March 2009 Archives

Errol Morris is unfurling another fascinating investigation of a 19th century photograph on hit NY Times blog. Today, in part 2/5, he talks with author and Civil War historian Mark Dunkelman about a breakthrough in researching the life of Amos Humiston, who became famous as the Unknown Soldier who died at Gettysburg:

ERROL MORRIS: As you read the letters for the first time, did you feel that Amos was coming back to life?

MARK DUNKELMAN: Yes. My whole idea of him was changing because I knew nothing of his personality or his personal experiences during the war. He was sick on occasion during the war. He mentions his comrades caring for him like a brother. And he referred to his hands. He said they looked like bird's claws. That was great stuff. That was the key to me. That was the key. He could speak again. He could be a living person again instead of a corpse in rigor mortis on the battlefield.

Whose Father Was He? (Part Two) [nyt]


Helen Levitt passed away; she was 95, and an incredible, sensitive photographer of city life. Her pictures of childrens' chalk drawings are probably my favorites, and I wish the documentary short she made after WWII with James Agee and Frances Loeb, In The Street, was available somewhere online.

But hey-o, why did no one tell me her brother is Bill Levitt, the mayor of Alta, Utah? Levitt and his family own the Alta Lodge and have been instrumental in keeping the resort pristine, safe from overdevelopment, and resolutely and wonderfully old school. Which means Helen left this life knowing that the rope tow was as it should be--about 100 yards too short.

Helen Levitt, 95 [nyt, image via lawrence miller]


Apparently, with all the digital technology and whatnot, they hold onto that stuff at Bloomberg News, even if you're not indicted immediately.

Art Dealer Charged With Stealing $88 Million [image: chip east/bloomberg news, photographed in 2007]

March 26, 2009

I'm Just A Bill

Thumbnail image for not_that_bill.jpg

But not that Bill.

The Obamas Get Up Close and Personal In DC [nyt's automated related link generator]

What do we really want when we go to an artist's talk? It's not like the conventions of the format--darkened auditorium, daisy chain of thank you's, cuing of slides, thoughtfully forced repartee, polite laughter, tidbit or two of gossip, annoying essay question from the crowd, bumrushing of the stage for a Personal Encounter--should give us any reason to be surprised that the evening turns out to be boring.

I think the theatrical, performative context causes most people go with outsized expectations to be entertained more than enlightened. Tedium is only surpassed by Absurdity on the Artist Talk Enemies List. But what if those were the artist's unstated goals for the evening? Could it be awesome?

I ask because Knotty Nautilus's account of a Franz West talk at LACMA sounds positively brilliant. Which is not quite the same as wishing I'd been there myself. There was the game show format; the Austrian sound artist West invited to perform throughout the discussion; some USC MFA's dressed in homemade West sculpture costumes; and Rirkrit Tiravanija sounding incomprehensible and boring, "a child on ludes performing a book report."

Now I love Rirkrit like a brother or whatever, and I have a deep, longstanding respect for his work, but after watching the archived stream of his conversation with Bruce Sterling at the Walker Center in 2006--three years ago this week, in fact!--I had to let him know it was the most boring talk I'd ever seen online ever in the history of online. And I began streaming content online in 1995. He was pretty cool about it.

While I'm glad to know a smart absurdist like West takes the artist talk experience seriously enough to screw around with it, Rirkrit reminds me that with some artists, the work is the thing, and looking for Understanding at an artist talk can sometimes be as useless as searching for your keys under the streetlight.

Franz West goes Westside [urbannautilus via man]
Previously: Robert Smithson's Hotel Palenque: multimedia installation or drunken slide lecture captured on tape?

Paddy Johnson is taking the search for art on Google Maps to a place it's never been before: In Real Life.

This Saturday, at Capricious Space in Brooklyn, Paddy is hosting a Google Maps artwork faceoff, a real-world, real-time challenge between two artists, James Turrell and Alice Aycock, to see which artist has more works visible to Google's Eye In The Sky.

Check out details and get a headstart online at ArtFagCity. Meanwhile, I'll be checking Capricious on Google StreetView regularly; I better not see you loafing around outside with the smokers.

