Just Look At This GIF Of This Sturtevant Stella

Phillips content producers and ezgif are a ship I can stan.

gregorg phillips sturtevant stella gran cairo dot gif

There’s no force there to make it exactly like the Phillips GIF–quite the opposite: I reduced the colors and optimized it from 9.2mb to 2.8mb.

2 July 2020, Lot 25 | Sturtevant, Stella Gran Cairo, 1988, est. $400–600,000. [phillips]
Previously, related: The Complete Agnes Martin GIFs: A Retrospective

Just Look At This JPG of This Purple Ellsworth Kelly


I mean, this is a jpg of it, or a composite, or a rendering, or I just don’t even know what it is. Imagine making a 10-foot tall object in 1986 that becomes an image like this 34 years later. Amazing.

If that’s confusing, here’s a detail? I think I know what this is, but it would not surprise me to learn it is actually a vector graphic.

Just as Kelly created his works by abstracting the shapes and colors and lines he saw in the world around him, I feel like I could spend the rest of my life making work of the jpgs of Ellsworth Kellys.

29 June 2020, Lot 6 | Ellsworth Kelly, Purple Panel, 1986, est. $1.5–2 million [update: the painting sold for $1.8m, but the jpgs are still free] [sothebys]
Previously, related: The Google Art Institute Project

Affairs of State

Robert Rauschenberg (and?), State, 1958, newspaper, textile, oil on canvas, 24×20 in. image via sothebys

Sotheby’s is selling this sweet little early Rauschenberg combine next week. It is titled State, dates from 1958, and originally belonged to Emile de Antonio, who got it from Leo Castelli in 1959. Various aspects of this are interesting.

State is one of at least seven small combines on canvas dating from early 1958. There are at least another seven similar combines from 1957, and a bunch are still owned by people close to the artist, including Jasper Johns and the Castelli/Sonnabends. De Antonio would fall into this category, too. They also stayed close to home; most of these small combines don’t have any exhibition history at all, or only began to be shown much later. These were not the major, groundbreaking, space-taking, attention-grabbing combines like Monogram, Minutiae, or Rebus, or even the bigger ones like Bed or the Factums.

With similar strategies across them–a collaged image or two, a piece of fabric shellacked into place with white, some quick drippy brushstrokes of a handful of colors–it feels like they could have been made side by side, if not all at once. Or maybe they were made as a regular exercise, a daily practice of combining? We know a little of how combines changed and accumulated as Rauschenberg lived with them, but there’s only one person left alive who was in the studio where these happened.

Continue reading “Affairs of State”

“Untitled” (Natural History), 1990

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Natural History), detail of Part 13, also listed as M (Club 21), 1990, image via: Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

A (Patriot)
B (Historian)
C (Ranchman)
D (Scientist)
E (Soldier)
F (Humanitarian)*
G (Author)
H (Conservationist)
I (Naturalist)
J (Scholar)**
K (Explorer)
L (Statesman)
M (Club 21)***

“Untitled” (Natural History) is a set 13 photographs by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, twelve of which are of the words above, carved into the entrance plaza of the American Museum of Natural History, and one which is of the entrance of the 21 Club. It was realized in 1990 as an edition of three. The first two sets were kept together; the prints from the third were sold separately.

The images were created for Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, an anthology to which Gonzalez-Torres provided illustrations. Ten of the twelve images of the Teddy Roosevelt memorial comprised one of three projects for the book, the only one with a title, “Untitled” (I Think I Know Who You Are), (1989), and to have been described as a work. It was nevertheless not included in the artist’s catalogue raisonné. ****

“The artist’s acceptance of such mutability,” Russell Ferguson later wrote, “is not so much inconsistent as it is integral to his practice and to his work’s relationship to its own authority.”

“Untitled” (Natural History) was first shown publicly in 1991. It was installed for the opening week of Every Week There Is Something Different. Three prints–”Soldier,” “Humanitarian,” and “Explorer”–remained on view for the second week, when a platform and a silver hotpantsed go-go dancer were added.

