Installation view, Anne Truitt, Danese Gallery (image:artnet.com)
Two shows of evocative new work by unrepentant minimalists are on 57th street at the moment, a moment when a pair of artists over 80 demonstrate the power and relevance of the minimalist mode, as well as the potential benefits of being in it for the long haul.
Also at Slate Joshua Clover writes a clever essay (very or too, depending on if those are exhibition posters or actual paintings on your wall) about Richter 858, a luxuriantly produced ode– in book form, with specially commissioned poems and a CD (of Richtermusik, I guess) — to a suite of Gerhard Richter squeegee paintings. Retailing at $125 and co-published by SFMOMA (who have been promised the paintings from an anonymous donor), Richter 858 is a “classic fetish item, beautiful enough that everyone might want it but priced beyond the reach of the great unfunded.” And that’s not the worst of it.
Clover reveals that 858‘s editor, David Breskin, is an SFMOMA Trustee and “almost certainly” the donor of the paintings, facts which–despite a year of SEC reforms and disclosure scandals–go unmentioned in the book. “Whatever a given Richter painting, or a particular poem, might be about, Richter 858 is about checkbooks and culture–that is, it’s a book perfect for decadent modernism, where the art of consumption has replaced the art of production; it’s a book, finally, about collecting, that individualist art overseen by the twin muses ‘Dollars’ and ‘Indulge.'”
“Dollar”: Last time I checked, what a Richter painting’s about, is $400,000 – 1 million, depending on the size and the date. A suite of eight, then, is about, well, you do the math. By making the paintings a “fractional and promised gift” to the museum, our benefactor (let’s call him “DB”) gives a percentage of the title each year for a fixed term ( ex. 10%/year, 10 years), until they belong 100% to the museum. Why do this, O Muse?. “DB” spreads a large tax deduction out over several years, which is useful if his gifts exceed 30% of his adjusted gross income. “Indulge”: “DB” is able to keep the art for a period of time each year in proportion to his percentage ownership.
But there’s another muse’s fingerprints on this one. 858‘s not a catalog, it’s an experience Compared to the essay- and information-packed Richter exhibition catalog written by “The Brain,” (aka, former MoMA curator Robert Storr), Richter 858‘s multimedia melange is a work of the Heart.
“Heart”: SFMOMA says Breskin was “compelled by these works” to create this book. Talking about the project and his interactions with Richter, Breskin’s giddiness (“As a sequence, these hung together and swung in a musical sense,” “I wanted to create an alternative way of engaging with pictures.”) sounds less like a trustee and more like a groupie.
Trust me, that’s what some of the most passionate collectors are, art groupies. Going to concerts (openings), getting backstage (in the studio), obsessing over some lyric (work) and asking arcane questions that betray how powerfully a it inhabits your mind. Groupie? Check out Breskin’s 2-day interview with the Richter of 1987 rock-n-roll, Bono, for Rolling Stone. Breskin seems like the kind of guy–indulgent, clearly, but in a necessary way–who’s trying to live an art-centered life, not just an “art-owning” one. And by placing the Richters at SFMOMA, “DB” seems like the kind of donor who believes that indulgent art experience should always be available to the public (but who agonizes over letting the paintings go too soon).
And besides, 858‘s 30% off at Amazon. A serious collector looks for a discount.
Bright Glow Tube (all images, powerpointart.com)
Slide 1 – Background:
Slide 2 – What this will be used for:
WTC Memorial Wall, US Flag with Decorations
Slide 3 – Examples:
Chrome Cross w/Text Area
Slide 4 – Action Items:
Dollhouse, Interior views, Yinka Shonibare
for the Norton Christmas Project 2002
In lieu of Christmas cards, the art collector Peter Norton and his family began sending out specially commissioned works. [Inspired by the Nortons’ example, we began commissioning artist editions–albeit at a much smaller scale–to send to family and friends as a commemmoration of various births and anniversaries.]
In 2002, the British/Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare created a toy Victorian rowhouse, outfitted with his trademark Dutch batik fabrics, a photo of his own, and, for good measure, a Fragonard in the bedroom. Shonibare exhibited a sculptural installation based on Fragonard in 2001 and was in Documenta 11 last year.
