporate workplace, it's worth noting that it was "downsized" in January, and was closed [let go?] on February 9th.


Like hitmen traveling to Europe, it's the little differences that caught artists' attention as they explored the cubicle farms and conference rooms, and some of the work has the feeling of self-consciously aestheticized, if not exoticized, souvenirs of the trip: Tim Davis' Manet/Viacom, a 2002 photo of an emptied out office. Martin Soto Climent's As yet untitled, a plastic venetian blind draped lyrically off the wall, and Nicole Wermers' French Junkies #2 a lacquer and steel cube smoking station whose improbably Juddian features are immediately recognizable in the recontextualizing gallery setting.


Other artists were attuned to the invisible and overlooked elements of corporate space: Jay Heikes' The Hill Upstairs was an artfully [sic] stained fragment of a drop ceiling. While downstairs, Peter Coffin installed a generic, grey carpet with the grain set at an angle. The first round of perceptual disequilibrium was definitely physical, as if the walls weren't plumb, but once I realized what was going on, a reflexive economic disorientation kicked in: if only he'd laid it straight, he could've saved 25% on that carpet, easy.

Which got to the crux of Sklar's curatorial focus on artists exploring "products whose original form and structure [and he adds later, value] are inextricably linked to their functionality, production and utility." By celebrating objects created or redesignated as art, whose exponentially enhanced value derives from its new-found uselessness, the gallery is the diametric opposite of the office. Or at least it's supposed to be.


There's an element of Surrealist perversity to "The Office": only a very confident collector, with a very conscientious cleaning crew, could take Kris Martin's la lettre perdue--a 5x7 envelope freshly liberated from its mundane supply room existence and thoughtfully propped against the wall--and return it to his office as his latest art world trophy.

But the irony of the show cuts both ways; after all, its second incarnation was "downsized" to make space for the gallery's next show. Artists may be highly attuned to the aesthetic and social implications of the corporate environments other people inhabit, but in this week especially, where gallerists are busy adding their personal touches to a warren of identical cubicles at a giant trade show, the differences between "The Office" and "The Gallery" can be very little, indeed.


I'm reminded of the indignant reaction when Andy Freeberg showed his "Sentry" series at Danziger Projects last September. His photographs, shot on the sly, capture the uniformly daunting entrance desks of Chelsea galleries. Often, just the top of a nameless attendant's head peeks out above the stark, minimalist cube. On his own site Freeberg wondered, "in this digital world of email and instant messaging that supposedly makes us more connected, are we also setting up barriers to the simple eye to eye contact that affirms our humanity?" Well, yeah. How else are you supposed to get any work done?

The Office, 30 Nov 2007 - 9 Feb 2008 [images via]
"Sentry," Andy Freeberg, Sept. 6 - Oct. 13, 2007 [image via]
Andy Freeberg - Statement []

RC Baker gets all caught up in the spirit in reviewing Zwirner & Wirth's re-creation of Dan Flavin's historic 1964 exhibition at Green Gallery, the first time he exhibited only-flourescent works. The show sounds fascinating, and when combined with Flavin's original installation sketches and documentation and a dedicated catalogue, it surpasses the one-room approximation of the show that was included in the 2005 NGA/Dia/MFAFW retrospective.

Instead of grounding the show and its reception at the time, or exploring how its details related to the artist's later, lifelong practice, Webster just emotes about being in the space. If that's an attempt to channel 1964 viewers' experience, it's unfortunately not labeled as such. And I think Webster is wrong in his description of how Flavin's estate deals with the artist's chosen materials, which were once off-the-shelf, but are now obsolete:

(the Flavin estate periodically commissions large batches of discontinued hues from G.E.)
When I spoke at length with Flavin's last studio assistant, Steve Morse, who is now the conservator of the estate, for my NY Times story on Flavin's work, he told me that in the 1980's, there was a period when GE's formulation changed, and they started buying up every green light bulb they could. They still have some left, or they did in 2004, anyway. But since then, the estate has documented the chemical formulation of the coating of each color of light bulb, and when it needs more, it has them fabricated in small batches. The off-the-shelf, mass-produced product had become a custom, handmade object. Almost like art.

Dan Flavin: Light White, Light Heat [vv via man]
"Dan Flavin: The 1964 Green Gallery Exhibition" runs through May 3rd []
Previously: Lights Out: The Dark Side of Success [nyt]
My interview with Stephen Flavin

March 19, 2008

Breuer's Whitney: NFSFN


So after the Whitney opens its downtown branch, it'll sell its Marcel Breuer building on Madison?