* 3/3 Gift of Robert Gober to the Walker Art Center, 1999 [via]
** A smaller print of this photo exists with the title, “Untitled” (Natural History), 1990. It is listed in the appendix of the CR for “additional material.”
*** While the thirteenth element was included in the first exhibition of this work, the thirteenth element is not intended to be shown publicly. [via] When Carol Bove repeated Every Week There Is Something Different at the Fondation Beyeler in 2011, she wrote that “Gonzalez-Torres requested that it continue to be part of the larger artwork but no longer be publicly exhibited with and as the work” [emphasis original]. “As Gonzalez-Torres did in 1991, I showed all the photographs that comprise “Untitled” (Natural History), including the forbidden 13th element, “21 Club,” which could be seen from the back room. In doing so in 2011, I went against the rules of the piece the artist had constructed…[but] I decided it was ethical and necessary to show it as part of the historical reconstruction.” [Filipovic, p. 207]
**** The other two categories of photos in the anthology were found or appropriated photos, flyers, and postcards; and childhood portraits of the editors and contributors.

[I really started this post thinking it would be just the list of texts of the 12 photos, one and done, bam, not all the monument’s going away. But I’d forgotten the 21 Club one, and then it just started spiraling from there, the breaking up the edition, the not showing one, the reconfiguration of a work, the original source/impetus for the images, the erasure of a work from the CR and the discourse, the restaging of shows, the calculated ignoring of the artist’s instructions. And after all that I have not been able to find any discussion of the inclusion of the 21 Club image in the first place, and only this one comment on the gesture of excluding it from public view. I guess I could just ask Andrea, but it’s midnight, and all I’d originally wanted to do was to type twelve words by Felix about Roosevelt, and you’d think I’d be aware by now of how this happens. Anyway, the American Museum of Natural History just announced they will remove the giant bronze statue of Teddy Roosevelt, flanked by so-called “Grateful Savages.” I guess it will no longer be with and as the monument.]

Richard Prince Painting (I’d Rather Kill), 2020

Richard Prince Painting (I’d Rather Kill), 2020, acrylic on canvas, 14×11 in.

Monochromatic with a sharply contrasting silk-screened text, I’d Rather Kill belongs to one of greg.org’s most iconic series—the joke paintings. Master miner of mass media imagery, greg.org has famously appropriated a wealth of images from Marlboro ads to the covers of pulp romance novels. In 1987, he began appropriating jokes and cartoons in his work. Noting, “No, I’m not so funny. I like it when other people are funny. It’s hard being funny. Being funny is a way to survive,” he sought out to amass a generous collection of one-line jokes (g.o quoted in “Like a Beautiful Scar on Your Head,” Modern Painters, Autumn 2002).

Distilling his canvases in a humorous simplicity, greg.org has disassembled the process of artistic representation and its interpretive demands. Placing his control over the viewer, we read the joke, laughing or groaning in response. Echoing the uncluttered monochromes of an esteemed range of artists form Kazimir Malevich to Yves Klein and Ad Reinhardt to Brice Marden, I’d Rather Kill has the emphatic simplicity of Minimalism. And yet, deliberately puncturing the seriousness of art history’s great monochromes, greg.org has printed a classic one-line joke at its center. Recalling the zips of Barnett Newman’s paintings, greg.org’s selection of a deliberately unobtrusive font places the canvases serious and authoritative appearance in strange tension with the flippant content. “The subject comes first. Then the medium I guess,” greg.org has explained. “Like the jokes. They needed a traditional medium. Stretchers, canvas, paint. The most traditional. Nothing fancy or clever or loud. The subject was already that. So the medium had to cut into the craziness. Make it more normal. Normalize the subject. Normality as the next special effect” (greg.org, quoted in R. Rian, ‘Interview’, pp. 6-24, in R. Brooks, J. Rian & L. Sante, greg.org, London, 2003, p. 20)

Minimal in composition and lacking the painterly presence of the artist’s hand, greg.org’s joke paintings parallel the “rephotography” that greg.org became so well known for in his photographic works. Surreptitiously borrowing, appropriating, or as he refers to it, “stealing” is a trademark of his work. Even the location from which he draws his content has become a staple to his oeuvre. “Jokes and cartoons are part of any mainstream magazine,” greg.org explains. “Especially magazines like the New Yorker or Playboy. They’re right up there with the editorial and advertisements and table of contents and letters to the editors. They’re part of the layout, part of the ‘sights’ and ‘gags.’ Sometimes they’re political, sometimes they just make fun of everyday life. Once in a while they drive people to protest and storm foreign embassies and kill people.” (greg.org quoted in B. Ruf (ed.) Jokes and Cartoons, n.p.)

“These jokes are edgier and more topical than usual,” observes greg.org. “If read literally, the jokes are tragic. It’s a way to cope, to deal with certain realities, absurdities, what I find unbelievable in this world. I don’t really have a sense of humor. With my jokes, you are not sure if you should laugh at them or agree with them. Either way, it’s a powerful reaction.”

