Wait, Are These Richard Serras?

This is really not how I like to find out about multiple Richard Serra sculptures shoved into an alley in SE Washington DC, but here we are. @johnpowersus just tagged me on this instagram photo by Kevin Buist @porcupineschool. And I have to admit, except for the plinth; the siting shoved up against the garden wall; the dumpsters;

Google Street View with dumpsters, 2019
Continue reading “Wait, Are These Richard Serras?”

Better Read #036, Rachel Harrison’s Life Hack

Rachel Harrison Life Hack, 2019 exhibition catalogue, The Whitney Museum of American Art

As with the transformation evinced by Leo Steinberg’s flatbed picture plane, this episode of Better Read came into being when I took the catalogue for Rachel Harrison’s 2019 Whitney exhibition, Life Hack, off the shelf and left it in full view on my desk.

There are some oddities in this recording, like names I gave up trying to get the computer to pronounce correctly; words or abbreviations that are pronounced correctly in one case, and read out as a string in another; the startling precision with which the machine says, “Spongebob Squarepants,” and the sudden appearance of French voice for one precisely articulated line, while other instances of French are left to phonetic stumbling.

Johanna Burton is right, though, and Rachel Harrison’s text-related practice rewards the attention given to it.

Download Better Read #036, Rachel Harrison Life Hack (mp3, 15mb, 32:16) [greg.org]
Buy Rachel Harrison Life Hack [bookshop, or somewhere it’s available, like the museum]
Rachel Harrison, Life Hack, Oct 2019–Jan 2020 [whitney.org]

The Gaze (dir., Barry Jenkins)

I just started watching Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, and it is gorgeous and terrible and intense. One extraordinary thing about it is that in the midst of making this 10-hour series, Jenkins also made an hour-long, non-narrative work titled, The Gaze, and it is almost supernaturally moving. He wrote at length about it on Vimeo:

Early in production, there was a moment where I looked across the set and what I saw settled me: our background actors, in working with folks like Ms. Wendy and Mr. and Mrs. King – styled and dressed and made up by Caroline, by Lawrence and Donnie – I looked across the set and realized I was looking at my ancestors, a group of people whose images have been largely lost to the historical record. Without thinking, we paused production on the The Underground Railroad and instead harnessed our tools to capture portraits of… them.

What flows here is non-narrative. There is no story told. Throughout production, we halted our filming many times for moments like these. Moments where… standing in the spaces our ancestors stood, we had the feeling of seeing them, truly seeing them and thus, we sought to capture and share that seeing with you…

None of these shots are planned. Occasionally, when the spirit moved us, we stopped making the planned thing and focused on making THIS thing.

…we have sought to give embodiment to the souls of our ancestors frozen in the tactful but inadequate descriptor “enslaved,” a phrase that speaks only to what was done to them, not to who they were nor what they did. My ancestors – midwives and blacksmiths, agrarians and healers; builders and spiritualists, yearn’ers and doers – seen here as embodied by this wonderful cast of principal and background actors, did so very much.

Standing in for ancestors to see and remember them, and to experience being seen by them is as extraordinary as the insight to make this in the first place.

The Gaze, on Barry Jenkins’ Vimeo [vimeo via kottke]

Samuel Morse Facsimile Objects

Samuel F.B. Morse, The House of Representatives, 1821-22, 256 x 363 cm, collection NGA

Samuel F. B. Morse expected his 1822 epic, 9×12 foot painting of the chamber of The House of Representatives in the just-repaired US Capitol would tour the country to paying crowds, and then be triumphantly acquired by the politicians he made famous. That did not happen. The tour was a flop; the painting he’d spent months creating in a makeshift studio next to the House chamber was sold in Europe, and eventually ended up at the Corcoran. It was only with the dissolution of that museum in 2014, almost 200 years later, that Morse’s painting came into the collection of the nation, at the National Gallery.

Morse chose not paint the chaos and occasional violence that typified the House’s deliberations over such controversies as the Missouri Compromise or the displacement of Indian populations. Instead, perhaps aspirationally, he depicts a calm moment where hardworking servants of the people were preparing for a night session.

Samuel Morse Facsimile Object (M2), 12 x 9.75 in., dye sublimated print on aluminum, detail of The House of Representatives (1821-22) at the National Gallery of Art

Eighty recognizable politicians, journalists, and others are depicted–Morse sold a pamphlet diagram for viewers to identify them all-but the dramatic focus of the painting is an unidentified lamplighter. The figure stands on a ladder, against the giant chandelier, which has been lowered for his reach. [My first favorite thing about this painting was the thin, black line extending from the top of the painting to the chandelier, His back to the picture plane, but his profile reveals him to be a Black man. Was he enslaved? It’s not clear; the US government did not as a practice own slaves at the time, but slavers regularly leased the enslaved for government work–like rebuilding the Capitol after the British burned it in 1812. Morse was a supporter of slavery (also an opponent of immigration), which may explain why the central figure of his painting goes unnamed.

