December 2011 Archives

chance_circumstance_brown.jpgWell first off, apologies to Remy Charlip. I'd said he was "a bit off on dates" when he wrote about touring with Merce in a VW Microbus driven by John Cage from 1956-61. When we know [sic] that Cage only bought the bus in 1959, after winning a stack of dough on a rigged Italian game show.

But now, who knows? Those dates match up perfectly with the memoir of Carolyn Brown, one of Merce's first principal/partners, and, like Charlip, a member of the Company from the earliest Black Mountain College days.

In fact, the chapter of Chance and Circumstance which lent its title to this series of posts, "The VW Years," begins in:

November 1956. John and Merce borrowed money to buy a Volkswagen Microbus, the vehicle that defined--willy-nilly--a classic era of the dance company's history: the VW years. Our first VW-bus jaunt was crazily impractical, but according to a postcard sent to my parents, "a very happy trip." To give two performances, we drove for two days and one-third of the way across the country and, although I don't know how Merce was able to afford it, we stayed, for all the world like a professional dance company, in a big city hotel--the Roosevelt in downtown St. Louis. [p. 164]
What's remarkable about these "VW Years" in the mid-50s was how little use the bus actually got. The centerpiece of the chapter is actually a groundbreaking Jan. 1957 performance at BAM that caused a downtown uproar--but which was followed by months-long stretches of absolutely nothing at all. The company performed so little in 1957 that Brown ended up joining the ballet corps at Radio City Music Hall, a grueling gig that left her exhausted and injured, but with money in the bank.

The detailed, finely, painfully felt atmosphere Brown conjures up is both eye-opening and engrossing; the rejection, ignoring crowds, poverty and hardship of this era of Merce & co's career--indeed, of the whole downtown scene--seems hard to imagine from the comfortable, iconic present. And though I'm neither a big biography nor dance guy, I repeatedly found myself thrilled and literally laughing out loud at Brown's stories.

The VW Years were also the Bob and Jap years, when Rauschenberg and Johns designed costumes and sets for the Company. In 1958, the two artists and Emile de Antonio produced a 20-year concert retrospective of John Cage's work, followed in Feb. 1960 by a Manhattan performance for Merce's company.

Merce worked out the program for what would turn out to be a "traumatic" New York performance on a tour through Illinois and Missouri:

After the eleven-day tour, six of them spent in the close quarters of our Volkswagen bus, everyone had or was getting a cold. In Viola [Farber]'s case the cold developed into bronchial pneumonia. By February 16 she was acutely ill. At the end of her umbrella solo in Antic Meet her legs were cramping so badly she barely made it into the wings. Merce, entering from the opposite side for his soft-shoe number, couldn't help seeing her, on the floor in the wings, unable to walk, tears streaming down her face. Afterward he said that as he went through the motions of his solo his mind was racing: What happened? Will she be able to continue? What will we do if she can't? At the intermission he picked her up in his arms and carried her upstairs to the women's dressing room. The cramps finally subsided and she assured him she could continue. Cod knows how she got through Rune, but she did. [p. 260]
Brown is sympathetic but unflinching in her account of the difficulties of working with Cunningham, and of the toll the company's lack of performances and new choreography took on Merce the dancer, who, in Brown's telling, grew grim and depressed as he watched his peak physical years passing him by. By 1961, things were not quite so grim, with ten performances booked in nine states between February and April; which may make this the Golden VW Year:
I think Merce was even more relived than I to be touring with the full company, and his self-confidence seemed fully restored knowing that the company had been engaged on the basis of his reputation as dancer and choreographer rather than by avant-garde musical festivals based on John's and David [Tudor]'s reputations. John and David were with us, of course, to play piano for Suite and Antic Meet. John, on leave from Wesleyan, also resumed his duties as chief chauffeur, cheerleader, guru, and gamesman. Once again, nine people tucked themselves into the Volkswagen Microbus, sometimes spending as many as eighteen out of twenty-four hours together. Singing, snoozing, reading, knitting, arguing, laughing, telling stories, playing games, munching, and sipping, we whiled away the hours and miles between New York City and De Kalb, Illinois, De Kalb and Lynchburg, Virginia...etc. We totaled six days and one full night on the road plus six hours in the air just to give four performances. Ridiculously long journeys. One performance we gave having had no sleep at all, dancing in Lynchburg, Virginia, on Tuesday night, then, after a party, driving all night to Richmond, Virginia, to catch a plane to Atlanta and another to Macon, where we performed Wednesday night after rehearsing in the afternoon. It was impractical. Exhausting. Wonderful. [pp. 313-4]

There's one more excerpt which I'll go ahead and quote from at length, where Brown really brings home the reason why I've become kind of fascinated with Cage's VW bus in the first place. At 11PM, as the year ends, and Merce Cunningham Dance Company is performing for the last time at the Park Avenue Armory--and as I gave my tickets to these final Legacy Tour events to a good friend when I realized our travel schedule meant we couldn't attend ourselves--and as Cage's centennial year begins, I am looking forward to soaking in Brown's insightful account of the scrappy, crazy, foundational era of the company and the artists in its orbit.

"The Final Bows: Merce Cunningham Dance Company, December 31, 2011" [@parkavearmory]

December 31, 2011

How Firm A Foundation


See, this is the kind of frugal Sforzian stagecraft that Mitt Romney learned from his Mormon pioneer ancestors: just use the replica sets from The Music Man and con a local into holding your chair!

There's no trouble in Mason City with the end cut flooring, though; I'd totally vote for that.

Campaign Photo of the Day [MSNBC's @JamilSmith via Yahoo News's @Chris_Moody via NYT's @nickconfessore [yahoo]
"You'll feel as if you'd rented a video of the movie." []

The very special presentation of Merce & John: The VW Years will return after this brief announcement from holy crap, Richard Serra's suburban!