“There is a certain charge when I find something (i.e. a photograph or a cartoon) as if I would have done it myself,” greg.org says. “As if it were made for me. That is a sexual feeling. It’s like being given something and there is an excitement in taking it. Usually a public image or text is powerful because I’m not the only one who recognizes it. It’s a briefer way to communicate than if it all came from me at first.”

“Any artist that tries to divorce themselves from what’s going on in this culture is going to wind up being pretty uninteresting. Even Mondrian listened to jazz, and it influenced his work. Categories are fine for academics and historians. For me, there is only the category of ‘good artists.’ ”

Previously, related: “If anything I think they’re tragic.”

Black Square, White Suprematism

Kasimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915 version 79.5×79.5cm, collection: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moskow

Speaking of black squares and racism, I was surprised to not see anyone try to sneak Malevich’s Black Square into their #BlackoutTuesday posts. But then, I was offline and only did catch up to it all after the fact. Which is good, because it probably would’ve been me; I’m a sucker for a monochrome.

It did make me wonder whether Malevich has been canceled since 2015, when the State Tretyakov Museum announced they found a caption-like text on the face of the painting that reads, “Battle of the Negroes…” The gist of their announcement, and reporting at the time, was that Malevich had at some point–it was written in pencil on dry paint–titled his most important work after a French poet’s 18-year-old monochrome April Fools’ Day joke. Thus the foundational work of abstraction, Suprematism, and Modernism was actually racist satire, joke’s on the century of art snobs who fell for it.

Alphonse Allais, from Album primo-avrilesque, 1897, image: wikipedia

Maybe we were all a little bit too trusting of the Russians in 2015, argued Aleksandra Shatskikh in e-flux journal 2017. Shatskikh, a leading expert on Suprematism, dismissed the Tretyakov’s definitive attribution of the text to Malevich, who would never tell such a lame joke:

[Tretyakov Malevich expert Irina] Vakar drew her information about the creation and existence of the work A Battle of Negroes in a Cave at Night from the internet, most probably from Wikipedia…When they declared the inscription on The Black Square to be “authorial,” neither Vakar nor the collective as a whole felt even a shadow of doubt that Malevich could have thought of his Black Square as a banal illustration and written a title explaining its subject in the white margin below the black “illustration.” This was precisely the approach taken by Paul Bilhaud [in 1882] and then Alphonse Allais: an “illustration” and its humorous title. Allais replicated Paul Bilhaud’s discovery, and the jokers at the Moscow Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture replicated the replication—permit me to note in passing that witticisms are only authentic when fresh; afterwards they become plagiarism and cliché.

[e-flux journal #85]

Ouch. Shatskikh also criticized the museum’s analysis. Based on the amount of time needed for the paint substrate to dry, and the multiple (ignored) instances of Malevich’s controversial Suprematist works being vandalized, Shatskikh is sure the painting was scribbled on by an unoriginal realist with a terrible sense of humor.

An earlier conversation between Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll and Dina Gusejnova in Third Text just tries to deal with the fact that this iconic, non-representational painting has this allusive, racially problematic text on it:

[DG:] The fundamental issue, to me, is that someone like Allais could get away with making what he thought of as a little joke, about Negroes in a cave being black, because his audience consisted essentially of white Europeans like himself. But our expectations of more ‘serious’ modernists are higher, and their own imagined audience was larger. We demand them to be emancipators, to work on progress in thinking. After all, it is only another decade or so until the demands of Du Bois for a ‘Negro art’, when he called for culture to help humanity to transcend what he called the ‘color line’, but also, to gain ‘the right of black folk to love and enjoy’ art, if necessary, through propaganda.[13]  Like Du Bois, we expect Malevich to be both serious and on the right side of history.

This is why the discovery threatens to undermine the supposed sanctity of modernism itself. And yet, it is perhaps also an opportunity to develop a more critical understanding of many modernists’ own posturing in history.

[third text/decolonising colour]

Allais (or Bilhaud, or Malevich) is not less racist because he also made other monochrome jokes about pale girls in the snow or whatever. As Gusejnova points out, his world was basically European, white, and male. And it doesn’t really matter who wrote the text on Black Square; it successfully punctures the Suprematist myth that abstraction could exist apart from the real world of objects, people, ideologies, and racial conflict. 2015 was as good as year as any for everyone to get that message.