That's the way I read the blueprints being unfurled in the NY Times the last couple of months. Buried in a late December story led by the Smithsonian, Robin Pogrebin first floated the idea in this lighter-than-air paragraph. It's not even a lob; it's a feather, and so's the denial:

Rumors have circulated that the Whitney might consider selling its 1966 building by Breuer, but [Whitney director Adam] Weinberg dismissed the idea. “That’s not going to happen, because we love it,” he said.
Then this morning, in Carol Vogel's piece about Leonard Lauder's $131 million pledge, the idea of a sale came up again, this time with a time frame:
Mr. Lauder said that the money required the museum not to sell its Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue at 75th Street for an extended period, although he declined to specify how long.
A idea of a Breuer sale is raised repeatedly and without attribution, then quickly, but just as squishily batted down:
Although Mr. Lauder’s donation is likely to quiet rumors that the Whitney might decamp from the Breuer building, the museum’s plans remain an open question. Since the Whitney set its sights on the meatpacking district, the city’s arts world has fretted that the institution might not be able to afford two locations.
Oh, has it? I'm clearly a MoMA fanboi, so maybe I'm just out of the loop--every loop in the city's art world--but I have never heard a rumor or a plan or even a speculation about the Whitney selling its Madison Avenue building. Nor have I heard anyone fret that the museum, which has operated up to four locations in the city at one time, might be unable to operate two.

So unless these Times reporters are totally making this up, which I doubt, where are they hearing this? From Whitney insiders? Is a deal not to sell the building "for an extended period" substantively different from a plan to sell the building after "an extended period"?

Whitney Museum to Receive $131 Million Gift [nyt]
High five to Elmgreen & Dragset for their 2001 piece, Opening Soon / Powerless Structures, Fig. 242 [via tanyabonakdargallery]

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by producers from Backlight, an investigative documentary TV series on the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO. They were trying to locate and interview Scott Sforza for a program set for the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. [I'd tried and failed to contact Sforza for my Cabinet Magazine article about his work last summer.]

The episode aired the other night, and it's online now, and well worth the watch, even if you don't speak Dutch; most of the talking heads--including me--speak English.

It's amazing on many levels, not the least of which is the sheer impossibility of an in-depth, retrospective investigation called "The Selling Of The War" ever airing on an American news network. VPRO focused in on a couple of very specific elements of stagecraft, manipulation, and deceit from 2003: Colin Powell's UN speech; the White House-built stage at the CENTCOM media center in Doha, Qatar; and the Coalition press conference where Gen. Tommy Franks announced the invasion, which had a controversial--and damning--Dutch hook.


I did my Sforza fanboi spiel about human wallpaper, and it turns out that among the human wallpapers Franks pulled on stage and introduced as a Coalition partner was a Dutch colonel, Jan Blom [on the far right above]. But the Netherlands were not part of the Coalition. The guy was a NATO public affairs officer, who was grabbed at the last minute to provide balance and camo variety to the backdrop. Naturally, word of the scandal that erupted in Holland after Blom's appearance has not yet penetrated the American heartland.

The two guys in the middle were Franks' equals from the US' actual Coalition partners, Great Britain and Australia, who were only told at the last minute by a White House operative that they would not be participating in the press conference. The guy on the far left was another prop, a Public Affairs guy from Denmark. So the stagecraft managed to simultaneously insult and dissemble. That's Rumsfeld's new lean&mean Army!

Perhaps it's really a minor point, but it's just one of many that show how deceptive and manipulative the administration was in the crucial period of the run-up and the invasion. Again, try to imagine a US network news show of any kind devoting 30 minutes to pull apart such a lie. [Actually, it's probably half that time; there was a great deal of time devoted to former Powell Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson's explanation of how the UN WMD speech came together, something that has been covered in the US.]

So anyway, happy anniversary!

Program page: Tegenlicht: De Verkoop van een Oorlog []
Watch the episode online via real player [vpro]


Holy smokes. On Archinect, Orhan has launched into a free-ranging, fantastical, and ill-informed lamentation over the impending doom that the callous, uncaring, neglectful architectural aficionado community is somehow foisting on the Neutra VDL Research House in Silverlake:

I wouldn’t elaborate on it at this finger pointing tone, but this is a city where you hear the words “inspired by Neutra” in various forms and places such as architects’ web sites, in countless design blogs, in real estate ads and of course in the circles of armchair design writers.