Thanks, wary meyers! Now don't get all stalky. And stay tuned, eventually, finally, for Donald Judd's Land Rover.

Sometimes all Mark Grotjahn wants is to dance. Here are four five videos of those times, in chronological order:

Nov. 2007:

Jan. 2008:

May 2008:

Feb. 2011 [via artblogartblog]

May 2012:

You know what I never got around to doing in 2010? Finishing the catalogue of all the designs created for the Alcoa Forecast ad campaign in the late 1950s.

That was the postwar, civilian/consumer-oriented, Glorious Aluminum Future PR campaign that gave birth to the Eames Solar Do-Nothing Toy. Which is by far its greatest claim to fame.

But still, there were other products, prototypes, designs, toys, sculptures, concepts. Like the ones I ran across in April 2010: Eliot Noyes's design for a carport-like, aluminum & Perspex shelter; satelloon-esque, spherical prototypes for a portable oven by Greta Magnusson Grossman and the Music Sphere, a hi-fi by Lester Beall; and modular prismatic side tables by Isamu Noguchi. Then I found a couple of boring ones, and got distracted.


But I just stumbled across this tearsheet on eBay, which is probably from the July 27, 1957 issue of the New Yorker, and which shows a shelving system Alexander Girard designed for the Alcoa Forecast campaign. The photo, shot in Santa Fe, at Girard's house, was taken by Charles Eames. Which, according to the timeline of John Neuhart, the Eames employee who actually created it, is about when the Solar Do-Nothing Machine was realized.


So Girard. Hmm. Overall, of course, awesome. But the shelves themselves? I gotta say, I'm not feeling it. The various panels in milk or smoked glass are fine, but the tubular metal seems off, and the feet are a mess.

The image itself seems to be more successful, or interesting, the way it collapses background and foreground into the shelves, which is funny, since they're ostensibly meant to divide the space they inhabit, not flatten it. That Four Seasons-looking chain curtain thing on the right is especially odd/cool. And that Mary Heilmann painting top-center is freaking awesome.

December 22, 2011


Yes, I know I should be praising Norman Foster for his Dymaxion Car, which, of course.

But instead, I will be grateful for the deftness of Lord Foster's humblebraggadocio in the essay he wrote for his wife's show/book in Madrid on Jean Prouvé.

[Best line hands down: "He reviewed the drawings in silence. then said, simply: 'You don't need me - it's perfect as it is.'"]

In discussing his firm's work at the Free University of Berlin, which included the extensive renovation of the Rostlaube, or "Rustbucket," the affectionate name given to Prouvé's innovative-but-decaying CorTen-clad library:

Our approach from the start was not to ask 'How can we match what Prouvé did?', but to try to imagine how he would have responded, given the same challenge. So instead we asked: 'How can we do what Prouvé would do now?'

We could have used Corten steel in much thicker sections, which technically would have been correct. But if Prouvé had known that the material needed to be sized differently, and that was his starting point, then the result would have been very different too. Most likely he would have looked at the alternatives and chosen a material that could be detailed finely and would stand the test of time; and so that's what we did. We replaced the corroded panels and framing with new elements made from bronze, which as it weathers and acquires a patina is gradually taking on the colour tones of the original.

Which is what happened, eventually, I'm sure. But when it was done, the library looked as awesomely, hilariously shiny as a new Pfennig.


Do they still have Pfennig? I guess they will soon enough.

Foster on Prouvé [, image via busse]
Unrelated, unmentioned, and most probably not WPWD: Foster & Partners' cuh-razy Library of Philology at Free University Berlin [fosterandpartners]

Electrum @ Reference with Hugh Scott Douglas, 2011

Oh, man, basically every thing in Ben Schumacher's shows and his source and reference material and his investigations and archive divings and whatever the hell else in his tumblrs is just giving me the shivers right now with its awesomeness.

I mean, what even is it? Is it a photo of a piece? Of an installation? Or a scan of something? Or a collage or--basically, yes, exactly. It's like it knows it's being seen on a tumblr.

Worse is a smallish tumblr, just 8pgs so far, from whence the above image was ganked [worse]
------2- is longer, and it ruined my evening schedule because I could not skip anything [------2-]
RO/LU, of course, has an excellent eye for the works, and a link to an interview that makes much sense, also he had a car window shipped from eBay straight to Bob Nickas, which is hilarious. [rolu]

December 21, 2011

The VW Years, Ch. 3: John Cage

The VW bus makes many appearances in John Cage's own writings, especially his tour diaries in Empty Words: Writings '73-78:

After winning the mushroom quiz in Italy, I bought a Volkswagen microbus for the company. Joe's was open but said it wasn't. At Sofu Teshigahara's house, room where we ate had two parts: one Japanese; the other Western. Also, two different dinners; we ate them both.

We descended like a plague of locusts on the Brownsville Eat-All-You-Want restaurant ($1.50). Just for dessert Steve Paxton had five pieces of pie. Merce asked the cashier: How do you manage to keep this place going? "Most people," she replied rather sadly, "don't eat as much as you people." [p. 80]


Tarpaulin centered on the bus's luggage rack, luggage fitted on it. Ends'n'sides were folded over; long ropes used to wrap the cargo up. [p. 82]


We were waiting to be ferried across the Mississippi. We had nothing to eat. We waited two hours. It was cold and muddy. When we decided to leave, Rick and Remy had to push the bus up the hill. Later we learned that the ferry service had been discontinued two years before. [p. 90]


Pontpoint: the company ate by candlelight. Everywhere we've gone, we've gone en masse. A borrowed private care took two, two such cars took six to eight, the Volkswagen bus took nine. Now airplanes and chartered buses take any number of us. Soon (gas rationing) we'll travel like Thoreau by staying where we are, each in his own. [p. 95]

In Richard Kostelanetz's John Cage: an anthology, the dance critic Stephen Smoliar recounted one story Cage told the audience at opening night of the company's 1970 season at BAM:
The Cunningham Company used to make transcontinental tours in a Volkswagen Microbus. Once, when we drove up to a gas station in Ohio and the dancers, as usual, all piled out to go to the toilets and exercise around the pumps, the station attendant asked me whether we were a group of comedians. I said, "No. We're from New York."
This pushes back the end of The VW Years to the 60s at some point.