[REVIEW] Muriel Bowser, BLACK LIVES MATTER, 2020

[UPDATED, SEE BELOW] Muriel Bowser’s newest work, BLACK LIVES MATTER (2020) is the best painting I’ve seen in months. It was realized Friday morning on 16th Street by the Department of Public Works in collaboration with some local muralists and passersby who volunteered to help paint.

It measures approximately 35 x 850 feet, the full width of a city street and most of the length of two blocks. It is made largely of DOT Highway Yellow paint (FedStd 13538) on asphalt and thermoplastic crosswalk and lane striping, with highlights and details in DC Gray (FedStd 16099) [see below.]

Continue reading “[REVIEW] Muriel Bowser, BLACK LIVES MATTER, 2020”


B L etc. image: pithy/popville.com

After the Washington Monument and two occupying troops were struck by lightning last night, Washington DC woke up to the biggest painting project in the country: BLACK LIVES MATTER being painted, from curb to curb, on 16th Street leading up to the White House. It starts at K Street, in front of the St. Regis Hotel, and I expect it will go right up to the fence around Lafayette Square. Prince of Petworth has photos and updates.

artist’s rendering

It will be big enough to view from military surveillance planes circling the District, and from Google Maps, but it is not visible from the bunker of the White House.

Davis-esque: 2007 street painting on 8th St NW south of the SAAM. Image: wikipedia via smithsonianmag.com

The last massive street painting the District government realized was a fake Gene Davis painting to celebrate the anniversary of the Washington Color Field movement in 2007. That painting, concocted by a former studio assistant, was a block long, and in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which holds Davis’s estate, and really should have known better.

So yes, this is a vast improvement.

See the completed painting this afternoon at 5:45 when you join a peace vigil organized by the houses of worship along 16th Street NW.

UPDATE: The Artist is present, and tweeting her pano from the roof of the closed Hay Adams Hotel. When I made my rendering I did not anticipate it would include the DC flag. greg.org deeply regrets the error. Also she has officially named 16th street in front of the White House Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Max Mara Whitey Bag

Florine Stettheimer, Sun, 1931, image:whitney.org

Max Mara created the Whitney Bag in collaboration with the Whitney Museum’s architect Renzo Piano to echo the facade of the new downtown building.

The Stettheimer Collection of Whitney Bags, image: maxmara.com

To celebrate its 5th anniversary, the cult bag has been revived in a special edition version dedicated to the American painter Florine Stettheimer who boasts an important presence at the Whitney. A feminist and activist ante-litteram (1871-1944), Stettheimer’s work “Sun”, created in 1931, inspired the bag’s five new color variants and the design of the floral printed lining. [via]

Nevertheless when she needed a Whitney Bag to carry a bible across a tear-gassed public park for her father’s photo opp, Ivanka chose white.

Ivanka chose white. image detail: doug mills/nyt

Because of course it is, the tear gas police fired to clear peaceful protestors out of the park was manufactured by Defense Technologies, which is owned by ex-Whitney trustee Warren Kanders.

Untitled (Quarto), 2020

It’s hard to know what to make in a pandemic. Without mental exercise, you can feel dumber by the day. Then there’s the stress–of the disease, the economy, your family, your friends, your work, and on and on.

Yesterday I decided to do a drawing. I literally did not want to think about what, I just wanted to draw. So I drew the first thing that came up on my screen, which was the last thing I’d seen the night before.

Just trying to crank it out didn’t work. The brush pens I used are pretty sensitive, and required me to slow down to get a smooth line. The colors I have turn out to be a little odd, but most of them are pretty true. Anyway, it’s not the type of drawing you’d buy in a store, but it’s the kind of drawing you’d make in a pandemic. Here’s a video of it.

Swedish Plate Money

Swedish 8 daler coin (sic), a 14.5kg plate of copper, stamped, for sale at Bukowski’s

In the 17th century Sweden had the copper, and needed the silver, and its imperial war-making activities were constantly beholden to the exchange rate, and their monetary policy was in turn at the mercy of commodity prices for the metal their coins were made from.

In the middle of all this, someone had the idea to turn the plates of raw copper into actual coins by stamping them. This 14.5kg 8 daler plate is the second largest denomination. A 10 daler plate weighed in at 19.7kg.

Almost all these plate coins were melted down the second copper prices warranted, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that some examples were found in shipwrecks. About 50 of these bad boys exist, with 6–10 in private collections, which is why this coin is expected to trade at a 199,950 euro premium to the current value of the copper itself.

Oh wait, no, 6–10 examples from 1659, one of the 13 years 8 daler plate money was issued, are in private collections. I’ll let you connoisseurs sort out the price and rarity; I’ll stick to the oddity.