Wink, Takashi Murakami, 2000
for the Norton Family Christmas Project 2000, image: Toyboxdx.com
For the 2000 Project, Jap-pop artist Takashi Murakami made a Wink doll, which contains a happy little CD in its base. Read about it on Alan Yen’s ToyboxDX. And in 1996, Norton asked Brian Eno to publish an updated edition of Oblique Strategies, his highly sought after collection of question and idea cards, originally made in collaboration with the late Peter Schmidt. Gregory Taylor’s OS site includes Norton’s description of the Project and soliciting Eno’s participation.
My favorite Strategy (as I attempt to write and edit in public): “Give the game away.”
Superstar, 1987, Todd Haynes
Last night we (finally) saw Todd Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story last night. After years of being snubbed by the clerks at Kim’s Video when I’d ask for it, and half-hearted attempts to get a bootleg copy from someone or other, we just walked over to Anthology and there it was, showing as part of Illegal Art!.
(The first time I went to Kim’s, a Suit workin’ for the Mouse but livin’ in Chinatown and yearning for street cred, I cannily asked if Bladerunner wasn’t in the Ridley Scott section. The scornful reply: “Noo, the Douglas Trumbull section.”)
Anyway, Superstar turned out to be both better and worse than I imagined. Definitely worthy of its reputation, it’s a canny film; it’s a little eerie how well the Barbie doll concept works. The bootleg copy they showed, though, sucked. If only there were a medium you could copy without generational degradation… [If you don’t have connections to the video underground either, you can watch Superstar in even lower-res online.]
Giant Steps, stills, 2001, Michal Levy
Other films screened with Superstar, all using unauthorized/illegal footage or music in some way. For my money, the best ones were not about appropriation per se; Michal Levy’s Giant Steps, for example, is a fun, beautiful CG interpretation of John Coltrane’s canonical (and surely impossible to clear) recording.
A slightly unrelated note: Apparently, my new haircut is something of a proto-mullet, not unlike Todd Haynes’.
Serial Project #1, 1966, Sol Lewitt, from Aspen 5+6
Unbelieveable. The entire collection of Aspen: The Magazine in a Box, is now online. It’s the magazine equivalent of Kieslowski’s Dekalog: almost completely unknown, yet highly respected and influential within its narrow audience.
In a fit of John Cage admiration, I tracked down and bought Aspen 5+6 several years ago. In addition to some floppy little records with Cage and Morton Feldman on it, there’s a reel of 8mm film with works by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Robert Rauschenberg, and others; documents of Sol Lewitt’s seminal
Not owning a record player or an 8mm projector, my edition of Aspen has been more a glassined, bubblewrapped holy relic than anything else. Until now. The Moholy-Nagy film is full of glare, shadows and light reflecting off of machinery, as if Jeremy Blake and Paul Thomas Anderson were the same person. Check it out. Thanks, UBU (and thanks, Fimoculous for the link.)
Untitled (Two Windows), 2002, Toba Khedoori
Drawing Now: 8 Propositions at MoMAQNS, for Toba Khedoori, Chris Ofili, Russell Crotty, Paul Noble, Kai Althoff [Roberta Smith’s NYTimes review; Walter Robinson’s artnet review] [There’s a Toba Khedoori show at David Zwirner right now, too.]
Lazlo Moholy Nagy Color Photographs at Andrea Rosen Gallery: They look like they were made yesterday, not in the ’30’s/’40’s. (Actually they were. Moholy Nagy’s estate had them printed for the first time ever. Liz Deschenes did the printing. They’re amazing and exquisite.)
Staged/Unstaged at Riva Gallery: for (Souvenir cinematographer) Jonah Freeman’s entrancing new video work and a funny video piece by Maria Alos. Curated by Lauri Firstenberg. Chris Ofili and his crew climbed 11 flights of stairs for the sweaty opening.
The (S) Files Bienal at El Museo del Barrio: It opens tonight, but I figure if there’s a little portrait of me by Maria Alos in the show, it must me good.
Shmoology at M3 Projects in Dumbo: Curated by Bill Previdi, who’s 3 for 3 on shows he’s done that I’ve seen. Go now. Ends this weekend.
Uta Barth at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery: for the photographs of the spaces between–sometimes between the camera and the background, this time between the branches out the artist’s window.
Karen Kitchel at Cornell deWitt Gallery: for crisp, precise, beautiful paintings of grass.