Let me tell you, spare, door-sized black & white prints in screen-like triptychs are not what I think of when I hear "Carlo Mollino" and "photography." [Google search possibly nsfw]

But Becky Beasley's show "The Outside," at Francesca Minini in Milan, is just that, an austere yet decorative-looking exploration of Mollino's treatment of photography and public/private space. In a good, specific, abstract way, it looks positively Quaytman-esque.

Becky Beasley's "The Outside" runs through Jan. 14, 2012 []

[l to r] Viola Farber, Bruce King, Remy Charlip, Carolyn Brown & Merce Cunningham performing Nocturnes in 1956. photo CDF/Louis A. Stevenson, Jr. via the estate project

Remy Charlip was an early collaborator in Merce Cunningham's orbit. Years before he began his second or third acclaimed career as a children's book illustrator and author, Charlip danced with Cunningham and Martha Graham in New York and at Black Mountain College. He created the programs for the August 1952 Cage et al performance at BMC which is considered the first "Happening." They were printed on cigarette paper, and were placed at the entrance next to a bowl of tobacco, with an ashtray on each seat.

image of what has to be a Charlip program for a different Cage performance, via The Arts at Black Mountain College

Though he's a bit off on the dates, what with Cage only buying the VW bus in 1959, John Held's Charlip biography lays out the basic configuration of the bus:

As if BMC was not enough, Charlip received continuing post-graduate work from 1956-1961 in the back of a Volkswagen Microbus driven by John Cage, navigated by Merce Cunningham, enlivened by Robert Rauschenberg, with traveling companions Nicholas Cernovich and dancers Carolyn Brown, Viola Farber, Steve Paxton and others.
[l to r] Carolyn Brown, Steve Paxton & Merce Cunningham, 1961, image via cepress

A couple of weeks ago, Paxton talked to the Washington Post about the bus: Later that year [1960? '61? -ed.] Remy resigned, and I was invited into the smaller company. This meant touring around the U.S. in a Volkswagen bus, which, I was informed, it was my duty to pack. And unpack. And distribute and later collect all the items packed. There were the spaces under the seats, a compartment in the back, and a roof rack to transport nine persons' personal luggage, the equipment of John Cage and David Tudor for various musical adventures, and the sets and costumes for the tour. The bus was heavy laden, and it never let us down, including at least two tours the the West Coast.

John or Merce drove, and John liked to play Scrabble when off-duty. The rest of us conversed and Viola [Farber] knitted. It was rather like a family around the hearth. Long silence, naps, breaks to stretch and walk about, and usually some amazing treat produced by John, a huge salad perhaps, or once Rogue River pears at perfect ripeness with pear liquor to accompany. David was quiet, Marilyn Wood chatty, Carolyn [Brown] and Viola made comment, Merce sometimes spoke, John and Bob laughed a lot, and both were great story-tellers. I remember the actual driving fondly.It may have been amidst family-like intimacy of the bus that Paxton and Rauschenberg started the relationship that ended the relationship between Rauschenberg and Johns in 1961-2.

Robert Rauschenberg & Steve Paxton, with Alex Hay [l] and Trisha Brown [r] rehearsing Spring Training, 1965. image via SAAM Rauschenberg catalogue, 1976

December 17, 2011

The VW Years: Ch. 1

John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg photographed in 1960 by Richard Avedon

In a few days, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company will perform for the last time. I have not been a close follower of Cunningham's work, except in the New Yorker way, how, for the two decades since I moved to the city, Merce and his company were an integral part of the cultural fabric. Merce? You're soaking in it!

I was always more of a Cage fan. And so it's been fascinating, and enlightening, and continually surprising over the last year or so, as I've been digging into the early days of Rauschenberg and Johns, trying to understand their formative work and context, to see how closely connected they were with Merce and John. How small the circle of artists was which generated so many incredible works and ideas. And yet how infrequently I consider their work in relation to each other, or consider the nature of their collaboration beyond the basic namecheck.

In a way, I guess Rauschenberg and Johns and their intense, but short-lived collaborative period serves as the antithesis of Cunningham and Cage's lifelong partnership. But they all began so close, and so much together.

Anyway, as I've become more familiar and more admiring of Cunningham's work and Cage's work with him, I've begun trying to piece together the world they inhabited in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when they were just starting out. And one thing that comes up in every story about those days is the VW microbus Merce and his fledgling company would pile into to tour the country. Cunningham's longtime principal dancer Carolyn Brown even titled the chapter in her 2007 memoir "The VW Years."


But I'll get to that. First, the story of the VW bus itself, how John Cage bought it, and how it figured into various peoples' accounts of those crazy, early days.

cage_milan_peggy_guggenheim.jpgIn 1958, Cage had performed at a blowout retrospective concert organized by Johns, Rauschenberg, and hustler/activist/filmmaker Emile de Antonio; and he'd exhibited his scores at Stable Gallery. Then in the taught and performed in Europe, including at Expo '58 in Brussels, and then settled into a several months' residency in Milan at RAI, Italian state television. In February of 1959, after hanging out with Peggy Guggenheim at her Venetian palazzo, he appeared on Lascia o Raddoppia, the local equivalent of the $64,000 Question, where he performed new compositions, became famous by the end of the week--and ended up winning 5 million lira in a series of ridiculously rigged questions about mushrooms.