What abandonment.

Pages of coverage, with wall to wall color pictures, for so called Neutra specialists, when they re-build or renovate million billion dollar properties, which the architect and his pupil did years ago with clear aluminum sash and placed the glass in the right place. But, they don’t mention the VDL House, where it were all dreamed up and put to experiment.


After Mrs. Neutra's death, the decay gradually became visible and impossible to hide.
Rudolf Schindler became the new hero of the Austrian invasion and people start to forget about Neutra for fashionable correctness. The same community who raised hell over a building next to MAK protected Schindler house, knew nothing of VDL house' neighbors or didn't care. Absurd and campy cliches like "Neutra was not as good as Schindler' became part of groupie conversations in hipster parties.

It may very well be important for Neutra's legacy; for the moment, let's assume that it is. But the VDL Research House's history is so deeply troubled, that the only conceivable way to save it is to sell it.

The current owners and stewards of the house, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona's Dept. of Environmental Design [ENV], have proved utterly incapable of either using, maintaining, preserving, or promoting the Research House from the moment they were promised it in 1979 and from the moment they took possession of it in 1990.

According to the house's own website, the "Urgent Campaign for Neutra VDL" has two purposes: to raise $30,000 immediately [by Oct. 2008, oops] for such basic operating expenses as insurance and utilities, and to raise $2 million, half for major repairs required after years of neglect [also resulting from original design drawbacks like putting a reflecting pool on the freaking roof]; and half for an endowment to provide ongoing operating expenses, and funds for programming and events for Pomona's students and the broader public.

If this money can't be raised, what will happen? According to the website, "the building complex is threatened with closure, possible sale to a private party, and quite possibly permanent loss of public and educational access." Ooh, what abandonment.

The University that has neglected and underfunded the house for the 18 years since it received it, that apparently can't fundraise successfully to support the house, and that lets major structural damage occur on their watch is now making an urgent plea for emergency funds. Meanwhile, they're essentially holding the wounded building hostage, letting its conditions deteriorate until the inevitable finally happens, and the building is sold--and saved, finally--to some other entity who has a real commitment and the means to preserve it. And the only possible downside is "possible" loss of access.

The University generally and the Department of Environmental Design [ENV] specifically have demonstrated their total lack of commitment and interest in keeping the VDL Research House. In 2005, the University's president launched a Priority & Response project to focus the school's strategic and budgetary goals and needs. Here is a portion of a recommendation from the ENV Dean's Office:

Over the past four years [i.e., since at least 2001. -ed.] ENV has attempted to raise funds for repairs to VDL, without much success. One impediment to fundraising is that the house is already named. Further, the VDL property serves a small portion of the ENV population of students and faculty. Since the house is 35 miles from campus, it is not a convenient location for seminars, weekly classes, or even receptions. While the College of Environmental Design recognizes this home as an icon of modern architecture, it is a much lower priority for fundraising than other projects, including a new building for the college, endowed professorships, scholarships, and a faculty development fund.
At the time of that recommendation, the estimated cost of needed repairs was $350-500,000, or half what is estimated today. The irony in several faculty statements in the P&R is not sweet:
[O]ur College is recognized nationally for its program in Historic Preservation, which has an emphasis on works of the twentieth century. The VDL house is a central feature of this program.
If that's at all true, then the College should have its accreditation reviewed, because despite presiding over a modernist landmark built largely of manufacturer-donated materials, a pool of cheap-to-free labor and expertise, and [until very recently] a real estate/renovation/preservation boom, they have managed to push the Research House to the brink of disaster.

Proving themselves so unworthy, if the school and the Neutra fans in it honestly give a damn about the house, they'll work to find it more capable owners, pronto.

1932: VDL I, by Richard Neutra

But is the house really so special it needs saving? It is certainly a Neutra design, but which design? And for that matter, which Neutra? It seems to be a question no one in the architecture community wants to bring up, lest it hurt the house's chances for survival.

1963: VDL II, by Dion Neutra, I mean, "Richard and Dion Neutra"

But the basic timeline and the facts of the house are not in dispute: Richard Neutra built the front, studio/residence section of the house in 1932, and he added a courtyard house in back in 1940. The front house burned down in 1963, and a new house, with a new design, using new materials, was built on the foundation in 1965-6. The architect of record was Dion Neutra, Richard's son, who had joined his father's architecture practice.