Martin Creed at Maurizio Cattelan’s Wrong Gallery: for something to talk about, since a lot of people are talking about it. [Same Walter Robinson review as above, just scroll down.]
I’m watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture right now, and it’s blowing me away. It’s the first movie, the one with the original crew, the bald chick, and V’Ger, a cloud-like alien vessel with the Voyager space probe at its core. Anyway, wide swaths of the movie are a nearly psychedelic trance, which I never remembered. There’s an incredible 10+ minute abstract FX sequence of the Enterprise entering the vessel. It’s similar to Jeremy Blake’s digital work and the passages he did for Punch-Drunk Love. Or, it’s as abstract, at least. A very unexpected place for such a confluence.
[The visual effects on STTMP were originally led by Richard Taylor, then Douglas Trumbull took over after overruns in the chaotic production’s budget. So far, I think the V’Ger sequence was John Dykstra‘s and Trumbull’s realization of Syd Mead‘s concepts. An interview with Taylor survives for now in Google’s cache: page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6. Charles Barbee wrote about lighting and shooting the V’Ger Flyover, including accounts of 10-pass in-camera composited shots and finding just the right “glare angle.” Syd Mead discusses creating V’Ger.]
While I mentioned before that elements of the Star Trek IV story inspired the latest script for the AYUAM, it turns out that several ideas from this Star Trek worked in as well. I’m not unaware that these are considered two of the lamest Star Trek films made (“The V’Ger flyby was interminable.”). Combine this with the fact that I don’t like musicals, and I find myself deeply engaged in something I should be hating, but instead, I’m loving it. Can someone explain this to me?
Beppu, 1997, Liz Deschenes [image via artnet]
I can’t believe it’s been five years since I saw photographer Liz Deschenes’ first solo exhibition, Beppu, at Bronwyn Keenan Gallery. It’s a show that has stuck with me ever since, and not just because I go to sleep and wake up looking at photos from it (the first one I got is visible in this installation shot. It’s in the middle of the far wall, to the left of the monochromes.)
Listening to Deschenes talk about photography and her work was a stimulating challenge; my eye&brain had to work hard to keep up. Needless to say, I vouch for the artnet.com reviewer: “I cannot help but think that Liz Deschenes has carefully considered the entire history of color photography.” Looking at her deceptively simple, beautiful landscape photographs, her deep understanding of photography is quickly apparent; they’re spatially complex, with no easy fore-, middle-, or background.
In fact, they turn out to have a great deal to do with painting, especially the modernist’s concern with the painting’s surface, and the minimalist’s interest with color, form or object. A later, nearly all-white photo of the salt-crusted sands of Death Valley could be a Ryman, at least until you figure out that’s a rock there near the top. And of course, the print itself is so sleek and intentional there’s no mistaking it for paint or canvas. The materiality of the photographic, printing, mounting process also matters, it turns out.
Over the years, as my looking and collecting increased–and now that I’ve gotten into the imagemaking business myself, albeit in a far less accomplished way–Deschenes’ work continues to be a touchstone for me. It’s a demanding favorite of connoisseurs which I somehow stumbled upon early, and which I’ve been trying to live up to ever since.
99 Cent, Andreas Gursky, 1999
Watching Paul Thomas Anderson and Adam Sandler discuss Punch-Drunk Love on Charlie Rose. The overly bright 99-cent store in the clip looked familiar, eerily familiar, and, sure enough, it is the same as Andreas Gursky’s photo99 Cent, down to the giant “99-cents” banners on the back wall.
Anderson also tapped Jeremy Blake to create abtracted hallucinations experienced by Adam Sandler’s character. Although Blake has become best known for his digitally animated abstractions, he is also quite fluent in film; he exhibited an illustrated screenplay, props, and digital “set” renderings in his first gallery show and has created at least one narrative animated short. [Thanks, Travelers Diagram.]
Mark Romanek used a Philip-Lorca diCorcia photo to communicate to Robin Williams his character’s situation in One Hour Photo. “This is everything in terms of warmth and connectedness that your character can never have but desperately would want.” Judging from the pronounced lighting and extremely deliberate framing of the scenes I’ve seen, diCorcia references are not just limited to mood or motive.