In Real Life: James Turrell and Alice Aycock Face off on Google Maps! []


The closest I've ever come to getting a tattoo was this one, a 1992 work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The artist first showed this motif, a circle of dolphins that looks like it could have come from the border of an ancient greek kylix, in his first exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery in 1990. In that incarnation, it was a rub-on transfer on the wall, and it looked positively classical among the now-classic-Felix paper stacks.

For a moment, it seemed like the dolphins were becoming almost a logo for Felix. He embossed them in a small paper stack edition, and printed them on a limited edition t-shirt for a show in Madrid. Then in 1992, they made their last appearance in his work, as a tattoo, as part of a year-end group show at Air de Paris.

"Tattoo Collection" was conceived with Lawrence Weiner, and AdP's Jennifer Flay invited 30 artists, including Carsten Holler, Vito Acconci, Philippe Parreno, to submit tattoo designs. Since then Flay, along with gallerists Rosen, Giles Dusein, and Daniel Buchholz, have added more than 200 submissions to the project. Sounds like it's high time for a book. Or at least a slideshow.

I didn't want it then, but when I was curating a year-end group show at Exit Art in 2000-2001, and was showing work that challenged the traditional collecting model, Felix's tattoo was the top of my list. Andrea was very encouraging, but I ultimately decided not to get the piece because, ironically, I was worried I couldn't maintain it properly.

And since then, I've been proved right. I can barely get to the gym a couple of times/week, and the spot I'd chosen--on the top center of my back--is starting to get a little hairy. If I'd been asked to loan the piece to a show somewhere, I'd have to get a trainer and a waxer both. Too much pressure.

I'm not interested in the so-called PC aspects of discussing hair loss. The parody of an apologetically sensitive term like "follicularly challenged" is still of a piece with the negative connotation baked into the term, "hair loss" itself. Same with the self-affirming bald pride nonsense of the "God only made a few perfect heads. The rest he covered with hair." variety with gets cross-stitched onto too many pillows.

I'm interested in the seemingly universal, unquestioning acceptance of the hair loss [sic] paradigm. Now there's obviously a strong, pro-bald paradigm at work as well, thanks in large part to Michael Jordan and his shaved head.

But when it's discussed at all, the language and perception of hair loss is consistently negative. It's a loss, not "scalp expansion." "Hairlines recede," foreheads don't "advance." At best, it's a "problem" that guys "deal with" or "accept." At worst, they deny it, fight it, hide it. Whether it's a transplant, a toupee, or a combover, the results are always unsatisfactory, or at least aesthetically sub-optimal. And yet, does anyone ever say anything to the guy about his self-inflicted hair mistake? Not likely. Whether it's someone else's or our own, hair loss is usually slow enough that most people pretend it's not happening and move on.

When I was a little boy, my paternal grandfather wore a toupee. It was thick, dark, and carefully styled--immediately recognizable to the most casual viewer. To me, the most remarkable thing about it was that he'd take it off when he got home, like a hat. He placed it upside-down on the coffee table, where it looked Meret Oppenheim-esque, a furry candy bowl with a strip of double-sided tape running down the center. I don't remember anyone in our family or beyond ever talking about it, or even acknowledging its existence. What my grandfather's motivations were for wearing it, and how it related to his perception of himself and the image he sought to project once he stepped out his door, I don't know. I wish I did.


Actually, what I really wish was that I had the guts and presence of mind to take a conceptual, dispassionate, but engaged view of hair loss. Specifically, I wanted to get--OK, I wanted to see someone get--a tattoo of his hairline.

The idea came to me in 1995, soon after seeing Alix Lambert's photograph of a tattooed head on the cover of Open City magazine. Wouldn't it be awesome, I thought, for a guy to periodically trace a tatoo along his hairline as soon as he saw that it was changing? Add a new line maybe once or twice a year. As his hairline moved back, his tattoo would grow, and it would take on some kind of chronotopographical shape, somewhere between ripples in the sand and hollows in a sandstone cliff. Like carving notches in a growing kid's door jamb, the tattoo would become a portable, integral memento of a passage of the man's life.

Obviously, as my own tattoo-less head proves, there are complications to such a project. The generally negative perception of hair loss means that a guy's denial and anxiety are strongest when it starts; you're ignoring your hairline is shifting at the exact moment you'd need to start documenting the migration. You wash your face, and your muscle memory fails to take into account your extra forehead. But it works out because when you shampoo, you still try to lather up the top of your head the most, even though that's not where most of your hair is anymore.