According to Dion's explanations of his working method with his aging father, and looking at at least some of the drawings for the Research House II, Neutra pere watched the fils design, and then gave him feedback. A glance at photos of the 1932 and 1965-6 incarnations of the house show dramatic differences. I'll leave definitive historical judgments to the experts, but to my mind, the Neutra design needing saving right now is an Early Dion approximation of a Late Richard.


From self-serving online chats with students, to his delusional price comparison of his father's office building to the paintings of "Klimpt & Pollack," to the outsized bronze plaque/tombstone declaring his intention to have his ashes scattered in the VDL courtyard, Dion Neutra's dogged insistence on inserting himself repeatedly and aggressively into his father's legacy might be making it difficult for more clear-eyed, thoughtful preservation and scholarship to take root. It's worth noting that Dion is not publicly involved with the VDL campaign in any way; his younger brother Raymond, a retired physician, is the family representative.

And while the Neutra family is to be commended for their dedication and efforts, you kind of wish--and by "you," I mean "I"--that someone in the field would sit them down and talk to them frankly about the choices they need to make between actually preserving their father's built legacy and perpetuating a well-meaning but disastrously flawed idea without a plan that puts that legacy at risk.

Frankly, the committees, boards and friends of Neutra VDL don't look like they have the capacity to raise $2.03 million, and until they realize that themselves, the house will just deteriorate further. The only solution they seem able to provide is an introduction to an architecture collector who will take the property off their hands. They should hop to it.

Neutra VDL Research House v. Hard Times [archinect]
Neutra VDL Studio & Residences site []
Previously: Neutra For Sale: Calling Michael Govin [sic]

March 14, 2008

Tibet Is Next To China


My daughter got Tibetan necklaces for Christmas when she was two. I asked her if she knew where Tibet was. And then I told her, "It's next to China."


image of Buddhist monks in Xiahe, Gansu province [in China] showing solidarity with protesters in Lhasa on the occasion of the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan rebellion against the Chinese invasion, which ended in the Dalai Lama's fleeing the country: AFP/Getty via NYT.

Tibetan Government in Exile []

Géode, originally uploaded by zyber.

But darned if it isn't pretty damn close. La Géode is a mirrored geodesic dome housing a hemispheric Omnimax theatre. It's part of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, a science museum opened in 1986 in Parc la Villette, which I confess, I only knew as the site of Bernard Tschumi's red follies. [There are a couple visible in the background here, and judging from this photo from another angle, they're rightupthere next to the dome.]

At 34m across, Adrien Fainsilber's stainless steel-clad Geode is the nearest approximation to the physical presence of a Project Echo satelloon that I've found. [Thanks to Stuart, actually, who tipped me to the recent post on extremely impressive shiny balls on deputy dog.]


Fainsilber's site has more pictures, including the grainy-nice snap of the Geode nearing completion. and this amusing explanation:

Symbole de l’Univers, le reflet des nuages suggère la forme des continents et offre une vision immatérielle de l’environnement.
L’écran hémisphérique de 26m de diamètre de la salle de spectacle a engendré la forme sphérique de l’enveloppe.

Symbol of the Universe, the reflection of clouds suggests the form of continents, and offers an immaterial vision of the environment.
The hemispheric screen of 26m diameter in the salle de spectacle [heh] engendered the spherical form of the envelope
I love it, a loopy mix of grandiose over-symbolism and bureaucrat-pleasing rationalization. As if the shiny steel awesomeness of the dome was somehow just the unavoidable by-product of the program the humble architect received. [Qu'est ce qu'on a pu faire? C'est logique.] Sure beats the "but it's art!" pitch that was the last straw for the suits backing the Pepsi Pavilion.

Also, it's an amusing stick in the eye of the deconstructionist, "form before function" conceit that Tschumi and collaborator [sic] Jacques Derrida put forward for the rest of the park.