While you could chalk up the Bruce Weber-ish look of American History X to the general zeitgeist (If you’re shooting muscly, shirtless Aryans in 1998, whose style would you appropriate?), it’s something else when “important” but certainly not mainstream artists’ work turns up. I don’t know what that something is, though, and it’s 1:30 in the morning, so I doubt I’ll figure it out right now. I do know that we’d call the throwaway-sublime landscapes Richters, (but we were just kidding, I swear). And Jonah’s shots got called Vermeers (or Vermers, to be precise) by a woman at our hotel in Albert.
Arnolfo di Cambio et al, Basilica di Santa Croce, 1294-1442 [img via]
As the Artforum.com discussion of Nico Israel’s Spiral Jetty travelogue turned from my smug fact-checking to the romanticisation of contemporary art, E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View popped into my head. Just as Forster’s English followed Baedekers around Italy–from this altarpiece to that fresco, from Firenze to Rome to Venice to Ravenna–a Contemporary Art Grand Tour has taken shape where Artforum pilgrims can demonstrate their faith.
Donald Judd, Untitled, 1982-6 [image via]
In addition to Spiral Jetty, the CAGT includes: The Rothko Chapel; Walter deMaria’s Lightning Field; Michael Heizer’s Double Negative; Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation; James Turrell’s work-in-progress Roden Crater; the Guggenheim Bilbao; and my own heretical favorite, Richard Serra’s Afangar.
With Merchant/Ivory’s version of ARWAV firmly entrenched in my own movie worldview, I saw a vision of a hipster artist roadtrip remake. Sort of Basquiat meets Thelma & Louise, with Reese Witherspoon as Helena Bonham-Carter, Josh Hartnett as Julian Sands and Daniel Day-Lewis as, well, himself.
ANYWAY, it turns out the fashion world’s own Forster, English Vogue-er (and faux twin) Plum Sykes, may beat me to the intersection of Art & Film. Hintmag.com leaked the outline of Sykes’ book, Bergdorf Blondes (which just got picked up by Talk/Miramax Books for $625,000, not including movie rights).
The hot narratrix (calls herself “Moi”) dates, gets engaged to, and breaks up with the hot it-boy painter “Dan” (“Our heroine consoles herself that there is one thing worse than being disengaged to a person in a GAP ad, and that’s being married to someone in a GAP ad.”) [NB: Sykes dated, etc. painter/Gap ad star Dam(ian) Loeb.]; receives confidence-boosting advice as she pines for the hot LA filmmaker (“You are not superficial, you just look like you are because you wear a lot of Gucci.”) ; and hightails it home to En-ge-land, perchance to marry the Earl-next-door (“after bonking at the SoHo Grand”). Sounds pretty much like my movie idea.
Should I go ahead and develop it? Or would it be like when there were those two Dalai Lama movies out at the same time?
Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty.avi [1.3Mb], c. 2002
This will be the entry where I write about our trip to the Spiral Jetty and post some amusing pictures thereof. It will be enlightening and insightful, yet not without wry humor. As it reverences the work itself, it will impress you and amaze you (in a quiet way) with our vision, dedication, and lack of condescension, and it will make you want to make the pilgrimage yourself. Ideally, it will ease your decision to keep an eye on me and my own artistic production.
(And by the way, I watched part of Glitter yesterday on HBO7 or whatever. It’s not nearly as good bad as I’d been led to believe. It was mostly just bad bad. Although a harshly critical eye could find some painful-to-acknowledge similarities between Mariah Carey’s inability to act and my own. I fear this aside will negate any benefit I could have derived from posting further about the Spiral Jetty. Maybe we’d all be better off reading my last entry or the critical comments I made on Artforum’s message boards.)
This witty, informative page [via Anil Dash] about the miracle of 40-foot shipping containers reminded me of this great piece by Darren Almond in September 2000 at Matthew Marks, a shipping container with a giant digital clock in its side, synched to GMT via GPS. I remember the opening, on the 15th; the container had barely arrived, and the link wasn’t working, so time (or the clock, anyway) stood still. And it was swelteringly hot; people would dart into the steamy gallery to check out the piece, then return to the ersatz street party, hoping for the slightest breeze.