And so he took his winnings and Italian fame back to the US, where he used part of the money to buy a piano for himself, and a white VW microbus for Merce and the company to tour in.

The most extensive accounts of the Italian game show boondoggle and the VW van purchase are from Begin Again, Kenneth Silverman's Cage biography, and Stefano Pocci's guest post on the John Cage Trust blog.

Lascia o Raddoppia, Milan, 1959 [johncagetrust]

While I was painting today, I first listened to a slightly underwhelming Q&A from MIT with Otto Piene and Hans Haacke, which was short, and so my iTunes started shuffling, which never happens. I don't really listen to music, so iTunes ends up being a repository of things I wanted at one point--but then pretty much didn't listen to. Like the audiobook version of Barack Obama's Dreams of My Father, 2-3 min. segments of which would turn up at random every few tracks.

Which reminds me, kind of hilariously, of what, for me, is one of the most remarkable artistic achievements of the year, the awesomeness of which may actually push me to make a best-of list, which I don't like to do, just so I can put it where it belongs, near the top.

I'm talking, of course, about Dan Warren's remix masterpiece, Son of Strelka, Son of God, a surreal, mythological epic about a dog-headed demigod who destroys, and then recreates, the world, which Warren created by stringing together 3-10 second snippets from Obama's recording. Here's the synopsis:

Our hero's name is Stanley, but he doesn't really show up until Chapter 3. Stanley's father is the first proto-man, who fell as a fruit from the first tree. He found the world an empty and desolate place, so he climbed to the top of the tree and began creating animals and plants and whatnot just by speaking their names. He gets really excited about the process, and accidentally creates a monkey in thin air, which promptly plummets to his death. He realizes that he needs to be a little more thoughtful about this process, and finishes by creating many of the beautiful things in the world. Then he disappears.
The first of the story's nine chapters was animated by Ainsley Seago; the whole thing is pulled together nicely by Atlanta DJ EBA's soundtrack. The whole project's just extraordinary and feels like the future.

Son of Strelka, Son of God audio odyssey, links + a synopsis []
download Son of Strelka, Son of God for free from Warren's site []


While moving some art around this week, I found a bag of acrylics I bought early last year, when I planned to paint the Dutch camo landscapes. Trying to figure out how to do it led me to start looking more closely at the painting techniques of a whole range of works--from Dutch Golden Age landscapes to Picabia to Hard Edge to Douglas freakin Coupland--and to various paint/photograph combos.

I wanted to match the ploygonal camo colors right, so I'd looked at various digital-to-analogue conversion strategies, to extracting the Pantone colors from each polygon, then sending an autogenerated list off to some paint company, who'd produce each one for me. I was going to have the colors matched by someone. I studied the various color theories, from Goethe forward. My master painter brother-in-law would tell me about the different companies' different pigments mixing and drying differently. I took notice just last month of how Richter knows and manipulates the drying rates of the various layers of the various paints he squeegees.

I basically ended up trying to get the painting perfect in my head. First.


Anyway, with the collection of paints I'd bought fresh in my head, after I put away the Rijksoverheid paintings, I just decided to paint one of those camo things. So I got one of the smaller prints, of the crazy camo ball over Noordwijk--yep, it's still there-- taped off the two polygons that were an identical gray, and I mixed the paint in a little tray. By looking at it, and seeing when it was done. And it matched. And so I painted those two polygons in a few minutes. And that was it.


At the second I was done, I realized I coulda/shoulda taped off some more polys and kept going, some of the other gray-family ones. I can see how the project could proceed like that, working the paints in succession to match a little family of colors. And wow, acrylic dries so fast, I could just keep right on going. Though I still have to see whether I can tape over painted photograph, or if it requires something else. Whatever, the point is, it works, and I did it, and seriously, what the hell was taking me so long to get started?

Whether it turns out to be interesting or good, of course, is another question. Which now I know I'll be able to find out.

Previously, 09/2009: Houses of Orange

December 17, 2011

Rijksoverheid Rood 5: Thinner


Since I appear to only be able to find the time bandwidth to paint on the weekend, sometime I might have to investigate terms that already haunt me anyway, like "weekend painter." At least I'm not painting on Sunday, right?

Anyway, another sanding and another layer of Rijksoverheid Rood on the two panels, this time with a little bit of thinner added to the paint. It felt different, for sure. We'll see how it ends up.

December 16, 2011

Beautiful Boro Noragi @ Sri


I love this boro jacket at Sri as much for the color as the patching:

This jacket is well-used, as is quite obvious. To describe its color is difficult: it is a kind of medium-range grey blue; the hemp cloth itself is woven of exceedingly narrow stripes which gives a misty appearance to the neutral color.
This is actually the inside of the jacket. The 10 other photos Sri posted doesn't include a shot of the outside.

boro hemp noragi, taisho era [srithreads]

OK, here are some more details about how the crazy-awesome synthesizer/lightboard came together in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, courtesy of Ray Morton's 2007 book on the making of the film.


Maybe not surprisingly, it grew and evolved along with the crucial scene, known as the Box Canyon scene. Originally, Spielberg's idea was to use run&gun documentary style film of humans meeting aliens on a very hastily constructed tent base. [the idea of the Mothership landing in a McDonald's parking lot was nixed early on]. This grew to a runway, which became a stadium, which became a Box Canyon on the backside of Devil's Tower.