Samuel Morse Facsimile Object (M1), 9.75 x 12 in., dye sublimated print on aluminum, detail of The House of Representatives (1821-22) at the National Gallery of Art

The only other non-white person in the painting, however, was well-known in Washington. Petalesharo was a Pawnee chief who traveled to DC as part of a Great Plains delegation to negotiate the fate of his and other tribes. He is shown seated in the House spectator’s gallery, with an impassive expression that resembles the portrait Charles Bird King made at the same time for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Petalesharo had become famous through the promotion of missionaries, who’d reported that the chief had stopped his tribe from killing a young Comanche girl, either as part of human sacrifice or in revenge for a theft. This show of civilized mercy was probably appealing to the man to Petalesharo’s right, Jedidiah Morse, the Calvinist minister and geographer, who was also the artist’s father. Jedidiah had come to Congress to share a massive report he’d written on the US relationship with the Indian tribes. After traveling for several years and meeting with Indian leaders and communities, Morse argued for white coexistence with the Indians, along with a heavy dose of assimilation and missionary-led Christianization. His recommendations were ignored in favor of abrogating treaties and exterminating Indian populations who would not remove themselves from newly claimed lands. Next to Papa Morse is Benjamin Silliman, Samuel Morse’s chemistry professor at Yale. Years later, after Morse would develop the telegraph and Morse Code, Silliman became the first person to distill petroleum.

Samuel Morse Facsimile Objects (M1 & M2), installation concept, 9 x 12 feet

While viewing Morse’s painting the other day at the freshly reopened National Gallery, I got up close to study these standout figures; their unusual compositions, one obscured at the center and the other pushed and fenced off at the margins; one with a glowing chandelier and the other amidst brushy abstractions of the grand chamber’s marble columns; and to contemplate their significance, long unsung, to the history of this scene and this nation. Which prompted my gallerygoing companion to say, “Uh-oh, here come the Facsimile Objects.” [Reader, I married her.]

Morse Facsimile Objects M2 & M1 installation facsimile with lamp, ideally 9 x 12 unencumbered feet, which would take a lot on this wall, tbh

As another experiment on cropping my way to Facsimile Objects, I envision this as a diptych extracted from the painting, each realized at full scale, and installed where Morse put them in the original painting. Seeing these definitely reminded me of Titus Kaphar’s 2016 painting Enough About You, in which he isolates and frames the face of an unidentified enslaved boy in a portrait of Elihu Yale. But I’m still figuring out how these compositions read apart from the larger painting, and in relation to each other. Unlike Kaphar’s work, an awful lot is missing here.

The first proofs just arrived, and while they’re great images, they’re a little low-res; even a big jpg of a 12-foot painting is not really big enough to work with, so I’m going to shoot the details myself. Which feels a little extra, but also necessary here. brb.

Prof. Jennifer Raab provided a useful analysis of Morse’s The House of Representatives [nga] in the context of history painting in the Summer 2015 issue of American Art. [jstor]

Jasper Johns Fan Dance

Jasper Johns, Green Angel, 1990, encaustic and sand on canvas, image from WPI, ganked via hyperallergic

Hyperallergic has an awesome article by John Yau, one of our greatest Jasper Johns whisperers, that uncovers the source of a traced form the artist used in more than 40 works beginning in 1990, but which he had refused to identify. The motif appears to be two figures, one horizontal across the middle of the more vertical one, and is referred to by the name of the painting where it first appeared, Green Angel (1990). As you might expect with Johns, the revelation of the source for the Green Angel form is not a mystery solved, but a prompt for new questions.

Continue reading “Jasper Johns Fan Dance”

Tiny Rachel Harrison 🇺🇸🍰

Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2004, mixed media, 2 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 2 in., to be auctioned June 4, 2021 at Stair Galleries

Here are some things that are larger than this untitled 2004 Rachel Harrison sculpture:
my iphone
my 15yo SonyEricsson k790i smartphone
a box of Altoids
a deck of cards
a Metrocard
a piece of grocery store sheet cake at a Fourth of July block party
a 4×6 inch snapshot overpainted by Gerhard Richter while he’s cleaning up at the end of squeegee day

Gerhard Richter, MV.101, 2011, overpainted photograph, 10 x 15 cm, image: gerhard-richter.com

Here are some things that are about the same size:
a piece of grocery store sheet cake at a Fourth of July block party where a lot more people showed up than expected, and there was only one cake, and they had to stretch it.
a little piece of polystyrene foam trimmed off the end of a larger sculpture, or maybe the leg, now laying around the studio where a work like Hey Joe [below] is being made.