Tattoos have become far more popular and destigmatized since 1995, but facial/head tattoos still seem to carry a taboo that can affect acceptance among the mainstream culture. A guy with a bad hair transplant could become Vice-freaking-President in this country, but a guy with a conceptual scalp tattoo would be unemployable.

A corollary project would be a conceptual approach to hair transplants that rejects the default "naturalistic" aesthetic which is the unquestioned ideal. I remember seeing a guy in that first Barnes & Noble on Broadway, up from Zabar's, an Indian/Asian guy with a vast, smooth head with a tiny fringe and like ten hair plugs on top. It's like he was determined to get something done, but he only had money enough for a dozen plugs. And yet some doctor took his money and arranged his plugs in bowling pin formation on the top of his endlessly bald head.

But what if a guy laid out his hair transplants in a design? A spiral, a fan radiating from his now-invisible widow's peak? A lightning bolt? The Nike Swoosh? Any one of the thousands of designs that guys get shaved into their fades every day on Astor Place--only in reverse and permanent?

The report this weekend--from Apartment Therapy--about Apartment Therapy getting a takedown notice from the NY Times legal department for unauthorized use of the Times' IP reminds me of the Apartment Therapy story from June 2004 about Apartment Therapy getting an angry call from the NY Times Home Section writer Marianne Rohrlich.

Rohrlich was pissed at AT's weekly replication of the Times Home Section content, photos, links and such. AT's response was to aw shucks about what big fans they are, and to tout the amount of traffic they're driving to the Times' site:

"Did it occur to you that it is not right to just LIFT other people's work?" she asks me. ("Do you know what blogging is?" I want to ask.) "Our legal department is going to be calling you."

Calling us! Legal department! Whoa!

I had a Shawn Fanning moment. Is this Napster 2004? Are we in trouble?

Now Matt and Andy are on the case, The Case of the Fishy DMCA Martyr Ploy.

DMCA Takedown notice: The NYTimes goes to war, wants to shut us down [at]
Apartment Therapy on Getting Into Trouble [at]

taro blimp, originally uploaded by hige_megane.

While I would like a blimp--or technically, a satelloon--on display,

I think I want to forgo the life-sized mannequin of myself. Thanks all the same. [via andy]

taro okamoto museum, originally uploaded by hige_megane.

On the way to the gym, I was really enjoying a news report on the radio about the political unrest in Madagascar. [Capital: Antananarivo, (AN-tan-uh-Na-REEV]

The about-to-be-deposed president must be pretty bad; why else would they give up such an awesomely named leader as Marc Ravalomanana? [RAH-vel-oh MUH-nuh-nuh] Makes me wish I'd been listening to Madagascan radio the last couple of years.

Incidentally, the demonym [!] for Madagascar is not Madagascan, but Malagasy. Madagascan applies to the island or country, but not to the people. Demonym=populace + name.

Like everyone else in the country, I was glued to the screen September 11th, 1998, scrambling to download the massive Independent Counsel's Report, aka the Kenneth Starr Report, from a still-scrawny Internet. I finally printed my copy in time for dinner, and my colleague from work and I pored over it at a sidewalk cafe near Dupont Circle, where we had traveled for a client meeting.

At the time, we were advising a group of entertainment and mall development companies on the creation of a startup, the purpose of which was to create the definitive platform for celebrity-driven retail. In other words, monetizable, industrial-scale product placement.

Which is why, while reading parts of the Starr Report out loud to each other, I had one of the lesser epiphanies of my life. I exclaimed to my colleague that this, the Kenneth Starr Report, was proof of the concept. After all, what brand was on every American's mind that night? Exactly, Gap. the maker of Monica Lewinsky's blue dress. I resolved right then to register the domain as soon as I got back to my hotel. Which is what I did.

I proceeded to post the full text of the Starr Report, interspersed with illustrations and links--soon to be massive affiliate revenue producers, I'm sure--of the brands and products mentioned in the report: Gap, Ritz Carlton, Bic Pens. Actually, that was about it.

