The lot description for this Lonesome Cowboys print is extraordinary. Maybe like the texts about the Arizona Spike, and for this sale as a whole, the exceptional is the norm. Lonesome Cowboys was not just an anti-narrative, queer, softcore, experimental anti-Western filmed over a cold week in a Tuscon cowboy theme park; investigated by the FBI; and slowly edited while Warhol recovered from being shot. It was the first brick thrown in the “Stonewall of the South,” a powerful document in the fight for equality.
First of all, it seems buck wild that a spike from the Golden Spike ceremony marking the completion of the transcontinental railroad is even available for sale. Second, but really first, it is even wilder how hard the lot description for the spike rides for its urgent historical relevance right. now.
Maybe it helps that the spike, known as the Arizona Spike, is being sold in Christie’s “Exceptional Sale,” an off-season, cross-department assemblage of objets whose only obvious common thread is their uniqueness. But I’m hard-pressed to think of another auction text that makes a stronger case, not just for an object’s historical significance, but its contextualization in the current culture. It’s a text that belongs in a museum, like the spike itself.
Which, yeah, funny story. The spike is one of four [or seven, or maybe even eight, with at least one missing, this essay does have everything] made for the hastily organized 1869 ceremony, and is being sold by the Museum of the City of New York, where it was donated in 1943, by a New York descendant of Sidney Dillon, the Union Pacific executive and US Government defrauder who took the spike home from the hammering.
That defrauding’s in there, along with the delay to the ceremony when Dillon and other execs had their private rail car decoupled in Wyoming, and were held hostage by Union Pacific laborers who hadn’t been paid for five months. And the dispossession of Indian lands by the railroad grants. And the racist legislation banning immigration from China, where so many of the actual railroad workers came from. The same workers who got their due after several paragraphs detailing the preening rivalries and promotional dithering, including the Central Pacific’s Leland Stanford’s wiring his spike to the telegraph, so that his hammer blow would go out to the nation live–and then he missed:
The dignitaries soon left the scene while a Chinese crew replaced the ceremonial tie with a pine tie and common iron spikes — leading one journalist to declare, most appropriately, that in reality was not [the Union Pacific’s Dr. Thomas] Durant or Stanford, but rather it was the ‘Chinese who really laid the last tie and drove the last spike.'”
Anyway, the lot description and the feature article related to it are truly a journey. It addresses the spike’s provenance, trying to harmonize incomplete contemporary media references–a very Arizona Spike-ish spike was reportedly displayed in a San Francisco jewelry store weeks after Dillon presumably took the spike back east with him from Promontory, Utah–with family lore–from a family which included a namesake/great-grandson who became secretary of the Smithsonian. But it also puts the historic significance of the Golden Spike (or Last Spike) ceremony and the transcontinental railroad itself into both historic and contemporary context with amazing candor and rigor. What feels like it should be the rule for museums is, for an auction house, exceptional.
UPDATE: Sold for a hammer price of $1.8 million, $2.22 million with buyer’s premium. Excellent monetization, Museum of the City of New York!
I was driving the kid to a babysitting gig, and as we pulled into the street, I saw a Black man carrying a large-leafed houseplant in front of him. I immediately had to explain who Steve McQueen was, and how the first show of his work in New York in 1997 had in one room this amazing, silent, one-minute film he’d made on the street, in 1992, when he was a student, and saw two African men in trilbys, each carrying a potted palm plant, weaving their way through London traffic, and he just found the scene and instantly decided to film it, and it was transfixing and beautiful.
So yesterday’s Artle quiz at the National Gallery started with the top painting, which was a *copy* of a section of a van Dyck, above, that’s at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“It is possible that the owners of Van Dyck’s original group portrait commissioned the copy for a family member or close relative,” explains the NGA.
Well, we do know from the DIA site, that some of the owners liked to have things painted: “Inscribed, upper left: Family of Oliver St. John | Earl of Bolingbroke [added later; now thought to be a portrait group of a Flemish family] Inscribed, upper right: Vandyke/pinxit [added later].”
As Peter Huestis notes, the paintings match closely enough that the copy must have been made in the presence of the original. But who, when, and where?
Of the 18,000+ watercolors in the American Index of Design, some of the most amazing are of textiles and, in this case, embroidery. Index artist Elizabeth Moutal painted stitches and the tacked and fraying hem of what looks like it used to be the upholstered cushion of a little stool or something. Or maybe it’s just where it was pinned down in the making. Beautiful.
In Peter Schjeldahl’s review of Robert Gober’s 2014 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, he told a story of an 11-year-old Gober so “thunderstruck,” “baffled,” and “intrigued” by an Ellsworth Kelly painting he saw at the Yale University Art Gallery, that he went home and “remade it in his family’s basement.” I was psyched, and I would like to see it, I wrote at the time, as I tried to figure out what Kelly Gober had seen–and what Kelly Gober had made.
A few weeks ago, hero Matt Shuster answered at least the second question: RTFM. Turns out there is a photo of Young Gober’s Kelly in the basement in the detailed narrative chronology contained in The Heart Is Not A Metaphor, the exhibition catalogue for the MoMA show. Which I’d stashed, wrapped, and lost track of in 2014.