The irreverent science fair tone of Cockeyed.com was endearing (a guy named Rob seem to be the main author), and after several long flights (where I cemented my disdain for rolling luggage, especially for kids, where it seems insidious), I blithely clicked on “Carry-on luggage,” half expecting to find out who invented the offending suitcase. Instead, I found two lists, with photos: items the author felt should be banned from carry-on luggage, and items he felt should be permitted. He compiled them just two days shy of the anniversary of Darren’s opening. Rob’s concludes his analysis like this:
In addition to the items I recommend leaving in your checked luggage, I also recommend reacting violently to hijackers. Attack before the second sentence leaves the terrorist’s mouth. Do not wait. Do not wait for people to be herded into a corner. Attack. Climb on top of the seats. Do not allow yourself to be penned in. Women and men should attack. Kids should attack.
Your acts may get you killed, in fact the entire aircraft may plummet to the earth, killing everyone on board. This is better than allowing the plane to slip into a madman’s hands.
Things have changed.
I… This Artbyte article talks about Almond’s show, and his work’s allusions to stellar navigation during the voyage from London to New York. Then this sentence grabbed my eye: “Stih and Schnock are known for antimemorials, or nonmonuments, an idea which latches on to the inevitable change of time and context as our most fundamental reality.” Wary of grand architectural gestures, Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock proposed a “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” for Berlin where visitors at the Brandenburg Gate climbed onto buses marked Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, thereby recapitulating the first leg of the death camp victims’ journey. “The traditional concept of a monument only encourages people to contemplate a hulking stone building and an abstracted past; nonmonuments instead create the memorial as process. Rather than distance the viewer, Bus Stop invites participation in that process…” I’ll revisit this, obviously.
2009 update: seems that Artbyte’s site has disappeared. I’m reproducing the article, “Voyeurschism” by Carly Berwick, from the Mar/Apr 2001 issue, below [via e-Xplo]:
The bus moves slowly east, away from the galleries, cafés, and shops that have sprung up along the streets of Williamsburg’s north side, now a trendy artist and working-class enclave. Ten minutes into the quiet trip–there is no narration–a symphony of groans, clangs, and syncopated twitters, mixed live by two sound artists, issues from the back of the vehicle. The tour meanders past car-part lots, warehouses, and 24-hour delis to its promised land: blocks and blocks of waste-management treatment facilities serving New York City.
For four weekends this winter, the Dencity Bus Tour made its pilgrimages through the city’s trash and raw sewage. The ride, says Rene Gabri, one of the three artists who conceived and produced the tour, was meant “to interrogate the format of the tour itself, which relies on verbal information that is often incorrect anyway.” His collaborators, Erin McGonigle and Heimo Lattner, produced the live soundtrack, largely made up of samples taken from the industrial area itself.
According to Gabri, the tour evokes what wireless gadgetry promises to provide: “Moving through space, yet having a constant stream of information.” But all tours do that, or at least they try. Unique to Dencity is the detachment and illusory sense of privacy encouraged by the atmospheric music and darkness. On the bus that night, one couple made out, another gossiped, while others stared out the windows. Without the unifying element of a tour guide to produce a sense of community, Dencity has hit on, perhaps accidentally, a lonely vision of a supposedly hyperconnected world where each person has electronic access to all varieties of data, anytime, anywhere.
The Dencity bus tour and several other art expeditions have recently been making the metaphor of mobility material. Mobility as lifestyle has become ever more common in the past half-dozen years as portable electronic inventions allow us to roam further, with greater frequency, for both work and play. At the same time, global tourism has taken hold as a major wage-earning sector for some and a regular pastime for others. Nomad-themed art plays with these two dominants of contemporary life: the international, wireless culture of businesspersons, artists, entrepreneurs, and writers shuttling between Los Angeles, London, and Lagos; and the booming tourist culture that at times seems infected with a case of “scopophilia,” as Gabri puts it‹pleasure in looking, particularly at others.
The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) in Culver City, CA, has also offered a series of on-the-road looks at waste-related scenery. The combination artists’ collective/rock-collecting club launched a self-guided tour in 1995 with their project “Suggested Photo Spot.” The “picture spot” was invented by Kodak, says CLUI director Matt Coolidge, “in order to put their logo up in national parks.” CLUI’s minimalist signs suggest tourists stop and notice more than the area’s inherent beauty.