Ken Starr turned out to be no Bret Easton Ellis, and his report was no American Psycho. Also, I was too busy to ever format the pages for easier online reading, so there were two giant pages of text, each more than a hundred printed pages long. [The Library of Congress has formatted the IC Report quite nicely, I think, though there are no Amazon Associates links.] Also, neither Gap, nor Bic, nor much of anything else was really available for product-level linking and shopping in 1998, so while the concept was pure, and the execution wanting, the timing was also a bit early.

Oh, how times have changed. The New York Review of Books has published excerpts from a confidential 2007 report, ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody, presented by the International Committee of the Red Cross to senior US intelligence officials over two years ago. The report methodically lays out the ICRC's findings from interviews at Guantanamo Bay with presumed terrorist leaders, and declares that US imprisonment and interrogation tactics "constituted torture" and "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." Mark Danner's article on the report is an agonizing, outrage-inducing must-read.

But maybe there's a silver lining, if not in terms moving actual product, at least in terms of brand awareness? Here's Al Qaeda administrator Abu Zubaydah describing his first interrogations at a secret CIA base in Thailand:

I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure [a nutrient supplement] and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time.
And then describing a later torture session, possibly in Afghanistan:
I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.

This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times. On each occasion, apart from one, I was suffocated once or twice and was put in the vertical position on the bed in between. On one occasion the suffocation was repeated three times. I vomited each time I was put in the vertical position between the suffocation.

During that week I was not given any solid food. I was only given Ensure to drink. My head and beard were shaved everyday.

I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor.

Here's Walid Bin Attash, a Yemeni involved with planning US embassy bombings in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole, describing his treatment after capture in 2003:
On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural.

During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.... The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.... I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing twenty-four hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan. Here he is talking about his interrogation:
During the first month I was not provided with any food apart from on two occasions as a reward for perceived cooperation. I was given Ensure to drink every 4 hours. If I refused to drink then my mouth was forced open by the guard and it was poured down my throat by force.... At the time of my arrest I weighed 78kg. After one month in detention I weighed 60kg.
I can see it now: "How I lost 40 pounds--and kept it off!--thanks to Ensure and the CIA Diet!"


US Torture: Voices From The Black Sites by Mark Danner []
Ensure Plus Complete Balanced Nutrition Drink, Ready to Use, Creamy Milk Chocolate Shake, 24-8 Fluid Ounce Bottles, just $49.99! []

Agnes Varda, who's DV mini-masterpiece The Gleaners was formative in my own decision to start making movies, tells Artforum:

I've been making films for so long, for over fifty years now, but I really think I have two paths of work--cinema and installation.
Varda talks about an installation opening at Harvard's Carpenter Center, which was one of several shown previously at the Fondation Cartier.

500 Words | Agnés Varda []

Dan Fox, an editor at Frieze, has a long but excellent essay? article? exploration? of what it means to be a "professional artist."

How should artists behave? How should we discuss art, build venues to show it in, tell people about it, try and support artists? There is no single answer: each situation demands a different solution. Perhaps, as we are hit daily with dire economic news, what is needed is to remain sensitive to the details, those small elements in the art world that cumulatively exert their own pressures on the ways in which people behave or relate to the making of art.
As my projects and interests have become increasingly some combination of quixotic, ridiculous, and conceptual, I'm left with the reality that the only rubric to justify their existence or realization is "art."

But as someone who's been wandering through the art and gallery and museum worlds for so long in the guise of anything-but-artist, I find defining myself as an artist to be problematic at best, mostly because of many of the issues Fox identifies: I've never sold a work. I don't support myself through making or selling my work. I can barely imagine the idea of making saleable work [though if you're in the market for a 100-foot satelloon, I'm sure we can work something out.] I was in a gallery show, but I don't have or seek the external validation of an authoritative figure such as a dealer, critic, or curator. I'm an art history undergrad with an MBA where my MFA should be, and an art writer with a few NY Times bylines where my October credits should be.

If I were a "professional artist," I'd immediately consider myself an abject failure, and my collecting, writing, fundraising, and curating reflexes would tell me to ignore my credential-less, dilettante-ish loser self.

So no, even with the art market evaporating like dew in the morning sun, I'm not too sanguine yet with the definitional aspects of being a professional artist. Still, good reading.

A Serious Business | What does it mean to be a professional artist? [ via c-monster]

March 13, 2009

Oh Mighty ISIS!