Except that there was no way they could shoot all that at night outdoors, so they ended up moving the entire production to Mobile, Alabama, where they created the world's largest soundstage out of a pair of WWII-era dirigible hangars, nearly bankrupting everyone in the process.

And though I mentioned Douglas Trumbull as a possible creator, Morton's book credits Spielberg and art director Joe Alves [who, as production designer on Jaws, had also created Bruce the shark]

Inspired by Russian composer Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin (1872-1915), who had theorized that specific musical notes prompted listeners to think of specific colors, Spielberg came up with the idea of connecting the Moog synthesizer to an array of colored lights so that each time a note was played on the Moog, a corresponding color would flash in the array. Alves suggested that the colors appear on a huge video screen but Spielberg wanted something resembling an athletic field scoreboard. Developing this idea, Alves decided to segment the board into several rows of colored rectangular panels. He then needed to find a logical way to relate the colors on the lightboard with the musical notes being played on the synthesizer. He wasn't quite sure how to do this until he saw a television program that featured Leonard Bernstein talking about composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).

Schoenberg had devised a method of musical composition that utilized all twelve tones in the chromatic scale. Realizing that there were also twelve colors in a secondary progression on the color wheel, Alves decided to link the tones and the colors (beginning with middle C and yellow), which gave him a row of twelve rectangles running across the board. He then added three more rows on top, consisting of lighter tones and higher octaves, and two more rows on the bottom, consisting of darker tones and lower octaves, for a total of seventy-two rectangles A full-scale version of this color board would be created when the actual set was built.

First off, how hilarious that Alves got the idea of a Schoenbergian twelve-tone scale from Bernstein; Bernstein hated that shit. I'm going to guess that Alves is referring to Bernstein's notorious Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1973, in which he argued for tonal music as a universal language against Schoenberg's chromatic system. The lectures titled, The Unanswered Question were aired on PBS.

Previously: Close Encounters Jam Session


I'm really bummed to have missed The Gifting of Bill Walton's Studio on December 4th, the extraordinary culmination of the ICA Philadelphia's memorial recreation/exhibit of the late local master's crowded workplace.

As ICA blogger/curator Rachel Pastan tells it, the event went of exactly as planned, with people trading memories and stories of Walton, and then choosing a memento from the studio--tools, brushes, scraps, materials, anything but finished sculptures--to take with them.

I guess it's alright, because I've kind of been doing the same thing already, since 1996.

I found Bill Walton's humble, powerful, minimalist, materialist sculptures when I was attending business school in Philadelphia. When Larry Becker Gallery had his second Walton show during my final semester, I splurged and bought a small piece--small even by Walton's standards, though bigger than the gold or copper headless nail works he'd embed flush in the wall.


It's a strip of lead an inch or so wide, carefully folded back and forth on itself into a little stack, almost like a cube. Pinched between one of the folds is a single 10"-inch blade of dried grass. In concept, it's similar to the aluminum block & newspaper work Walton showed at Patricia Sweetow Gallery in 2005 [above]. [BTW, I love that he didn't date his works. They exist among themselves, not in a timeline or progression.]

Becker explained that it was common to the streets of Philadelphia, and should I ever need to replace the grass, I could go out and find it. The species of grass is included on the label on the little custom-built archival cardboard case--it's put away right now, so I can't look it up--and Walton helpfully included a couple of spares behind a taped sheet of glassine.

Becker had shown the little sculpture on a small, white wall bracket about the size of a CD-case. For a while, I alarmed Becker by telling him how I had placed the sculpture on a cinnabar lacquered netsuke stand I'd found in the basement of my globetrotting landlady's townhouse.

I was very interested at the time in the way Western modernism and minimalism resonated with Asian and Zen precursors--I was a groupie for John Cage's Rolywholyover, which was at the Philadelphia Museum in 1995. And then later, when MoMA was choosing the architect for its expansion, I was translating criticism about Yoshio Taniguchi and his architect father Yoshiro Taniguchi, who had worked with Corbusier, designed the awesome mid-century modern Hotel Okura in Tokyo, and who founded Meiji-mura, an architecture preservation park which contains Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel.

But that's several other stories. When my grass broke and my supply ran out, I began making a point to harvest a blade or two every time I went back to Philadelphia.

I kind of drifted away from a close following of Walton's work after I left town, but Walton's sculpture ends up occupying an outsize mental space for me, and it continues to link me to the city where Walton made it--and where I found it during my 2-year sojourn.

The transfiguration of Bill Walton's studio []

This is so awesome. I know there's no sound, but it seems like I can hear all those reality TV show team members' hearts beating.

[Michael David Murphy via waxy]

I don't know what, if anything, these mean, but these two stories last week made me wonder about the relationship of art and politics and Washington DC as viewed from a political/media perspective.

First up, and most disturbing, was the Washington Post Arts/Style section's discussion of an American Psychology Association study [which, right?] linking creativity with lying & cheating. The Post was not alone in referencing artists--it took its headline, "Are artists cheaters?" from The Economist, "Are artists liars?". But unlike the Economist, which actually didn't discuss artists or art at all, the Post framed its entire story about the study around the inherent dishonesty of art and artists in a way I found facile and offhandedly hostile:

It's not a wholly new idea. Being a liar is a requirement of being an artist, Ian Leslie argued in the Economist. "If art is a kind of lying, then lying is a form of art, albeit of a lower order -- as Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have observed," writes Leslie. "Both liars and artists refuse to accept the tyranny of reality."

