Gus Van Sans

Gus Van Sant, Untitled, 2010, watercolor on paper, 132×144 cm, image via artsy

I still admire his films. And I still definitely want to make that shot-for-shot remake of Gerry I’ve been contemplating since a day after seeing it for the first time. But nothing I have seen has me pumped for Gus Van Sant’s upcoming exhibition of wan paintings that Vito Schnabel’s putting on any minute. One thing I am intrigued and concerned by is something I have not seen.

This joint at Vito’s is not Gus’s first gallery exhibition. Artsy notes, almost correctly, that “In 2012, Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles gave him a joint show with James Franco, which featured watercolor portraits by Van Sant and two collaborative films that riffed on My Own Private Idaho.” According to the AnOther Magazine article linked above, the show, “Unfinished,” was in February–April 2011 at Gagosian Beverly Hills. The gallery’s otherwise comprehensive-slash-exhaustive website makes no mention of the show.  The Internet Archive reveals the webpage for the show was deleted some time between November 2011 and January 2012.

This image from a deleted Artsy page for the Gagosian show is the only installation shot I’ve found.

[OK, there is one mention: Derek Blasberg brings it up in an interview with Gus in the Summer 2018 issue of Gagosian Quarterly, an availability that now feels like part of the pitch phase for the current show. Gus is photographed on his sofa, in front of one of his giant, scrawly paintings.]

And it’s not like the show didn’t happen; Patrick McMullan covered it. But it wasn’t so much Gagosian giving Gus a show, as James Franco proposing a project to Gagosian where Gucci would pay to digitize 25 hours of dailies and outtakes from My Own Private Idaho, which Franco and Van Sant would each re-edit. That did not happen. Instead, Franco, “performing as” Van Sant, edited 12 hours of River Phoenix footage into My Own Private River, and some other outtakes into Endless Idaho, an adaptation of one of the three source stories for the original film. Van Sant’s contribution, beyond all the footage, was seven large watercolors of casting photos of hustlers. [Three are still listed on Artsy. They’re not bad. Watercolor seems a tricky medium to manage, especially at scale.]

That summer My Own Private River appeared at PS1 as an exhibition slash film series curated by who knows? But the Franco indulgence and the double row of unwatchable monitors points to Klaus. The film was shown on an old TV facing a casting director’s table at the end of a hall, so I guess we’re all performing Gus Van Sant now. There was also Franco’s 8mm adaptation of an earlier source script, featuring younger, Hispanic versions of Keanu & River’s characters; and Aa 20-years-older Udo Kier reprised his daddy role. Not at all confusingly, it was called My Own Private Idaho. Instead of watercolors, Van Sant showed a wall of large-scale, unmounted prints of film stills.

installation view of Summer School / My Own Private River at PS1, 2011, image: moma.org

In September 2011 Franco and Van Sant showed an installation titled “Memories of Idaho” in the lobby of the Toronto International Film Festival. It comprised Gus’s large photos “of actual street hustlers” and a new version of My Own Private River [below], edited down to a two-hour alternate take version of the original film after Joaquin Phoenix complained about the invasiveness of the 12-hour clip dump. The Film Society of Lincoln Center screening in February 2012 (programmed by Film Comment) also included Van Sant’s photos.

Franco apparently wanted to release his reworked version, but New Line wouldn’t let him. Art was fine, though. It was enough for the film and the title/hashtag to be ensconced in the River Phoenix fandom. It was uploaded to YouTube in 2015.  In 2018, Franco was accused of inappropriate sexual conduct by several aspiring actresses at his film school, which he abruptly closed. Which I mention because by this point Van Sant feels oddly peripheral to this whole project, displaced or subsumed by Franco’s hustle.

It appeared and was covered elsewhere, and vestiges of documentation exist, but it still seems odd for the gallery who staged a show to delete any record of it from their archive. In just a few years this show has appeared to be many things: a project in a gallery; a film screening in a museum; an art installation in a film festival; a test of the meaning of context and the power of celebrity; and now, a tossed-off promotional claim for attention and artistic credibility that gets obfuscated and complicated upon even a cursory examination. Art is so wild, y’all.