The project planted 50 signs across the country, from the Trojan Recreation Area and Nuclear Power Plant in St. Helens, Oregon, to the Kodak Waste Water Treatment Plant in Rochester, New York, where CLUI’s sign informs visitors that “Kodak’s industrial waste water is treated at this plant in the beautiful Genesee River” and that “local lore has it that film can be developed in this water.” The satire offers pointed instructions to look beyond the “beautiful river” into its history within the landscape, both corporate and natural. Like many of CLUI’s projects, “Suggested Photo Spot” transcends the limits of representational art to bring viewers to the actual site of confrontation, where myths of business and government neutrality, even beneficence, toward the environment are readily exposed.
Most recently, CLUI contributed to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles’ Flight Patterns show, taking museum visitors on a bus two hours inland to their Desert Research Station. The Flight Patterns tours involved an official guide (although visitors could drive to the staffed station on their own), who pointed out land uses of the region, from the freeway to Fontana’s steel industry. “We’re talking about erosion, flood control, industrial development,” says Coolidge. “Heading out into the desert, we try to read the physical vestiges of contemporary history on the landscape.” CLUI’s bus ride was more didactic than Dencity’s, but, says Coolidge, they didn’t “spoon feed” people. “It’s important to initiate an interpretative process,” he says. Additional CLUI tours have been “taken to ridiculous extremes,” says Coolidge. “We’ve taken tours that cover over 500 miles in a day and kind of wear people out. It’s kind of an adventure, an odyssey.”
The voyeurism of the tourist on these buses, traveling past unglamorous, often desolate areas, can turn self-reflective. As the Dencity bus passes through neighborhoods where nearly as many people live as tons of waste are transferred on a daily basis, “you feel suddenly uninvited,” says Erin McGonigle, the sound artist who recorded most of the samples for the electronic mix. “We were cautious about fetishizing the spaces,” says Gabri. “There’s a lot of power being able to be in this bus. Mobility is a privilege, people pay for it.”
Of course, the inverse of the empowered, self-propelled tourist is the refugee, the person involuntarily displaced. Gabri himself is originally from Iran; his family fled the country during the 1979 revolution.
A bus project directly addressing the difference between choosing to move and having to move was proposed by artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock in 1995 for Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial Competition. Bus Stop: The Non-Monument engendered controversy even though it was never produced. In the proposal, buses would pull up to the vast, empty space under the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin. There, a waiting hall would offer digitally displayed histories of the destinations, the names of which would also flicker across the buses: Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, the death camps of Nazi Germany. A requirement for the competition was the inclusion of the official project name, which was “The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” As Schnock has pointed out, placing this phrase on the buses would make it a memorial in perpetual motion. In effect, tourists would replicate the constant state of transit that the Jews endured during the Holocaust, as they either fled the Nazis or were shipped to camps. Although their proposal placed 11th out of 528 in the memorial competition (with Peter Eisenman’s “real” monument chosen for construction), it was a public favorite. In 1996, the artists published a 128-page bus timetable that listed the sites that could be reached on current public transportation.
Stih and Schnock are known for antimemorials, or nonmonuments, an idea which latches on to the inevitable change of time and context as our most fundamental reality. Many have argued these structures don’t remember events but bury them in myth. Writers and artists in Germany, still sensitive to the memory of Albert Speer and the Nazi fixation with grand gestures, are particularly aware of the loaded meaning colossal monuments can contain. The traditional concept of a monument only encourages people to contemplate a hulking stone building and an abstracted past; nonmonuments instead create the memorial as process. Rather than distance the viewer, Bus Stop invites participation in that process which, like the Dencity bus tour or CLUI’s ride to the desert, makes travel and the passage of time essential to the art. Tracking the hours, minutes, and seconds in a world where the pace of change seems to compress time itself is the theme of Darren Almond’s Mean Time (2000), a shipping container with a digital display continually ticking off Greenwich Mean Time. The artist rode with the container, linked to a Global Tracking Satellite, from London to New York for his show at Matthew Marks Gallery last fall, documenting the journey with photographs, as well as drawings of the night sky. Almond’s drawings allude to an older tradition of triangulating distance at sea by observing the sun and stars; after the 18th century, longitude was determined by calculating the time difference relative to Greenwich. Only in the past few years have mariners been able to rely on GPS. While Almond’s outsized clock mechanically ticked off the time in England, he was honoring an ancient system of navigation, by taking notations on the sky.