Lying and cheating for one's art -- as in making up stories, cultivating a persona, and even appropriating other's work -- is different than cheating for personal gain, though. There have been prominent examples of artists who have engaged in both forms of it. Paul Gauguin's numerous ethical breaches -- beyond sleeping with teenage girls in his adopted homeland of Tahiti -- included misrepresenting his paintings of the island to collectors back in France as a garden paradise, when in fact, it was colonized and stricken with alcoholism and disease.

So artists are prone, even required to "act unethically." And so when someone who is, by every definition, an uncreative non-artist lies with the express, unethical intent to deceive, it is called art.

That's according to an anonymous Mitt Romney campaign official rationalizing his candidate's patently dishonest misrepresentation of a statement of President Obama:

"First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business.... Ads are agitprop.... Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It's ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context.... All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art." [The Reinvention of Political Morality, -NYT]
Which, of course, is all on the heels of Rachel Maddow's ongoing mockery of Herman Cain's delusional, lie-filled campaign as "performance art."

This conflation of art and lying not only serves to justify, albeit cynically, the actual unethical behavior in the political realm, it also weakens and pre-emptively discredits art itself as a vehicle for protest, speech, idealism, or whatever intent/content the artist might have. It seems like one [more] way in which politics plays politics with art in ways that art is not even fully aware.

If there's any good writing or thinking on this kind of thing, I'd love to hear about it. Honestly.

The new issue of Public Art Dialogue is out--as you know, right?--and it includes an article by Drake University art historian Maura Lyons that looks at how Disney, photography, and Ken Burns altered the Gettysburg National Military Park.

In the 1990s, the National Parks Service decided to reconfigure Gettysburg toward a "historically authentic" representation of the landscape as it appeared during the pivotal three-day battle in 1863, emphasizing the sites of action. After visiting the battlefield last year, I wrote [and wrote] about the problematic inconsistencies and selectivity of the strategy, which seemed to me like a retrofitted justification for an anti-modernist campaign to remove Richard Neutra's Cyclorama building. Which it may still be, but not only that.

The NPS, Lyons argues, was trying to shore up the memorial's relevance--and revenue--by responding to other presentations of Civil War history:

The landscape historian Brian Black has argued that the new direction for preservation at Gettysburg was partially motivated by the fact that, during the 1990s, the Walt Disney Company was planning to develop a historically themed park named Disney's America in northern Virginia...NPS identified Disney as a possible economic threat an moved to solidify Gettysburg's historical landscape as an authentic and authoritative one. In these efforts they could take advantage of a feature that Disney did not possess: the national park's location on a notable battlefield.
Part of what helped kill Disney's America, of course, was its proximity to another major Civil War site, the Memorial in Manassas to the Battles of Bull Run.

Alexander Gardner, The home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg 1863

As for photography, Lyons cites Gettysburg Then & Now, William Frassanito's decades-long research project to identify and reshoot the sites of vintage, battle-era photographs. And a study by Jim Weeks, who found that

the desires of visitors, who want to see visions of the battlefield familiar to them from historical photographs, particularly from their deployment in Ken Burns' documentary series The Civil War...helped prompt the restorations of the last 20 years... Weeks observes that "While in earlier phases Gettysburg controlled its image, by the latest phase images controlled Gettysburg."
Lyons, Maura, "Memorialization and Marginalization: Vernacular Sites and the American Civil War," PAD Journal, vol. 1, no. 2, pp163-191 []
Previously: Some pointers, or what to do with Neutra's Gettysburg Cyclorama Center?

Here is a PBS Newshour Q&A with Steven Tepper, discussing his research into why art--or the arts, really, since he looks at theater, libraries, music, too--triggers protests in some communities at some times and not others. He found that the protests are "always deeply rooted in local concerns.":

STEVEN TEPPER: I looked at 805 cases of conflict across 71 mid- to large-sized cities in America. When all was said and done, and I looked at all the various things that might correlate with the cities that the highest rates of protest over a four year period in the 1990s, it was the rate of immigration in the decade prior that most strongly determined whether a city was a high city or a low city in terms of its protests levels. Cities that had experienced rapid population changes, in particular if the percent of foreign born had grown significantly, those cities were the most contentious in the late 1990s. And the argument in the book is that when people feel unsettled by the rate of social change, when the things around them are changing fast -- economics, demographics, technology -- art becomes something that they fight over as a way to reassert their values, reassert a sense of who their community is and where they fit into their community, who's values still matter, what does a community look like going forward, and art becomes this amazing arena in which people negotiate their differences of opinions around the contours of their expressive lives together.
Great, so now we know? And we don't have to read Tapper's new book, Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest Over Art and Culture in America? Except that reading the book may be the only way to get a handle on the "social changes" Tapper mentions. Because they frequently seem to involve race, religion, and gay.

And I assume that he sets aside the culture-war-style protests started by organizations or politicians to gin up support or fundraising, which do not always have a local impetus. [Though even as I think about the Smithsonian's "Hide/Seek" mess, the reality was, it was timed to disrupt the Congressional debate and coverage of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," so in a way, it was hyperlocal.]

tl;dw, reading the transcript is quicker: Conversation: Why Do Americans Protest Art? [pbs newshour]
Go ahead, buy: Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest Over Art and Culture in America [amazon]

December 10, 2011

The Cosby Sweater Project

"Season 3, Episode 3: 'Golden Anniversary'"

This is epic. Painting the key sweaters of The Cosby Show, one episode at a time, in chronological order. Which is awesome, not because it charts the evolution of the Cosby Sweater; any punk with a tumblr could do that. But because it's fun to imagine Thomas Nozkowski's reaction, as the seasons progress, and he hears the footsteps behind him, getting ever closer. And an occasional spastic, growly laugh.

The Cosby Sweater Project [ via I wish I could remember]

BELLMAC-32A Layout in the Ball Labs, Murray Hill Lobby, image:

Look closely, at least until I can track down a larger version of this snapshot.