On Richter, Palermo, & Friedrich

Gerhard Richter, Seestück (Gegenlicht)/ Seascape (Contre-jour), [CR233], 1969, 200x200cm, oil on canvas. image: gerhard-richter.com
When he first showed his seascape paintings in 1971 Gerhard Richter was criticized for being kitschy and romantic, and for aping Caspar David Friedrich. In the catalogue for Richter’s 2011 Tate retrospective, Panorama, Mark Godfrey maps out an important nuance about Richter’s relationship to Friedrich and suggests a different, closer, and more conceptually skeptical source.

Though he described them in 1991 as appearing “endlessly repeatable and without end,” Richter only made ten large, square Seascape paintings in 1969, and three in 1970:

Just about all the seascapes (many of which were included in the Atlas) depict collaged motifs. The sea and cloud sections came from different photographs then collaged together in a single image. The successful paintings were dependent on finding exactly the right mood between the combined images. There were also a couple of paintings, for example, where I used two halves of the same image of the sea [CR: 244, CR: 245]. Although I had a rather bad feeling about them, I was visited by George Maciunas, who thought they were absolutely wonderful and for that reason I allowed them to survive, despite feeling they were very decorative.

[Sidebar, but this phrase “I allowed them to survive” jumped out at me. Richter’s quote comes from “Comments on some works, 1991” which was prepared for the artist’s (earlier) Tate retrospective. It is not too much to say that a throughline in Richter’s comments is destruction, both as a subject and as a process. So for Richter a retrospective is an occasion to review a bunch of art you haven’t seen in a while, and try to remember why you didn’t destroy it when you had the chance.]

Gerhard Richter, 17 Seascapes, 1969, image: gerhard-richter.com

A 1969 drawing, 17 Seascapes, shows Richter experimenting to find the best size, proportion, and composition for seascape paintings, which  2009 Tate retrospective curator Mark Godrey notes, were conceived as serial works. [It was the 60s, after all.]

Fig. 18 Blinky Palermo, Untitled 1967–9, Cotton Fabric on burlap, 200 x 200, Private collection, image of Panorama, p. 81, credited somehow as “image courtesy Sotheby’s Picture Library,” who swears it is a photograph, not a digital concoction.

Godfrey also notes that the size, shape, and horizon line Richter settled on for Seascape (Contre-Jour) [yes, from the stamp, where the cropping now feels like a crime] were identical to a work by his closest friend and collaborator at the time, Blinky Palermo. Palermo’s Untitled (1967-69) is a 200 x 200 cm Stoffbild (Cloth Picture),  a painting of bands of monochromatic commercial fabric–which was sewn together by Richter’s first wife Ema.

“Richter was crossing Friedrich with Palermo to make the Seascapes,” Godfrey wrote. Palermo and Richter were actually working in the “chasm” that the 20th century wars had opened between their 1960s Germany(s) and Friedrich’s.

Writing about their collaborations in the Dia catalogue for To The People of the City of New York, Christine Mehring associates Palermo’s Pop-related, readymade cloth pictures with Richter’s color chart paintings.  The Seascapes, meanwhile, call out the landscapey cloth paintings’ claims for abstraction.

Gerhard Richter, Seascape (Grey), 1969, 70 x 70 cm, image: gerhard-richter.com

Meanwhile no one mentions this 1969 painting, titled Seascape (Grey) [CR 224-16]. At 70 x 70 cm it feels bigger than a study. A geometric seascape of Palermo-ish composition is overpainted with grey, to near illegibility. Knowing how Richter gets about overpainting, the nearness of illegibility is just. right.

Anyway, you can see this little painting or the drawing in Bilbao for two more days; the Guggenheim’s exhibition of Richter’s Seascape works closes on the 9th. [h/t Sharon Butler for the impetus to wade into the Seascapes this morning.]