It seems the Pentagon has gotten wind of my master plan to re-create satelloons, the giant, inflated satellites with the integrated reflective communications capability, and they're trying to beat me to the punch with a $400 million, 450-foot-long, inflated surveillance "airship" which would operate for up to 10 years at an altitude of 65,000 feet:

The Air Force has signed an agreement with DARPA to develop a demonstration dirigible by 2014. The prototype will be a third as long as the planned surveillance craft -- known as ISIS, for Integrated Sensor Is the Structure, because the radar system will be built into the structure of the ship.
Uh, shouldn't that be ISITS? Who names these things? Isn't including "is" in your acronym cheating, like using all monosyllabic words in your haiku? But whatever, 150-foot prototype!

Pentagon plans blimp to spy from new heights [latimes]

Just because I haven't yet doesn't mean I won't eventually throw out the April 2008 issue of Bookforum on which I scribbled down the following notes last night [ex post facto additions in brackets]:

Eliminate the object of perception and make perception the object

What some people call illusion = "hypothetical space," [like the guy flying by you on the freeway at 70mph, chatting on his phone, is inhabiting a different hypothetical space than you--for all the good that'd do either of you in a crash]

Ed Wurtz biofeedback, train astronauts to lower heart rate [?]

[People always say] artists experiment, but art is a statement about some thing.

Turrell lawsuit, wife Supreme Court Justice of Oregon - lost [gonna research this one]

Space division [one of his bodies of work]

touch with your eye [a lot of discussion of the interplay between senses]
plumbing of vision
feeling of space
penetration with the eyes [so it's not just a single moment of realization, but an exploration and gradual understanding, i.e., perception]

[conservative grandmother, "not like those liberal Philadelphia Quakers"]: "Go inside--meaning inside here, yourself--and greet the light."

Bring the cosmos down into our territory [objective of Roden Crater]
Gathering light [from stars, not reflected light from the moon or any planets] that's older than the solar system itself [and then comparing it sculpturally/spatially/aesthetically/experientially to other isolated, contained, gathered cosmic light sources/types]

Working on a cenote in the Yucatan [what up withat?]
[from taking a last train ride to Watts] where these towers are just waiting for us to see
[Simon Rodia] went to ____ near Guadelajara to work with Mexican tile craftsmen

Minnaert's The Nature of Light & Color in the Open Air catalogue of optical phenomena [1954 book by that Dutch astronomer who got that weird, swampy, cavelike physics building in Utrecht named after him in a big way.]

From the Google Books preview, a plate titled, "The Heiligenschein on meadows covered with dew":



I've been all 'round this great big world, and I've seen all kinds of Turrells, so I couldn't wait to get to the Hirshhorn last night for the sweetest Turrell lecture in the world.

What a horrible opening. Turrell and Richard Andrews, who's now running Turrell's foundation to complete the Roden Crater, spoke about the artist's work last night, building up to several reveals about the progress and program of the Crater itself.

Encountering a Turrell work almost always involves a moment of realization--yes, someone did call it an "Aha! moment" last night--that the solid-looking object or space you're looking at is, in fact, light. And the artist told a few funny stories--well-polished like a favorite stone he carried around in his pocket--about getting sued by a woman who leaned against the wall "that wasn't there"; the reviewer who dismissed a piece at the Whitney as "uniformly painted"; and the viewer who leapt into that same piece because she thought it was solid, which makes no sense if you think about it, but it's funny nonetheless, and we all laugh knowingly, which is the artist's point.

turrell_moma.jpgI remember parking myself in MoMA's A Frontal Passage when it was first installed, watching peoples' reactions in the dark as they "got it." Of course, more than once, what surprised them was that there was someone lurking in the dark space with them, and a couple of people freaked when I moved because they thought I was a sculpture. The Observer Effect apparently applies to Turrells as well.

I've always felt that there had to be more to Turrell's work than the Aha moment, the threshold when you realize what you're seeing--or to use the artist's favored term, perceiving. Andrews told a story of turning a whole floor over to Turrell for what, he didn't know, at the about-to-open CoCA in Seattle in 1982. A whole team of volunteers worked feverishly for weeks, not knowing what the piece would really be, and then Turrell hit the switch, and "Aha!" But of course, it was no surprise for Turrell himself; he had known what he was working toward. He'd seen it in his mind, and had only to construct it.