Namrata Hegde, 26, had just graduated from culinary school in Hyderabad, India, when she was chosen as an intern in 2017. Knowing nothing about Noma except that many called it the best restaurant in the world, she flew to Copenhagen to live and work at her own expense for three months.
For most of that time, Ms. Hegde said, her sole job was to produce fruit-leather beetles, starting with a thick jam of black fruit and silicone stencils with insect parts carved out. Another intern taught her how to spread the jam evenly, monitor the drying process, then use tweezers to assemble the head, thorax, abdomen and wings. Ms. Hegde repeated the process until she had 120 perfect specimens; each diner was served a single beetle in a wooden box.
Ms. Hegde said she was required to work in silence by the junior chefs she assisted (Mr. Redzepi was rarely in the kitchen where she worked), and was specifically forbidden to laugh.
The article says Noma began paying its interns in October 2022, which feels well within the time frame in which Moskin would have been reporting.
“Everything luxetarian is built on somebody’s back; somebody has to pay,” said Finnish chef and former [paid] Noma employee Kim Mikkola. Whether it’s fine dining, diamonds, ballet, or other “elite pursuits,” the key to luxetarianism is that abuse is built right in.
Andy Warhol made an oval portrait of Sarah Dalton covered in soap foam as an illustration for the January 1964 issue of Harper’s Bazaar. Warhol’s film, Sleep, starring his then-lover John Giorno and edited by Dalton, premiered on January 17th, the week John Koch’s painting, Siesta (1962), appeared on the cover of Time Magazine’s special “SEX in the U.S.: Mores & Morality” issue.
The bed reappears, like many of Koch’s furnishings, objets, and domestic spaces, in other of his ostensibly langorous yet unspeakingly tense paintings. Here is one called Manuscript II, from 1975, where two men review papers on a disheveled bed, as men do, or did?
Do either of these men appear in Manuscript I, of unknown date, but whose title, at least, from the gallery label on the back, seems to account for the existence of Manuscript II?
As Bonhams Skinner’s lot description indicates, the elaborate saturnalian table lamp appears in at least two other paintings. Beyond the significant size and tiny estimate, there is much I do not understand about this painting, from the height of that wingback chair to that stripped off bow tie and jacket, and most in between.
Took the kid to get her booster at the vacated H&M flagship in the emptied out World Market mall in Chevy Chase, once the most luxurious shopping neighborhood in Washington, which is now a retail wasteland on top of a Metro station over which nimbys are nonetheless gearing up to fight redevelopment. Across the street from the basement TJ Maxx in the closed Neiman Marcus mall, and kitty corner from the worst Michael’s in the world, in the basement, below the Booeymonger’s, which is below the Mattress Warehouse, which is below three levels of no-validation parking deck, remains the Roche Bobois showroom, where this Jean-Paul Gaultier Ben Hur chair was pushed, without hope, up against the emergency exit.
Which, tbh, didn’t only feel out of place, but out of time.
Looking up something else in Francis Naumann’s Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction, I was caught off guard by the timing of the creation of la Boîte-en-Valise, which was still being conceived as an album:
On the very day when Arensberg wrote this letter [May 6, 1940], the advance of German troops forced Duchamp to flee Paris. With his sister Suzanne, and her husband, Jean Crotti, as well as Salvador Dali and his wife, Gala, Duchamp moved temporarily to the small village of Arcachon [on the southwest coast of France, near Bordeaux], where, to his surprise, he was delighted to discover that he could still carry out some work on his album. “I can even work,” he reported in a letter to the Arensbergs. “I found a good printer and I’m making progress on my album.” Indeed, work on the album continued at such an intense pace that when he returned to Paris in September, he arranged for a subscription bulletin to be printed announcing that the first deluxe examples of the album–which was now officially titled from or by MARCEL DUCHAMP or RROSE SELAVY–would be available on January 1, 1941. The description continued as follows:
“A box of pullouts [tirettes], leather covered (40 x 40 x 10[cm]), containing a faithful reproduction in color, cut-outs, prints, or scale models of glasses, paintings, watercolours, drawings, ready mades; /this ensemble (69 items) represents the most complete example of the work of Marcel Duchamp between 1910 and 1937. / This deluxe edition is limited to twenty examples numbered I through XX and each are accompanied by a signed original work / The price for each example is set at 5,000 francs, which will be reduced to 4,000 francs before the subscription period ends on March 1, 1941.”
The first valise rolled off the assembly line almost exactly on schedule. “My new box is finished,” Duchamp exclaimed in a letter to Roché written on January 7, 1941. “I am reserving one for your.” Ten days later, he wrote to Roché again, saying that although he is able to make about three boxes a week, he knows of only a few possible clients who could be sufficiently interested to purchase one. He asks Roché to tell Peggy Guggenheim that a deluxe edition is now ready (which, for the first time, he refers to as a “valise“), and she could have one for the subscription price of 4,000 francs. Finally he mentions to Roché that he is “having difficulty in finding the skins to make the outer valise.”