Because it may be the world's largest plotter pen drawing.

It's a 20x20-foot layout of the BELLMAC-32, the world's first 32-bit microprocessor, developed by AT&T just before they divested themselves of Bell Labs and the RBOCs beginning in the late 1970s.

BELLMAC-32A microphotograph, via

According to a first-hand history of IEEE fellow Dr. Sung Mo (Steve) Kang, developing the BELLMAC-32 constantly uncovered the limitations of the design, testing, manufacture, and QA process for microprocessors:

Chip layout verification was another huge challenge. At that time, no CAD tools were available for the entire chip layout verification. As a result, we had to generate many CALCOMP plots and Scotch-taped them together to form a 20-foot-by-20 foot plot that was placed on the floor in a huge room. To make sure interconnects were formed properly, all terminals were labeled and wires were traced by using color pencils to make sure the lines ran continually. Although primitive, this method uncovered many errors and, in the end, produced error-free layouts and fabricated chips. We used a huge empty room in Building 3 of AT&T Bell Labs at Murray Hill or the main lobby area to complete the checking.
I love that creating the most advanced computer chip of the day still involved PhDs crawling across the floor with colored pencils.

Still from Microprocessor for the Information Age, a 1982 industrial film on the making of the BELLMAC-32, via AT&T's Archive

And of course, there's the giant drawing itself, spit out by a printer in tiles and taped together. Was Wade Guyton even born when this all went down? Yes, but still. So awesome.


Now to track down a working CALCOMP plotter and recreate it. Because it's probably too much to hope that AT&T or one of their computer engineer diaspora rolled all those sheets up and stuck them in their moisture-free basement. Right?

Microprocessor for the Information Age (1982) [ thanks reader robin edgerton]
First-Hand: The AT&T BELLMAC-32 Microprocessor Development []
previously: Shatner, plotter art, and the drawing machine as seen at the beginning of the digital age

Thumbnail image for neuhart_solar_do-nothing.jpg

A few months ago, I was asked to write something about Ray and Charles Eames by the folks at Humanities Magazine, published by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The NEH had provided some funding to Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey's documentary, Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter, so a straight-up review wouldn't really work. But I was encouraged by the documentary's title, and its exploration of Ray's role in the duo's collaborative process, and so I decided to float the idea that there's a lot to learn by considering the Eameses as artists:

Throughout their own careers, whether making architecture, furniture, toys, annual reports, or films, the Eameses presented themselves as designers. And despite their forays into education, computing, and international diplomacy, that's how they are typically seen. But calling the Eameses designers while trying to account for their polymathic legacy can be problematic, particularly if we're picturing the designer as a lone, heroic genius: Charles Eames as the Howard Roark of American consumer capitalism. It invites many esoteric and academic questions about process, context, gender, and collaboration, which are interesting but hard to resolve. When considered from an artistic perspective, however, many of these complications evaporate. Accepting Ray and Charles Eames as artists and their studio work as art gets us away from the arbitrage over who did what and how. Plus, it enriches and deepens the contemporary understanding of their role in the culture of their time.
That's John Neuhart up there, by the way; he built the Eameses' greatest object besides their house, and one of the greatest unsung, unrecognized artworks of the modernist era, the Solar Do-Nothing Machine.

Modern Love, Humanities Magazine, Nov/Dec. 2011 []

December 8, 2011

The New Aesthetic On Stage

Here's video of James Bridle giving a live, keynote speech version of his awesome tumblr, The New Aesthetic, at a web conference in Australia. Lots of good stuff, though not much that will be new to TNA followers.

There are a few favorites in there, too, including lots of camo, Dutch Google camo, Blurmany, that crazy Google Books book, Google Google Google camo camo camo.

Waving At Machines, at Web Directions South, Sydney AU []

December 7, 2011

John Cage's Sweet Nut Balls

Here's another recipe from John Cage, this one maybe from a stay in Ithaca? Before he went vegan, obviously. From Empty words: writings '73-'78, p. 91:

Holiday Inn: Room 135.
Four cups of ground walnuts;
4 cups of flour;
12 tablespoons of sugar;
2 2/3 cups of butter;
4 teaspoons of vanilla.
Form into circa 125 small balls.
Bake at 350 degrees in motel oven.
Now back to Room 135.
Roll in 1 pound of powdered sugar.
Nut balls.
Makes enough for one dance company, I guess.

We took the family to Hillwood over the holidays. It's Marjorie Merriweather Post's house-turned-house museum, and it's kind of bizarre, frankly. Not seriously wack, but just a low-grade oddness which, who knows, maybe the passage of time and the accretion of history will help mitigate, and 50 years from now, it'll be Washington's Frick Museum. But it's not yet.

Hillwood is a sprawling memorial to the oft-married heiress/socialite's extravagant but ultimately middlebrow taste. The house is kind of big, but mostly grand, similar in scale and layout to the White House, but in Georgian/James River revival style, built in the 1920s. The storm doors on the terrace entrances look like the ones on every postwar red brick grandma house in Washington. The gardens are sprawling, but conventional.

Post's collections are a docent's paradise: tons of factoids to be shared about piles of French furniture, Sevres porcelain, Russian baubles and czarist portraits. And antique miniature furniture. None of it was as interesting as the positively massive cut crystal pendants hanging from every sconce and chandelier; seriously, grapefruit- or palm-sized or bigger, almost every one.


And so my favorite room ends up being the kitchen, which is fantastic. It's huge and vintage and all stainless steel, acres of Lustertone countertop, with a couple of sections of Formica and marble. It's a rare testament to the blind folly of our renovation-mad real estate culture. Keep your vintage kitchens, people, are you crazy?? [That pink tile and rococo gold-plated fixture master bathroom, OTOH, yow. A cautionary tale.]