Rachel Harrison, Hey Joe, 2004, mixed media, as seen in Latka/Latkas, Harrison’s 2004 show at Greene Naftali Gallery

That’s the second reference to works that sound like castoffs or afterthoughts of some ostensibly more important studio activity, but I do not think that’s what Untitled actually is. I count ten colors of paint, in multiple layers, on every sculpted surface, plus the bottom, plus some fur, and a flag. This is a little object that has seen some stuff. [update: I have heard from the successful buyer of this little object that the fur was dust–which, though also a sign that the work has not been overhandled, is hilarious and gross–and has been removed.]

Alberto Giacometti, Very Small Figurine, 1937-39, plaster with traces of pigment, 4.5 x 3 x 3.8 cm, seen at Tate, from one of the Fondations, I’m not getting involved

Here are some things that are about as small that have also seen some stuff:
a 1937-39 Giacometti literally titled Very Small Figurine, from the era when he supposedly said he fit all his sculptures into a matchbox as he fled across the Alps.

Jasper Johns, Flag (P56), 1958, silk printed flag, paraffin, in wooden frame, 2 3/4 x 3 3/4 in., via JJCR

And one of my absolute favorite things in the entire Jasper Johns Catalogue Raisonné, a tiny flag embedded in wax in a little frame, from 1958, which he gave to Merce Cunningham, and which had never been exhibited before 2014.

Whatever brought this Harrison into existence and out of the studio was not the market, or the demand for a show, but something else. Whether it was a private gesture or a gift or some daily or exceptional practice, I don’t know, but it is interesting. This is the point where I wonder if I should hold off on posting until I try to get this, or where I say, if I don’t get it, I invite whoever does to give it to me. I mean, it’s meant to be a gift, isn’t it?

June 4, 2021, Lot 670, Rachel Harrison, Untitled, 2004, est. $1,500-3,000 [update: sold for $2,700, not to me] [stairgalleries]

‘Turn Feelings Into Things’, On Warhol’s Objects

Yet, in a way, abstract art tries to be an object which we can equate with the private feelings of the artist, the canvas being the arena on which these private feelings are acted out. Warhol presents objects which, in a sense, we can equate with public, communal feelings…In a way [Warhol’s works] might be said to objectify experience, turn feelings into things so we can deal with them.

Gene Swenson, unpublished draft, 1964 via sichel/oup

It’s awesome to hear about the experiences of people other than me who are now living with Facsimile Objects. I’m glad to know it’s not just me who finds them interesting.

Lately I’ve been thinking about them as objects, trying to explore the implications of the term and format I adopted semi-ironically from Gerhard Richter, who used it to explain the unsigned stacks of giclée on aluminum reproductions of paintings he began authorizing for museums as fundraising editions. [As their numbers and critical acceptance have grown, Richter has since classified them under the less obscure and/or more market-friendly term “prints.”]

Warhol was not on my mind, then, but like learning a new word and suddenly hearing it everywhere, I am now hypersensitized to any mention of objects or objecthood. And to asking, “But what does it MEAN [about MEEE]?”

Continue reading “‘Turn Feelings Into Things’, On Warhol’s Objects”

Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors, May 2021

Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors, May 2021, acrylic on panel, each 20×16 in., 20×68 in. overall.

The Museum of Contemporary Art owns Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1988 work, Forbidden Colors [not shown]. The work consists of four panels painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag. The title refers to an Israeli ban, ended in 1993, on any display of these colors in combination within the Palestinian occupied territories.

Forbidden Colors was first shown at The New Museum, then at White Columns. But after MOCA acquired it, they have only exhibited it a couple of times and loaned it once. [It has been shown twice since I first wrote about it in 2013, including at Noah Davis’s Underground Museum in 2018.]

So far, no one at MOCA from Klaus on down has mentioned this important work in relation to the violence and oppression Palestinians are currently suffering at the hands of Israel, its military, police, and the settlers, who are executing a system of apartheid within Israel, Gaza and the Occupied West Bank.

Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors (May 2021) is a repetition of Gonzalez-Torres’ work, which I am making available for exhibition to any gallery, or museum, or other institution who wishes to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and support for their rights.