Destroyed Gerhard Richter Stamps

GERHARD RICHTER DEUTSCHLAND 145 SEESTÜCK – 1969, 01.07.2013, offset print on adhesive, signed in plate, edition unknown, image: delcampe.net seller novesiastamps

Deutsche Post published Gerhard Richter stamps in 2013. EUR1.43 stamps showing text alongside a rectangular cropped image of the artist’s 1969 square painting Seestück (Gegenlicht)/ Seascape (Contre-Jour) [GR233] were available in collectible sheets of ten. If, as the two facsimiles of the artist’s signature in the sheets’ margins would infer, the stamps constituted the largest edition the artist has ever published, the use of these stamps also amounts to the greatest act of artistic destruction Richter has ever faced. And at the hands of his own countryfolk, no less.

Gerhard Richter, Seestück (Gegenlicht)/ Seascape (Contre-jour), [CR233], 1969, 200x200cm, oil on canvas. image: gerhard-richter.com
Thousands–tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands?–of pictures just ripped asunder, flung hither and yon, pummeled, shredded, and then dumped. Even in these trying times, the scale and apparent casualness of the obliteration shocks the conscience. The apparent readiness of the German people to trivially use then abandon the work of one who is ostensibly so revered, whose work has–had?–provided a searing beacon of objective light? Staggering.

Did the artist somehow know this was coming? Is that why he chose–presumably it was he–to use the picture depicting contre-jour, backlighting, the photographic technique of directly facing the light source–in this case, the sun–to produce heightened visual contrasts and unsettling shadows?

Cancel Culture: Gerhard Richter Seestück edition showing evidence of ceremonial mutilation on 01 July 2013, image: delcampe.net seller Yvesh2222

Fortunately, even in the face of such widespread destruction, there is hope. Faithful stewards in the collecting community are doing what they can, preserving stamps and sheets in whatever form they can: some sheets have the signatures intact; some don’t; some stamps have a signature fragment; a rare few include the commemorative envelope (also with a signature, historians); some [above] are mutilated ceremonially–canceled, they call it, with euphemism that cannot conceal the inherent pictorial sadism; and some, marred and disfigured on the field of postal battle, are rescued from oblivion by angels wielding tiny, little scissors.

Study for Destroyed Richter Stamps 01–50 [sic], 2019, image: delcampe.net seller benesch
These are the pictures that haunt me, the ones pulled from the very brink of doom. Theirs is the story I’ll tell; theirs is the fate we must #neverforget.

Whether it’s 50 original works or ed. 50, we’ll see when the studies arrive from Austria.

Previously, related: Robert Rauschenberg, Piece for Tropic, 1979, ed. 650,000

Missing Wynn Kramarsky

I met Wynn Kramarsky on the internet almost exactly 25 years ago to the day. It turned out not to have been my first encounter with him, but I’ll get to that. We met on Usenet, a global, distributed message board/listserv that was organized by topic, sort of like how reddit is now. It was August 1994, and I had just reported to alt.art.robert.smithson about my visit to Spiral Jetty. Wynn commented enthusiastically and wanted to know more–Spiral Jetty had only emerged from the Great Salt Lake a few months earlier, and was visible for the first time in decades [sic. By analyzing lake levels I’ve since concluded it was visible for a year or two in the 1980s, but it seems no one looked/reported/cared.] We emailed. He offered to send me a catalogue from a recent Smithson exhibition at Columbia, what was my address? On the internet of 1994, it seemed wilder to me to give a stranger a catalogue than to give a stranger your address. It was only when the book arrived with a note and his card that I realized Wynn was lending it to me. I could bring it back on one of my trips to New York (I was at business school in Philadelphia), and we’d go to lunch.

And that’s what we did, a couple of months later. We met at his office in SoHo, the entrance of which was lined with thousands of books. That first visit, an extraordinary Richard Serra work, multiple sheets of paper with ink applied in large slabs with a roller, filled the first open wall. The internet has been failing to surpass itself ever since.

After we’d toured both floors of his SoHo space and had a sandwich with his staff, we went into his office. Behind his desk was a drawing Robert Smithson had made on a large, aerial photo of the Kennecott Copper Mine. I knew it because I had bid on it the year before, when it had come up for auction at Sotheby’s. I had just quit my job and was preparing to go to grad school, and I really had no business bidding, even during a recession. But I really wanted it, and so I made a couple of bids for it before giving it up to the winning bidder. I apologized for running up the price on him, and then I thanked him for not bankrupting me.