The artist himself was toggling, then, between an awareness of the tangible state of light and the awe of the moment or process of perceiving it. Even as he said outright, "I am not your guru," the religious terminology peppering the discussion--koans, "taking it on faith," enlightenment, revelation--seemed entirely appropriate.

When he got to the slides of his Quaker meetinghouses, Turrell recalled the instructions his conservative Quaker grandmother had for attending a silent, meditative service: "Go inside--meaning inside yourself--and greet the light." It was a tall order for a fidgety little kid, but given how clearly it resonates with the experience of Turrell's work, it clearly stuck. What else is clear, though is that Turrell sees a greeting for what it is--the beginning of a conversation. [images,, c2009 james turrell via moma]

G -- He is an archeologist and an anthropologist. A Ph.D. He's a doctor, he's a college professor. What happened is, he's also a sort of rough and tumble guy. But he got involved in going in and getting antiquities. Sort of searching out antiquities. And it became a very lucrative profession so he, rather than be an archeologist, he became sort of an outlaw archeologist. He really started being a grave robber., for hire, is what it really came down to. And the museums would hire him to steal things out of tombs and stuff. Or locate them. In the archeology circles he knows everybody, so he's sort of like a private detective grave robber. A museum will give him an assignment... A bounty hunter.

S -- If there were these Arabs who just discovered some great king's tomb, and you see the tomb being taken out. And there are about twenty five or thirty Arabs heavily armed, and like five trucks and you realize... there's this one guy who's all painted, and he's one of the pall bearers who slips a thing into the back of the truck, gets behind the wheel and as the caravan is going to turn right, this one thing goes left. And the rest chase him, but he gets away.

G -- The thing is, if there is an object of antiquity, that a museum knows about that may be missing, or they know it's somewhere, he can go like an archeologist, but it's like rather than doing research, he goes in to get the gold. He doesn't really go to find cheap artifacts, he goes to gather stuff. And the other thing is, if something was taken from a tomb, stolen and sort of in the underground, sometimes they may send him out to get it. Essentially he's a bounty hunter. He's a bounty hunter of antiquities is what it comes down to.

If a museum says that there is this famous vase that we know exists, it was in this tomb at this time. It may still be there, but we doubt it. We think maybe it's on the underground market, or in a private collection. We'd like to have it. Actually it belongs to us. We're the National Museum of Cairo or something. He says okay and tracks it down.

if its not in the thing, he finds it, finds out who's got it. And he swipes it back. A lot of times it's sort of legal. All he has to do is get it. It's not like he steals things from collectors, and then gives them to other collectors. What he does is steal things from private collectors who have them illegally, and gives them back to the national museums and stuff. Or, being that his morality isn't all that good, he will go into the actual grave and steal it out of the country and give it to the museum. It's sort of a quasi-ethical side of that whole thing. The museum does commission somebody to go into the pyramids and you know, whatever they find, sort of get out without the Egyptian government knowing, because they were in the process of turmoil and nobody's going to know anyway and there's not going to be any official protest, so just do it...

A discussion of the finer points of museum ethics and antiquities collecting from the 125-page, 1978 transcript of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan's story conference for Raiders of the Lost Ark [via waxy]

March 10, 2009

German Bandstand

Holy smokes, we have seen Sprockets, and they are US.

And all this time I thought the weird-awesomest Monks were the guys publishing Monk Magazine from their motor home. This reminds me of the Pink Floyd track over the opening credits of Zabriskie Point. [via south willard]

Besides, obviously, Christopher Wool?



We're out of town with family all weekend, so we'll miss the art fair circuit. Which is too bad because my brother-in-law Benjamin Cottam is showing some work at Volta.

In addition to 'landscapes' and 'blue skies' paintings [hopefully not the one I called dibs on in his studio a few years ago], there will be some new additions to his various series of tiny--almost trading card-size!--silverpoint portraits. Above, from 'dead artists': Andy Warhol, 2002.

March 5, 2009

Out Of The Bubble


Every time I log in to check my eBay links, I'm like, "Obama!"

See how he embraces John McCain's strategy for the economy with no pride of authorship?


Another thing that caught me off guard looking through piles of photos from the Civilian Conservation Corps, was the camps. My interest in the CCC didn't come from the New Depression unfolding around us, but from learning over Christmas that while he was in the CCC, my grandfather helped build the Topaz Relocation Center, the Utah internment camp in which Japanese-Americans were interned during WWII.