I don't know the story of the creation of Parc de la Villette, but Tschumi sounds like the Robert Irwin to Fainsilber's self-important Richard Meier. Looking at the landscaping, la Geode has gone from being a Symbol of the Universe to just one stop of Tschumi's David Rockwellian Cinematic Promenade. Or to the electron on a hydrogen atom. Which, as I zoom in with the all-seeing Google Eye to watch the picnickers in the Parc, i realize is so true. What if the whole universe were just an atom under the fingernail of a giant?

extremely impressiv shiny balls []

Fainsilber > Realisations > CSI []

CSI and la Geode, and guests reading Le Monde, apparently, and letting their kids run wild [google maps]
Metaphysics of Parc de la Villette []


From "Jeremy Blake in Three Parts," written by editor/curator Bennett Simpson for PS 1's "Greater NY" show. In 2000, Blake's 20-min. digitally animated abstraction titled Angel Dust was in both the harried, hasty "Greater NY" and the Pompidou's "Elysian Fields", a sublime show for which Simpson curated an incredible sound program:

In the new art game, machine language is the best kind of pragmatism. Because you've never had so many options, your tools should work for you. There is still such an impoverished discourse around art made with "new media" that it benefits everyone to be dexterous (or at least flexible). Jeremy Blake tells me it took months to program his latest digital animation Angel Dust. I believe him. Line for line, the amount of coding, sequencing, and editing involved is staggering. As is more and more the case with art's flirtation with technology, the hours logged and the efforts involved are right on the surface -- and in a way, this is part of the point. Skill is transparent. Insofar as Angel Dust can be called abstract art, its abstraction is one of trial and error, micro-production, shortcuts, good fortune, lots of practice, lots of knowledge, and an appreciation of possibilities. I'm not only speaking about the animation's formal qualities or its methods of production. If abstraction is now the domain of distributed and integrated systems of information, then the function of Angel Dust's content -- its seething Mondrian grid, its Burbank-rolled narrative tics, and its psychedelia -- is no different from its code. Blake makes programmed art works: the what and how are symptomatic of each other.
The other two parts are after the jump. An edition of Angel Dust is coming up at auction at Phillips in a couple of weeks.


So I'm staring at these Solar Balloons by Coolearth Technology, caught like a deer in some headlights [actually, with this pair, maybe it's "caught like a spring breaker in some headlights, but whatever], and I can't figure them out.


Then I get it: one half of the balloon is clear; the parabolic--or parabola-like, anyway--reflector part is the inside surface of the other, opaque side of the balloon. 2-meter diameter. Not Satelloon-scale, but still, it's good to know it's out there.

Solar Balloons from Coolearth Technology [coolearthsolar via inhabitat]

blue_before and after, originally uploaded by scottburnham.

In 2000 curator Scott Burnham organized a projection of Derek Jarman's last film, Blue, on the facade of the National Theatre. Visually, the film consisted of a monochrome, electric blue inspired by Yves Klein. The audio, which included readings of Jarman's journals, was broadcast via localized, low-frequency radio.

The photo on the right was from 2007. After the successful proof of concept, the National Theatre could get down to business.

It's A Longshot, originally uploaded by JPaul23.

I've had Derek Jarman on the brain the last couple of weeks. Isaac Julien's spectacularly moving documentary Derek got distribution at Sundance and won awards at Berlin; Julien's curated show of Jarman's work opened at the Serpentine.

And I found photo accounts of a live performance of Throbbing Gristle's live accompaniment of Jarman's super-8 shorts, In The Shadow of The Sun, last fall in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. [above].

TG provided the original soundtrack in 1980-81. They played to a packed house last May as part of the Tate's Long Weekend series of events and performances. If you liked Throbbing Gristle's kind of assaultive ambient 80's music, this was the kind of assaultive ambient you liked. They apparenty provided cushions, since no one who listened to TG back in the day likes to sit on cold, concrete floors anymore.

see more photos of Derek Jarman at Tate [flickr]

While is ridiculously easy to soak in Derek Jarman's work in the UK at the moment, it's nigh impossible to find anything programmed in the US. Fortunately, one of Jarman's most easily accessible bodies of work--music videos--is also one of his most readily available. For some reason, it's also one of his least recognized critically. [I hope someone will prove me wrong by sending links or references to a nice article or exhibition of Jarman's music videos.]

Cross referencing the incomplete list on Wikipedia with the partially obscured filmography in Rowland Wymer's 2005 critical essays collection, Derek Jarman, I think I've come up with a complete list. Then I searched them out on YouTube. Everyone knows The Smiths and the Pet Shop Boys, but did you know Jarman directed the video for Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days"?

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

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about this archive

Posts from March 2008, in reverse chronological order

Older: February 2008

Newer April 2008

recent projects, &c.

Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
about/kickstarter | exhibit, 2017

Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
buy, $28

Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
show | beginnings

Chop Shop
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
about | proposte monocrome, rose

It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

Standard Operating Procedure
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

"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
about, brochure | installation shots

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

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

Canal Zone Richard
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
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