Wynn and I became art correspondents, and we’d meet of the years while he was actively putting on shows. He was as infectiously passionate about the work of young and emerging artists as he was about the people he’d known and collected for decades. At his encouragement, I met artists and visited studios I never would have thought to reach out to otherwise. He made me want to be a better, more thoughtful collector by being a curious and engaged counterpart for artists, not just a consumer.

We both got more actively involved in supporting MoMA around the same time–on obviously different levels–and he was always generous with advice and insights. He took collecting and donating seriously, and was always cognizant of a responsibility to artists and to society. I still feel the impact of his incisive observations of socialites, unserious collectors, or museum groupies angling for respectability on my own views of how the art world should or could work. When a committee meeting I was running at MoMA got derailed one night by some tedious presentation, I immediately felt the weight of Wynn’s story about the flaky chair of a museum board he’d been on: “She wrote a check, but she sure couldn’t run a meeting!”

When I began writing, especially for the Times, and later on topics like early Jasper Johns, the Jetty, or Tilted Arc, Wynn’s was always a voice I sought out and trusted, and he always spoke very candidly. I always got the sense he didn’t want to be quoted, though, and so I never did. I also always got the sense that he operated out of a profound respect for the artists he knew, and for their work. It felt like artists trusted him, and that he cherished that. I miss Wynn and mourn for the loss his friends and family are experiencing, but I’m grateful for the chance to know him, and for all he did and showed and taught.

 

Notes on Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform)

TJ & Cyrus & Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform), installation shot

I was going to add this as an update, but it really needs its own post. When I stumbled backwards from appropriating Andi Mack art prop art into Bruce Hainley’s text discussing Sturtevant as talkshow discussing Felix Gonzalez-Torres within a play discussing Sturtevant, I did not remember that Leo Steinberg had special guest appearances in both. But now that I’m back within arm’s reach of Hainley’s s Under the Sign of [sic]: Sturtevant’s Volte-Face, I realize I am trapped in a carnival ride where I can’t tell screen from mirror from object. So here is an abridged, Mack-optimized, recap of Hainley and Steinberg, with a special cameo from editor Michael Fried. (He was not my idea.)

Continue reading “Notes on Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform)”

Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform)

TJ & Cyrus & Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform), 2019, enamel on mdf?  5x5x1 ft, installation shot
 It was while digging into an unusual credit line in a 1964 exhibition checklist and trying to find research into why fandoms turn toxic that I ended up bouncing last week between both a 220-page interview transcript with the late art historian Leo Steinberg and a postgame for #TyrusWeek, a recent fandom-wide effort to get the Disney Channel middle school soap opera Andi Mack trending on Tumblr during its final episode.

Continue reading “Untitled (Gaga Dancing Platform)”

Haring Minus Basquiat Photomural

Installation view of a photomural of Keith Haring’s studio wall, c. 1983-84, Guggenheim Museum, photo: Mary Inhea Kang/NYT

Was there ever really more time to ruminate on the unsung history of photomurals in post-war art, or was there just not enough attention being paid to the systemic violence people of color face at the hands of police and other instruments of state power?

Fortunately–you know, fortunately is really not the right word here-these two subjects have met at the Guggenheim Museum in a concentrated exhibition curated by Chaedria LaBouvier called “Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story.”

Defacement is the informal title [sic] of a work Jean-Michel Basquiat made on the wall of Keith Haring’s studio after fellow downtown artist Michael Stewart was hog-tied, beaten, left in a coma, and ultimately killed, by NYPD in September 1983.

Haring cut the drawing out and framed it. It was hanging above his bed when he died, and it now belongs to his god-daughter, Nina Clemente. LaBouvier’s prodigious show is the culmination of years of research and careful interviews with Stewart’s family and many artists in his milieu.

And it includes a to-scale photomural of Haring’s tagged up wall, with a roughed out hole where the drawing used to be.

“Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story” is on view through Nov. 6, 2019 [guggenheim.org]
Behind Basqiat’s ‘Defacement’: Reframing A Tragedy [nytimes]

Escape And Curry Service

I’ve been wanting to see Rirkrit Tiravanija’s film Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbors since it came out in 2011. I’ve been sleeping on it/booked up with other stuff almost the whole time it’s been on view at the Hirshhorn, along side his curry and protest drawing piece, newly acquired, Who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green? Instead of mosaicing snippets from various visits, I wanted to see the whole thing in one sitting. Yesterday was the second to last day of the show, so I jammed downtown first thing.

Rirkrit and his dealer’s brother shot 16mm a week at a time, here and there, for two years, following the Chiang Mai farmer/laborer on his daily routine. He compared it to portraiture rather than narrative, and so I expected 2.5 hours of fly-on-the-wall footage, minus the walls.

It’s an extremely quiet, unassuming film, especially for a gallery setting. It does not grip or demand attention. So when I sat down on the Hirshhorn’s Miesian daybed in what turned out to be the middle of the film, I expected a bit of endurance and, frankly, escapism. Even a couple of weeks ago, Rirkrit had talked about Lung Neaw as a guy who’d helped build his studio, and who could be seen walking through the forest, foraging for wild eggplants. I imagined a shaman at one with nature who could free (or distract) me from the daily shitshow of the world we’ve created. It did not turn out that way. Continue reading “Escape And Curry Service”

Better Read #030: Robert Rauschenberg’s Autobiography

detail, Robert Rauschenberg, Autobiography, 1968, 5×4′, offset lithographic print, ed. 2000

The middle of three 5 x 4-ft offset lithograph panels in Robert Rauschenberg’s Autobiography contains a dizzying spiral of text featuring key moments of the artist’s life, as well as an extensive list of artworks.

Robert Rauschenberg, Autobiography, 1968, 5 x 12 ft overall, ed. 2000
Robert Rauschenberg, Autobiography, 1968, 5 x 12 ft overall, ed. 2000

When Oliver mentioned it on twitter the other day, I realized I’d never actually made it through the entire text. Now I have. I transcribed it here for this robot to read.

Download better-read-30_rr_autobiography_20190722.mp3 [greg.org, 6.9mb, 14:26]
previously, related: From Robert Rauschenberg’s 1968 Autobiography

ASMRt – Cady Noland

FROM CADY NOLAND 7/18/14 THIS IS NOT AN ARTWORK &c., &c. A fax sent to collector Scott Mueller, filed by the artist in US District Court, as part of her lawsuit over the unauthorized refabrication of her 1990 sculpture, Log Cabin Facade

Five years ago today, Cady Noland learned that her 1990 sculpture Log Cabin had been destroyed and refabricated in Germany without her authorization, and that the new version (or whatever it was) had been sold to a “mystery client,” Cleveland collector Scott Mueller.

Mueller had a buyback clause in his purchase agreement, allowing him to unwind the transaction and receive his $1.4 million back if the artist contested or rejected the authenticity of the work. Which is exactly what happened. Mueller had to sue Galerie Michael Janssen to get his money back (which he presumably did; the case was ultimately withdrawn.) But in 2017 Noland, who had not been a party to Mueller’s dispute, but rather its subject, filed a copyright infringement claim against Janssen and collector Wilhelm Schürmann, for the unauthorized replication and distribution of her artwork.

Artistically, one would think it hinges on the artist’s determination of the conceptual nature of the sculpture Log Cabin Facade. Because they had a blueprint, Schürmann et al apparently figured they could refabricate the work as needed, no problem. That turns out to not be how Noland conceives of the work, however; her court case emphasizes the importance of the original logs she ordered from Montana, the stain she later instructed Schürmann to apply, and the 25 years’ patina the sculpture acquired. All of this was destroyed and replaced without her knowledge.

The document read here is one of the most recent filings in the case. It is a memorandum from the artist (via her lawyer) arguing against the defendants’ motion to dismiss her complaint, which has been amended and re-argued three times in three years.