So to be explicit here, Germany attacked France on May 10th, 1940, took Paris on June 14th, and the French government eventually evacuated to Bordeaux. All the while Duchamp is contracting, producing and assembling the first Boîtes-en-Valise.
Rationing in occupied Paris began in September: “The rationing system also applied to clothing: leather was reserved exclusively for German army boots, and vanished completely from the market. Leather shoes were replaced by shoes made of rubber or canvas (raffia) with wooden soles.”
Naumann continued: Although he encountered some difficulty in securing leather during the time of the Occupation,…in May of 1941, he did manage to secure enough to issue two more deluxe examples [after Peggy Guggenheim’s, which was I/XX].” They were for his companion Mary Reynolds [the first of four 0/XX, actually] and poet George Hugnet [II/XX].
This part I knew, but didn’t register: In the Spring of 1941 Duchamp found out Guggenheim was shipping her entire art collection from Grenoble to the US, and asked her to take the loose materials for fifty Boîtes-en-Valise. In order to transfer those materials to her, Duchamp got a childhood friend/grocer to certify him for three months as a cheese merchant, so he could travel. The material was all shipped by the Summer of 1941. Duchamp himself wouldn’t arrive in New York until May 1942.
[Next morning update: Of course, this was all known, even by me. Ecke Bonk has researched and written all this. It was all exhaustively laid out in the rare sale by the family of the original owners of what is now called a Series A Valise, at Christie’s in 2015.
Duchamp’s years-long efforts to find and reproduce accurate color images of his work, at a significant scale, in increasing uncertainty and literal peril all sounded exciting but slightly wearying when they’re recounted, for example, in an auction catalogue. And the slight production variations and different original artworks included in each deluxe edition in a catalogue raisonée kind of blur together in a safe, documentary haze.
I guess it just hits differently now. Why it’s easier now to recognize the wartime trauma, if not outright desperation, the project was immersed in. Duchamp fleeing to the countryside with all these years of amassed bits in a literal boîte. And the way the wartime New York Valises are filleted with drawings and maquettes of the pocket chess set Duchamp was working on, that was sure to be a commercial hit, and was not at all a thing. And the timeline clicks into place that it took until 1949 for the last deluxe Valise to be fabricated and sold.]
[Next night update: It’s been a lively day of discussion with folks about this, and there are a lot of views. I think the excerpts Wayne Bremser pulled from Calvin Tomkins’ Duchamp biography are the most salient; tl;dr: Duchamp took a leisurely cruise to safety, while Mary Reynolds, who stayed behind to run a Resistance cell from her Paris apartment with Picabia’s daughter, spent arduous and death-defying months to reach the US. Truly startling. And worse because I had read Tomkins multiple times, and none of this landed on me like it does right now. It really is me (and [gestures around dumbly] all this).]
And then Als talks about Gober’s Two Partially Buried Sinks and quotes Molly Nesbit in 1986, writing how the mass-produced object–or its facsimile–”contains longings for individual greatness…and fears of loss.” And then he goes on to talk about Duchamp at length, and I feel a separate blog post coming on.]
One of the wilder stories I found while researching the Art in America essay on LDS architecture was of the first known photographs of the interior of a temple, which only happened in 1911. That feels late in terms of photography, especially because all four of the Pioneer-era temples in Utah–in St. George, Manti, Logan, and Salt Lake City–all opened in the late 19th century, when photography would have been possible. But though several hundred non-Mormon guests were invited to tour the Salt Lake temple before its dedication in 1893, there was no effort to share images of the interiors of temples with nonbelievers.
Which is why in 1911 Gisbert Bossard, a disaffected 21-year-old convert from Switzerland thought the Church would pay a lot of money for the 80 or so photos he secretly made by sneaking into the SLC temple while it was closed for maintenance. Bossard got in with the help of a groundskeeper who tended the conservatoryful of live plants in the room that represented the Garden of Eden, and seems to have had the run of the place. Some of his photos included the offices of the church leaders on the temple’s top floor, and the Holy of Holies, a prayer room off the celestial room reserved only for the president of the Church–and Jesus.
Carolina Miranda shared an image of this unusual Matisse yesterday to mark the anniversary of the artist’s birth. It is a small painting that tells its own story: it was painted on the side of a busy road to the southwest of Paris and to the east of Versailles. The artist apparently switched places with his son, Pierre, who was driving, and painted this little canvas right where you see it: propped on the steering wheel.
This meta-painting is only my second favorite thing about it, though. In this used Renault Matisse saw the chance to paint a panoramic view of and through three contiguous windows. That includes one made of two panes of glass, which abut at a seam Matisse traced in faint black as part of the structure of the painting, a fragment of a technological horizon. Matisse, on a drive with his son, really said, “Pull over, I need to make a painting of this windshield.” And he did.
Clearly it worked, because Richter put out Eis 2 as a signed edition of 108 (plus 27 proofs) on Somerset. They started popping at auction about three years ago, and in the last year have sold for $56-$90,000.
Brand X also printed 500 copies of an unsigned poster version on slightly taller, narrower Somerset, with the Lincoln Center/List Art Posters caption. Same image dimensions (40 x 32 in.), same screens. These ur-Facsimile Objects sell for just a couple thousand dollars.