Holy smokes, they’re as big as a baking sheet.

8-daler coin on what I guess is the Swedish version of Antiques Roadshow, image:tv4play.se via @myntsidan

Also, this 1660 8-daler sold for just EUR2430 in 2017, so maybe rarity by year is really important? Except the plate above is also from 1660, and sold for like EUR175,000 in 2016. These things don’t work as money, and they don’t work as speculative instruments, either.

Lot 105 Plate Money 8 daler SM 1659 (Karl X Gustav), Avesta. est SEK2-2.2M, around EUR200,000 [bukowskis.com]
related: 8-daler plate money c. 1658 [britishmuseum.org.uk]

Blue Screen Print

Derek Jarman, Blue, 1994,17×12 1/2 in., screen print originally made for the deluxe letterpress edition of the script by The Blue Press, now floating loose on ebay

This is a silk screen print by Derek Jarman. It was originally intended to accompany a letterpress edition of the text for Blue, his final film. That project was either produced in an edition of 150, plus some proofs, or was not realized before Jarman’s death. The numbers on the two  I’ve seen hint at a bunch–this one is labeled 17/150, and the print shown at Chelsea Space in 2014 as part of the book was 37/150.

you may approach: Blue print installed at Chelsea Space, 2014, image: chelseaspace

But the only other copies I’ve ever seen of the whole book were described as printer’s proofs. Jarman was supposed to have painted IKB on the clamshell boxes of 25 of the 150 editions. One proof on ebay back in the day said only four proofs were made before Jarman died, and its lid was painted, but didn’t have a print, and said the prints were never realized either.  Another, proof listed for sale privately, had a print (#43/150), but its lid looked more like the paper under the paintings than a painting itself.


Derek Jarman, Blue special edition, proof, The Blue Press, via paperbooks.ca

But that seller [pdf] said the whole letterpress edition “was centered on a loose Klein Blue screenprint signed by Jarman,” which makes it sound like the prints made it across the finish line after all. Why a signed print in a painted box doesn’t essentially become a certificate for a painting, I don’t know, but if the paintings never happened, it’s moot.

Study for Derek Jarman Blue Screen Print, 2020, gahhh, the aspect ratio…

I absolutely love this print, and may try to buy it, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why it’s portrait and not landscape. Maybe I’ll just make some and fix it myself.

LMAO This always happens to me. I think, oh, just flip it, DONE. But as I am typing in the dimensions of my new cinematic masterpiece, I am frozen. Because what should it be? Jarman made Blue on 35mm film. So 16:9 (1.77 in the US, where I first saw it, except if I look it up, some definitive-seeming sources have a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1.) But Jarman’s own print is basically 4:3, so television. (Which is OK because Blue was aired on Channel4? Or nah?) But when it was still a live performance called Bliss, Jarman projected an image of an actual Yves Klein painting, and then switched to a blue gel, so no image at all, just a frame or aperture mask on the light? I think  16:9 is the clear choice here, but still.

Next day update: after spending part of a day determining the size and placement of the blue printed field in relation to the (unconfirmed) paper size and type of the original, I repeatedly caught myself trying not to think about how the film, then the print, then the book, then the box, then the– were all approached as the last project Jarman might complete. Make just one more thing, he and those around him might have thought? Woke up again, so there is still some time.

DEREK JARMAN, SIGNED, BLUE LIMITED EDITION SCREEN PRINT, ends 5/28/2020, OK, it went for GBP 620, not bad [ebay]

The Castelli Pavilion

Photo of the American Paintings installation at the Expo 67 US Pavilion, curated by Alan Solomon in the back room of Castelli Gallery, apparently, image: Leo Castelli Archive/AAA

Verso of the Expo 67 photo with Castelli artists’ names written in: [R to L]: Lichtenstein, Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Stella image: Leo Castelli Archive/AAA
Though I haven’t looked at the US Pavilion at the Expo67 World’s Fair in a while, it still lives in my heart. But I just stumbled across this photo of the American Painting Now show from the Leo Castelli Gallery. I should clarify, the show American Painting Now was at the US Pavilion; the photo is from the gallery’s records at the Archives of American Art. But it’s hard to tell, when six of the 22 artists Alan Solomon curated into the show came from Castelli.