Her claim is fairly atypical, and complicated, and Noland’s interpretation of copying, and fair use is, if successful, probably a net negative for the culture. The Office of Copyright’s denial of copyright registration to Log Cabin, however, feels like an egregious error.

This recording was made on the beach at Emerald Isle, North Carolina. The waves end up sounding like traffic to me, unfortunately, and into what seemed like a pitch black, silent night, some neighbors brought dogs and fireworks.

Download ASMRt-Cady-Noland-gregorg.mp3 [greg.org, mp3, 33mb, 1:09:37]

Better Read #029: Felix Gonzalez-Torres Artist Statement, 1989

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled”, 1989, Installation view, 2019, by and via Public Art Fund

For the 30th anniversary of its original installation and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, Public Art Fund reinstalled Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ first billboard work, “Untitled” (1989) at its original site facing Sheridan Square in the West Village. Until today, the Guggenheim also exhibited “Untitled” (1991), a stack sculpture made from 161 unsold prints originally made to support the Public Art Fund project.

This edition of Better Read is the text of the billboard, plus the artist’s statement.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (1989) [publicartfund.org]
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (1991) [guggenheim.org]

Kassay at von ammon

installation view of Jacob Kassay show at von ammon co, dc

There is a new show by Jacob Kassay at von ammon co in Georgetown.

Ten OG silvered paintings from 2009 are mounted on the edge of columns in the gallery, facing the door, basically.

They reflect the daylight that comes in from the gallery’s north facing glass wall. The array of LED spots on the gallery’s black timber ceiling provides fill, but does not light the paintings individually. It’s more ambient, environmental.

The lights also snap on and off in relation to a candle in the corner. The candle is held by a bracket in front of a plug-in nightlight, which is connected in turn to a relay controlling the gallery’s lights. When the candle light wanes, the nightlight turns on–and the gallery lights turn off. When the candle is bright, the nightlight turns off, and the lights stay on.

In the absence of turbulence, the candle can burn brightly and steadily, and the lights stay on as expected. But the candle, like a Calder mobile, invites disturbance. When the candle’s doing its thing, the uncertain stroboscopic perturbations can be unnerving. To remain in the gallery thinking of art brings back visceral memories, not of Martin Creed, but of Bruce Nauman. Any prolonged exposure, meanwhile, might feel like shift work under a failing fluorescent light, with all the internalized bodily and psychic stresses that entails.

Installation view of Jacob Kassay’s show at von ammon co, dc

While the paintings remain as gorgeous and seductive as ever, with movement dancing across their reflective surfaces, Kassay’s candle-driven gallery also illuminates the intrinsic precarity of the art system in which they’re consumed.

I should have asked about the light situation, but the paintings are for sale.

Jacob Kassay’s show remains on view through August 31 at von ammon co [vonammon.co]

ASMRt – Josh Smith

area man visiting josh smith show at the brant foundation, via the brant foundation, but presented in bing results as the artist

A friend and colleague recently said I had a very soothing voice, I should do a podcast, and I couldn’t tell if that meant I was talking too much, or being too dadsplainy, or perhaps he was right? I generally trust his judgment, but the reason I created a podcast read by a robot is because I could not get past the annoyance all audio performers apparently deal with, of hearing a recording of one’s own voice.

Anyway, I joked that I’d make an ASMR art video, ASMRt, and the name was so damn catchy, I knew at that moment I had to do it. But what to say? What to read? Yesterday the perfect text fell from heaven [actually, Contemporary Art Daily]: the press release for Josh Smith’s first New York show since leaving Luhring Augustine for David Zwirner.

One thing led to another, and now here is a recording of me laconically reading press releases for fifteen Josh Smith solo shows between 2007 an 2019. It was recorded on June 11, 2019 an iPhone in two conference rooms at the Cleveland Park branch of the DC Public Library. Text sources are linked below. My first regret will probably be hosting this mp3 myself. My second will probably be not releasing this as an album.

Download ASMRt-Josh-Smith.mp3 [mp3, 29mb, 1:01:12]

UPDATE:

all y’all actually listening to the whole thing and going, “the second hour was supposed to be blank.” No.