Anyway, point is, this awesome double sink thing here in the butler's pantry? What is going on with this? I think it's stamped Geneva on the front edge. It is spectacular. Made my day.


A little while ago, I got an email from LA-based artist Kim Schoenstadt, asking if it was alright to reference some photos I took a few years ago of unusually awesome modernist houses in Salt Lake City. She planned to incorporate drawings based on parts of the photos into a larger landscape/installation at her Doctorow Prize exhibition at the Salt Lake Art Center.

Obviously, yeah, fire it up, I said.

And then just now, I popped on over to the SLAC website to see how it all turned out, and it looks great. There's a participatory drawing/paint-by-numbers/vinyl sticker reveal component of the show I'm not quite grasping, but it should make sense when we see it in person in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, holy smokes, the Art Center announced today that it has changed its name to the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Which is a thing I can barely imagine exists, but there it is. And to think it was once called the Art Barn. Mazeltovs all around out there.

Utah MOCA Doctorow Prize - Inaugural Exhibition, Kim Schoenstadt [, which domain name was registered in Aug 2010, so maybe I'm just the last to know]
Kim Schoenstadt []

December 6, 2011

And Now Erased Kennedy?

Wild. The previous post about erased and archived and someday-to-be-resuscitated Nixon reminded longtime reader Jonathan of another obscured national conspiracy: the Dictabelt recordings of the Kennedy assassination.

Apparently, a motorcycle policeman along the presidential motorcade route through Dallas had his mic stuck open, and he inadvertently laid down several minutes of audio on a police radio channel, which was being recorded by something called a Dictabelt.

Generations of investigators who examined the recording drew controversial and sometimes conflicting conclusions from it about the participation of a second gunman. But basic questions about which policeman's radio was being recorded, and where he was at the time, have never been answered definitively.

In any case, the celluloid acetate medium on which the recording was made is microscopically degraded further with every pass of the stylus. So the more it is disputed and heard and analyzed, the more it is physically erased.

Dictabelt evidence relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy [wikipedia, thanks jf]

The new issue of Cabinet arrived today [free with my new iPad case!], and it includes a fascinating article by Susan Schuppli about the 18 1/2-minutes of erased audiotape at the center of the Watergate scandal. Apparently, the National Archives has sealed the original tape reel, known as Tape 342, with the erased segment, and evaluates advances in forensic analysis capabilities, "waiting for that moment when the kiss of technological progress will reawaken it."

The last formal scientific panel to review the matter was in 2001; its tests were unsuccessful. Schuppli obtained a copy of Tape 342--technically, a copy of a copy--from the Archives, and performed various chemical and microscopic imaging of it. Because, well:

In conceptually rousing Tape 342 from its archival slumber, I hope to emphasize that erasure was not a process that removed information to produce an absence. In fact, an analogue tape recorder can only ever re-record over an existing track and thus Nixon's, or his secretary Rose Mary Woods's, purported act of tampering was a supplementary act of recording--an additive rather than a subtractive process.
This recognition of erasure as a generative event, not a destructive one, reminds me of Leo Steinberg, quoting Tom Hess, on de Kooning's use of erasure, and Rauschenberg's erasure of de Kooning:
De Kooning was the one who belabored his drawings with an eraser. Bob was proposing a sort of collaboration, offering--without having to draw like the master--to supply the finishing touch (read coup de grace)
Which reminded me that at a CAA panel last winter, SFMOMA's Chad Coerver, who talked about creating the museum's digital archive of its Rauschenberg holdings, mentioned that conservators using electronic imaging had been able to discover de Kooning's original drawing. And that they'd been discussing with curators whether to make the image public. Which, holy smokes, I'm glad SFMOMA doesn't have Tape 342.

New Yorker music critic Alex Ross posted this extraordinary video of Philip Glass and the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly outside Lincoln Center, where the Metropolitan Opera performed Satyagraha, the composer's 2008 production of his 1980 telling of the early life of Gandhi.

Starting at about 3:00, Glass and the peoples' mic recite the closing lines of the opera:

When righteousness
withers away
and evil
rules the land,
we come into being,
age after age,
and take visible shape,
and move,
a man among men,
for the protection of good,
thrusting back evil
and setting virtue on her seat again.
As operagoers begin to realize what's going on, and that Glass is there, they start ignoring the police cordon trying to direct them away from the protest, and start drifting down the stairs. It's pretty extraordinary.

The Satyagraha Protest [therestisnoise]

Whether you're sitting at home, poking at your remote to stretch, squash, and crop your Criterion movies; or preparing a video group show in Miami, Electronic Arts Intermix's High Definition Video Guide is an indispensable source of basic technical information:

If we agree that mindfulness about the proper display of electronic art is necessary to maintain the integrity of the work, then a basic awareness of how this new medium works is crucial. In what ways is HD different from other forms of video? How do these factors visibly affect the picture? How can older analog works be properly displayed with today's technology? All in all, how will HD video impact collection, exhibition and preservation?

This addendum to EAI's Online Resource Guide explains HD technology and its implications for curators, conservators, registrars, art historians and educators. The goal is not to mandate best practices, but to offer the foundation of a consistent vocabulary. Even more, the aim is to initiate dialogue across the field about the challenges and possibilities in this new chapter in the history of the moving image.

Thanks to Ed Halter of Light Industry, who included EIA's HD Guide in his Best of 2011 list in Artforum.

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

find me on twitter: @gregorg

about this archive

Posts from December 2011, in reverse chronological order

Older: November 2011

Newer January 2012

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
about | link

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)
about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99