It is meant to stand in for the artwork it repeats whenever or wherever that work is needed, but is unavailable. If you want to exhaust your efforts to borrow the work from MOCA, that’s fine, but it’s not a prerequisite for getting this one. I’ll provide as many as necessary, at cost, around $400 for materials and labor and (US) shipping. Or pay someone local make one for you; there are surely artists or painters among your staff who could do it. It took me about six hours to make one, but maybe your art handler already knows all the monochrome protips. Send a photo and credit info if you’d like it recorded. As Rauschenberg once wrote of other monochrome paintings, “It is completely irrelevant that I am making them–TODAY is their creator.”

a muscly guy in silver hot pants dancing on a raised platform surrounded by light bulbs for a Sturtevant repetition of a Felix Gonzalez-Torres Go-go Dancing Platform piece, paired with a blasted out, pixelated image of a cowboy jumping over a lasso, which is a jpg of a Richard Prince cowboy work, based on a Marlboro cigarettes ad, reappropriated as a digital work titled 300x404, based on the size of the little jpg.
L: Sturtevant, Gonzalez-Torres Untitled (Go-GO Dancing Platform), 2004, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main, Photo: Axel Schneider, Frankfurt am Main. R: Untitled (300×404) after Untitled (Cowboy), 2003, 2009

In its title Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors pays homage to Sturtevant’s repetitions of Gonzalez-Torres’ light string and go-go dancing platform works.

In its execution and offering up as a stand-in at a moment of institutional timidity, it is related to an earlier work, Untitled (300×404), which I created in 2009 when MoMA and/or Gagosian wouldn’t permit the use of a Richard Prince Cowboy photo in a Slate review of an exhibition.

When Felix Gonzalez-Torres presented Forbidden Colors he described it as “a solitary act of consciousness here in SoHo.” Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors (May 2021) is a shared act of consciousness with people all over the world.

Previously: Forbidden Colors, by Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Facsimile Objects Update

Dürer Facsimile Object (D2.38)? a FO of a 9×14.5 in. section of a Dürer, plus Vermeer Facsimile Object (V0.9)?, both at the newly reopened National Gallery, Washington, DC. Plus a FOOL FO (W1), positively glowing in the morning sun as it rests against its hand-stitched flannel packet

News from the Facsimile Objects front: barring any exceptional developments, the National Gallery in London will reopen on Monday (5/17), and so the Dürer there, the heavenly phenomenon on the back of the St. Jerome, will be visitable again. At that point, of course, the corresponding Facsimile Object (D1), will no longer be needed, and so will become unavailable. Get one while you can, I guess. The Karlsruhe agate-like painting on the back of Dürer’s Sad Jesus will, sadly, still be available, while Germany’s COVID numbers remain so high.

Recently I made a couple of Facsimile Objects related to works in the National Gallery in Washington, DC, which has been closed for several months. They will not be issued in any numbers, partly because the NGA just reopened. In fact, we were there yesterday, the first day back, when the shipment of test FOs arrived in the mail.

As you can see from the installation photo above, though, they look nice. Other than their uselessness, I’m pleased with how they turned out.

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Better Read #035 – Cryptopunks Evening Sale

Lot 11A, May 9, 2021, estimate 7-9 million dollars. image: christies.com

If I knew what to make of this, I probably wouldn’t be selling FOOL-shaped mirrors and aluminum devotional jpgs for cowry shells.

Download Better Read #035– Cryptopunks Evening Sale, 13.2mb, mp3, 13:45 [greg.org]
Lot 11A Larva Labs, 9 Cryptopunks: 2, 532, 58, 30, 635, 602, 768, 603 and 757 [christies.com]

FOOL Facsimile Object

Christopher Wool, Blue Fool (for Glenn O’Brien), 1990, 12 1/8 x 7 5/8 in., enamel on aluminum, image via: Simon Lee Gallery

Kenny Schachter is selling a sweet little Christopher Wool painting that once belonged to Glenn O’Brien. It was a gift from the artist. The way Die Zeit heard O’Brien describe it in a 2014 puff piece, it was the priceless first prototype of Wool’s most famous body of work.

What O’Brien probably said was that it was a study for the giant four-letter enamel on panel paintings Wool made in 1990. Because he’d been making stencil-style text paintings since around 1987, when he’d famously said he was inspired by seeing
SEX
LUV
freshly stenciled on a white panel truck by a graffiti artist in the East Village.

The way Kenny tells the story, is that he was reminded of FOOL–which he bought from O’Brien in 2015–when he saw a similarly tiny text-on-aluminum Wool painting in a backroom at Miami Basel. It was $900,000, but was actually worth more like $2.5 million; a bargain even for Wool, who apparently bought it back.