Continue reading “ASMRt – Josh Smith”

M-A-C-H-U P-I-C-C-H-U

Machu Picchu, do you, like Constantin Brancusi, consider the base an integral part of your sculptures? Or did you place your work, the world’s first portrait bust of Mickey Mouse sculpted from cheese, on an intact wheel of Wisconsin State Brand cheddar cheese so that it would, as the publicist claimed, weigh 1,000 lbs?

Is a question Snow White did not ask the sculptor at Sardi’s that morning in July 1971. Some extended footage of this press event to promote Disney On Parade, a touring theatrical production not involving ice skating, which I may or may not have seen as a child, was surfaced by the enthusiast/historians at DisneyAvenue. It baffles me in unexpected ways.

Sure, there are Paul McCarthy ways, but the film’s rough, unstaged, even amateurish vibe reminds me of early 90’s chocolate and finger-chopping videos more than the sprawling deluxe porntasmagoria of Park Avenue Armory-era Snow White.

Maybe it’s realizing the parallel professionalizing paths McCarthy and Disney have traveled that capture my attention. Having recently experienced a Disney cruise, I can honestly say almost every detail of this footage makes me cringe and fear for these people’s jobs. After I’ve been outraged at the apparent lack of attention to detail, or even of preparation.

Who was running this event? Did no one know where or how the cheese sculpture would move? Does no one have a mark? Did Snow White not have an inkling about what to say or do? When she improvises(?) a conversation with Mickey and Goofy, does she not know these performers are supposed to not talk? The action is driven almost entirely by instructions from the assembled press, who just want to get their shots, print first, maybe, then TV? Is that alright?

Let’s spend a tiny moment on Snow White here. She is wearing a watch. She has an office. She talks about phone conversations to publicists. Though there is a translator between them, she knows enough Spanish to translate the sculptor’s answers for the press, similar to how she interprets Mickey’s mute, mime answers to the questions she maybe should not have asked in the first place. Whenever discussing the subject at hand, a sculpture made of cheese, she only mentions its materiality, its cheeseness: that it melted, that people–and anthropomorphized dogs–want to eat it.

The first thing Snow White says is to Mickey: “There you go, Mickey. A self-portrait of yourself! Can you imagine that?” Well, if he made it, yes? But no. She immediately crosses awkwardly in front of Mickey and the sculpture, to shake the sculptor’s hand: “Thank you very much!” She’s soon told to move because lighting, and then she’s told to interview the sculptor.

The sculptor who is himself in an elaborate costume. He works, he says, in stone, wood, bronze, and now cheese. It took him three 8-hour days to complete. The cheese got soft in the heat, which made things difficult. The sculptor’s name is Machu Picchu. Reader, I think it was not. But in the end, this is the performance, character, and narrative which most fascinates me.

Gee, why would I think Machu Picchu was a character? He and the wtf angle on the sculpture in this vintage press photo I just stumbled across on eBay made me look. I did not buy.

How did Disney come to the place where a pseudonymous Spanish-speaking sculptor has his first work in the medium of cheese, a 1,000-lb. head of Mickey Mouse, wheeled into a Broadway restaurant by three unrehearsed performers is the best way to promote a traveling character revue? What is his experience, this ungoogleable artist whose authorship Snow White attacked repeatedly?

Other segments of this PR footage show characters entertaining a group of boys in Boys Club t-shirts on the empty floor of Madison Square Garden. A range of costumed characters meet an audience assembled, as their posters tell us, by the New York Metropolitan Area’s McDonald’s restaurants. Donald Duck and Goofy clown around mutely with a Herbie The Lovebug–who has very non-canonical eyes, eyebrows, and flimsy teeth. A lot of legwork went into preparing for this publicity campaign, and this footage resulted.  As Rauschenberg didn’t say, there is art in the gap between image and experience. Or was that Duchamp’s infrathin, between content and perception? I wish we lived in a world where it didn’t feel obscene not just to remake this sculpture, but to break down, study, and restage this entire video, line for line, gesture for gesture, shot for shot, frame for frame, for a live audience.

Rare Footage of Disney on Parade (1970s) – DisneyAvenue.com [youtube]