That Japanese Americans were forced to live in "tar paper-covered shacks" of military design set up in remote, harsh locations is unrefutable evidence of the camps' punitive, prison-like conditions and an integral element of the entire internment camp narrative.

But what I didn't realize was that is exactly how participants in the CCC lived, too. The image above, cropped from the official photo of Callao Camp in Juab County, just north of Topaz.

Compare it to Ansel Adams' photo of the barracks at Manzanar below, from the Library of Congress:


Of course, it doesn't minimize the injustice of being forced to abandon your home and possessions, then being imprisoned in the desert by your own government because of your race. But--and I know it's hard to have a "but" after a sentence like that--but I have to imagine that the seven-plus-year history of the CCC, along with the experience of millions of Americans who participated in it, along with the Depression itself, had a formative influence on how the internment camps were perceived at the time.

What would public reaction be today if thousands of Pakistani-Americans were ordered to report to a fenced-off city made of FEMA trailers? Would we be outraged at the outrageous violation of their constitutional and human rights, or would we say, in the wake of Katrina, Ike, and waves of foreclosures, "Hey, what's the big deal? It's not a prison"?

Over the holidays, I taped an interview with my great uncle Wayne. He is my paternal grandfather Champ's older brother. [Yes, I did ask him about my grandfather's name. His recollection was that my great grandfather Chester Jehiel Allen hated his own name so much, he was determined to give his kids one monosyllabic name apiece. But that's not the point right now.]

Wayne told me as a young man growing up in central Utah, my grandfather had worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was one of the most successful Depression-era jobs programs; it put hundreds of thousands of men, mostly from rural areas, to work building roads, dams, bridges and national park fixtures, and doing other construction-type projects.

I've been surfing around on the history of the CCC in Utah, trying to get a sense for what his experience was like. From newsletters archived by the Utah State Historical Society, it sounds like it was run in a quasi-military style, with camps and barracks and ranks; it's hard to imagine my grandfather fitting in well.


The USHS also has several collections of photographs taken by CCC members, though I couldn't find any yet from the camps or periods Champ served. The photos show camps or the projects: structures in remote desert landscapes lacking any readily identifiable landmarks. Gabions and walls and foundations of stone in the middle of the desert. Not just bridges to nowhere, but bridges to, from, and in nowhere. Some of them unexpectedly reminded me of Earth Art sculptures.


Ashley A. Workman served in the CCC for seven years, 1934-41, in ten different camps. This undated, unsited photo from his collection of "some type of CCC bridge construction project." What else could a minimalistic geometric structure, stripped of time, place, context, and utility be but a sculpture? [here's another view of it.]


We know where Lamar Peterson took this photo, ""Dam on Santa Clara River, Shivcoit Indian Reservation," [actually, I believe that should be Shivwits, a band of the Paiute tribe] but it still looks like it could be part of Michael Heizer's City.

I have no idea what Heizer, Robert Smithson, Walter deMaria, or any other earthworks artists thought or said about projects like the CCC's. Maybe nothing at all, ever. We see these historical works from the other end of the temporal telescope now, but did they look different to people encountering them for the first time in the 1960's and 70's?

When these artists began conceiving massive sculptural interventions in the remotest desert landscapes they could find, the country was only a generation removed from the Depression. I expect there was a much greater general cultural awareness of the CCC and its built legacy. And then there's the post-war construction and baby boom that saw American families taking cross-country roadtrips to national parks via new interstate highways.

If anyone's seen Earthworks discussed well from this historical and aesthetic context, I'd love to know about it. And if anyone's then looked even further back, with contemporized eyes, to explore the production of pre-minimalist and pre-Earthwork objects, I'd definitely love to know about it, too.

Images 2 of 1455 CCC photos in the Utah State Historical Society Collection []

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.

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about this archive

Posts from March 2009, in reverse chronological order

Older: February 2009

Newer April 2009

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Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
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Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
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Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
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Chop Shop
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1-7 March 2016

eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
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It Narratives, incl.
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Franklin Street Works, Stamford
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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

Standard Operating Procedure
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
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"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
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HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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Canal Zone Richard
Selected Court Documents
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