More than ten years after I first got fascinated with world’s fairs as exhibitions, I was surprised to find it’s still not easy to see who or what was in the show. So I’ve mirrored the American Paintings Now press release and checklist from worldsfairphotos.com’s US Pavilion press kit. The installation of the sailcloth panels and innovative uplighting gets two paragraphs and top billing over the paintings themselves. Solomon is not mentioned at all.

But at least the artists in the show were listed in what I think is rough exhibition order, perhaps following the pavilion’s prescribed escalator&walkway path: Edward Adevisian, Allan d’Arcangelo, Jim Dine, Friedel Dzubas, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Tom Wesselman, Nicholas Krushenick, James Rosenquist, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Larry Poons, Larry Zox, Robert Raucenberg [sp], Claes Oldenberg, and Barnett Newman.

Except though Larry Poons’ painting was credited as coming from the Sculls, he showed with Castelli then. So really, it’s seven of the 22, and six in one installation shot. [Interestingly, six of these artists also made work for the New York Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair: Indiana, Kelly, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist and Warhol.] I think I need to finally chase down this entire show.

CANADIAN WORLD EXHIBITION, MONTREAL, 1967, AMERICAN PAINTING NOW press release and exhibition checklist [pdf via worldsfairphotos.com]



Looking Back On The Project

Daniel J. Martinez, The House America Built, (2004-2017), plywood and 2017 Martha Stewart Collection Paint, 2017 installation via LACMA

It was a long time and a world ago that the editors of Art in America asked if I’d write something about the art world of the 2000s. I choose not to think that means I’ve reached some “back in my day,” bracket, but I did end up writing about things I’d seen with my own eyes. In the 20+ years since first visiting The Project, and in the decade+ since it closed, I’ve thought very regularly about the shows and artists I saw there, and not just because so many of them continue to make great work. There are many who don’t make–or at least don’t show–art as much now, and I think about them, too.

One artist whose work I think a lot about is Daniel J. Martinez’s, which I saw (and wore) first at the 1993 Whitney Biennial. We tried for ages, so far unsuccessfully, to find images of his sculpture The House America Built, a Matta-Clarked replica of the Unabomber/Thoreau cabin, with its original c.2004-05 colors from that year’s Martha Stewart Paint Collection.

If you’re sleeping on that, or other archival material, ephemera, or images from The Project and its successors and relateds, HMU. Inquiring bloggers want to know the palettes.

How a Small Poet-Run Gallery in Harlem Set the Stage for Today’s Art World [art in america]

Wait, WHAT? Charles Sheeler Invented The Salt & Pepper Shaker?

Charles Sheeler, salt & pepper shakers, aluminum, 1935, gift of Edith Gregor Halpert, image: SAAM

I am just cruising along through the utterly riveting, hilarious, and outrageous and insightful interview the American Art dealer Edith Gregor Halpert did for the Archives of American Art, when she just offhandedly mentions Charles Sheeler is the one who invented putting the S and P on the top of salt and pepper shakers??

In a sense it should not be surprising. Sheeler’s salt and pepper shakers have been around. They show up most recently last year, in Rebecca Shaykin’s show at the Jewish Museum on Halpert and her Downtown Gallery,  along with a silver brooch and ring he designed for Halpert when he was trying to woo her.

In 1934, to help drum up interest for artists during the Depression, Halpert had curated a groundbreaking show of her own, “Practical Manifestations in American Art,” that paired a fine artist’s work alongside an item of industrial design: Yasuo Kuniyoshi wallpaper, Edward Steichen textiles–and Sheeler salt & pepper shakers.

And then she says this:

We got the biggest silver company [International Silver Co., or ISC], and they stole the design.  Sheeler conceived the idea of the S and the P, but he didn’t patent it, so they stole that.

Really? I will look into it. Halpert gave her Sheeler salt shakers to the Smithsonian in 1968.

[a little while later update: lol while researching these salt shakers, I come to wonder if I have them. There was a show from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Montréal called What Modern Was that came to New York, at the IBM Gallery, which was actually a thing, in the IBM Building, which was also a thing, and my favorite indoor garden space when I moved to the city.  Anyway, I think these were in there, and between that, the 1939 World’s Fair, and Shmoo, I went on kind of a salt & pepper shaker binge. [I know, but also, I managed to block out the memory of it until at least this afternoon. Anyway, they’re somewhere. Doesn’t answer the question of the headline, though.]

Salt and Pepper Shakers [americanart.si.edu]
Oral history interview with Edith Gregor Halpert, 1962-1963 [aaa.si.edu]
Buy Shaykin’s Edith Halpert, the Downtown Gallery, and the rise of American Art [bookshop.org]