If you are in the market for that piece–and you’d be a FOOL not to be; it is at once important, fantastic, and adorable–then you need read no further. You are set. You are good to go, and godspeed you. Despite his recent NFT hijinks, Kenny still loves that fiat money, and has surely earned this deal the hard way, on those mean Miami streets. Go cash him out. From here the discussion turns away from mad money and toward Facsimile Objects.

Continue reading “FOOL Facsimile Object”

Days End Shoe Tree, 2021

David Hammons, Days End, 2021, awaiting shoes, image: whitney.org

If it’s really going to exist, what this new David Hammons sculpture needs is some old David Hammons. Let’s start by throwing 25 pairs of sneakers over the 8-inch steel beams, and then we can assess.

David Hammons’ Shoe Tree, 1981, on Richard Serra’s T.W.U., 1980, image: probably Dawoud Bey

Previously, related: Stop and Piss: David Hammons’ Pissed Off

Christopher Wool Richard Prince Joke Painting

Christopher Wool & Richard Prince, My Act, 1988, 80×60 in., enamel and flashe on aluminum and steel, image: maxhetzler.com

While looking around at early Christopher Wool text paintings, I just saw this. Maybe Wool’s collab with Felix Gonzalez-Torres just looms too large, but I can’t say I’ve ever really thought about his collaboration with Richard Prince.

In a 1997 interview quoted on Max Hetzler Gallery’s site, Wool makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world:

That was actually before he’d even made the jokes into paintings. He had just done the written, he would write me on paper. And, he proposed this collaboration. I know I’m really impressed with someone’s work, when I have that feeling, “Oh I wish I had done that.” And with the jokes that was really the case, I thought that was quite an exciting thing to be working on. So he gave me his repertoire and I made a couple of paintings, and that was our collaboration. I ended up doing “I never had a penny to my name, so I changed my name,” actually I chose the ones that fit into a painting the easiest, because it was really hard for me at the time to figure out how to make them. But they were all about change of identity, so it was kind of great. I titled it “My Name” and I felt like I was Richard Prince for a day. The other one was the psychiatrist one: “I went to see a psychiatrist. He said ‘Tell me everything.’ Now he’s doing my act.” I titled that one “My Act”. So it was like I was doing Richard’s act. 

I know the feeling.

Better Read #034 – Mike Kelley’s ‘Pay For Your Pleasure’

In 1988 Mike Kelley created Pay For Your Pleasure as one of three works for his show at the Renaissance Society in Chicago.

It consisted of a hallway hung with 43 banners by a signpainter, depicting portraits of great men of arts and letters, plus a quote from each about the transgressive nature of creative genius. There was also one self-portrait by the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who’d taken up painting in prison, and whose work was, controversially, garnering market and media attention. Sort of the George W. Bush of his day, except Gacy actually went to jail.

David Rimanelli posted this work on his Instagram recently, and it prompted me to revisit Kelley’s installation, and the quotes he assembled. The Renaissance Society’s documentation includes a text that rightly criticizes those in the spectacle-driven culture who turned a murderer into a celebrity artist. [The work mitigated its own centering of a Gacy painting by including donation boxes for victims’ rights organizations, though, if you think about it, that gesture only offloads the scale-balancing to the viewer.] but it seems oddly silent on what I think was Kelley’s most devastating critique, the consistency with which icons of white male-driven culture seek to excuse themselves from moral obligations to anyone but themselves.

The work was acquired by MoCA in Los Angeles in 1989, and hand to heart, the description is, “Oil on Tyvek, wood, an artwork made by a violent criminal in (location of exhibition), and two donation boxes.” Christopher Knight captured the damning site-specificity and guilt-assuaging in 1992. I would pay a hundred dollars to see this work in Dallas or DC with a W painting.

Listen to Better Read #034, the quotes from Mike Kelley’s 1988 installation, Pay For Your Pleasure [mp3, 8:37]

Mike Kelley: Three Projects, 1988 [renaissancesociety.org]
Mike Kelley, Pay For Your Pleasure (1988) [moca.org]

In The Manner of Giorgione

Beat af painting, “in the manner of Giorgione,” oil on canvas on panel, at Rago’s Spanierman sale, est. $600-800

I am low-key transfixed by this painting, and not just because it barely manages to hold it together enough to meet the definition.

Rago is auctioning it on April 29 as part of a 2-day sale of the collection/inventory of Ira Spanierman, whose eponymous gallery was a leader in the field of American Art for decades. In fact, it feels like just yesterday when Doyle held multiple sales of Spanierman Gallery’s inventory–but it was 2012. Anyway I guess there was still more stuff.

Continue reading “In The Manner of Giorgione”