Also journeying to New York City in a freight container was the art collective etoy, best known for the “Toy War” waged when an American online toy store tried to take the European art group’s domain name. The etoy.TANK, one of four bright orange containers sent for a spring show at Postmasters Gallery, is “the office, studio, hotel, storage, and webserver at the same time,” according to the group’s Agent Zai. Members of the group, spread across Switzerland, Germany, and California, reside in these “walk-in webservers” when participating in exhibitions. While the tank provides a physical manifestation of the group’s nomadic nature, the website hosts etoy. TIMEZONE, an online Twilight Zone where minutes count 100 UNIX seconds and a midday time embargo halts the clock for an etoy hour. “TIMEZONE,” writes the group, “is the solution to the insanity of the continuous physical travelling through international time zones, for time shifts in international markets and to the problem of getting older.” Through the eyes of artists like etoy, Dencity, CLUI, and Almond, nomadism today is as much about keeping up with a vision of ourselves and the time we’re constantly losing as it once was about tracking basic things‹food, weather, water‹across the land.
One need not be a member of etoy, however, to travel with attention to one’s creature comforts. With the global traveler in mind, New York’s OPENOFFICE and Denmark’s cOPENhagenOFFICE / Tanja Jordan created the NorthousEastWest (NhEW). The NhEW is a portable dwelling unit, custom-designed for around $7,000, that makes almost as much sense in crowded Manhattan as on the cold expanses of Greenland, where it got its inspiration from Inuit dwellings. Made of an aluminum frame, wood base, aluminum and plastic paneling, with a sealskin rug optional, the entire house can be packed up quickly into a crate. Inside her NhEW, the mobile citizen is at home in the world, no longer a tourist moving through someone else’s garbage-strewn, contaminated community.
The Spiral Jetty is back. Although it was submerged when we checked in July, my college senior sister said it was visible from the hill above it when she took a first date out to see it a couple of weeks ago (talk about a litmus test; it’s a 3+ hour drive one way, half on rutty dirt paths.) Sure enough, the SL Tribune has an article about it (Thanks, Artforum.) Read Smithson’s own comments on making the Jetty here.
Underwater or not, Geocachers have logged Spiral Jetty; it’s not surprising, given its off-the-mapquest.com obscurity, limited-but-not-prohibitive access, and non-mainstream nature. Geocaching would suit Smithson fine, I think:
After a point, measurable steps…descend from logic to the “surd state.” The rationality of a grid on a map sinks into what it is supposed to define. Logical purity suddenly finds itself in a bog, and welcomes the unexpected event…The flowing mass of rock and earth of the Spiral Jetty could be trapped by a grid of segments, but the segments would exist only in the mind or on paper. Of course, it is also possible to translate the mental spiral into a three-dimensional succession of measured lengths that would involve areas, volumes, masses, moments, pressures, forces, stresses, and strains; but in the Spiral Jetty the surd takes over and leads one into a world that cannot be expressed by number or rationality.
Geocaching examines the gap between the natural and the rational worlds, too, coming at if from the grid side. Spiral Jetty is locatable in grids, of course, including USGS satellite photos and via latitude/longitude coordinates, translated from GPS orbital data. But for geocachers, getting there is more than half the fun; the rush comes from “mapping” the “distance” between the two worlds.
Back in New York, Smithson sat down with friends to make his film about the Jetty.
Film strips hung from the cutter’s rack, bits and pieces of Utah, outtakes overexposed and underexposed, masses of impenetrable material. The sun, the spiral, the salt buried in lengths of footage… And the movie editor bending over such a chaos of “takes” resembles a paleontologist sorting out glimpses of a world not yet together, a land that has yet to come to completion, a span of time unfinished, a spaceless limbo on some spiral reels…[Editor Bob] Fiore pulled lengths of film out of the movieola with the grace of a Neanderthal pulling intestines from a slaughtered mammoth. Outside his 13th Street loft window one expected to see Pleistocene faunas, glacial uplifts, living fossils, and other prehistoric wonders. Like two cavemen we plotted how to get to the Spiral Jetty from New York City.
Smithson uses the road, going forward and backward (in time as well as place) to tie his film together. “The disjunction operating between reality and film drives one into a sense of cosmic rupture. Nevertheless, all the improbabilities would accommodate themselves to my cinematic universe.”
When I went to Spiral Jetty in 1994 (it’s first reappearance in 24 years), I was overwhelmed by how different experiencing the work in person (glistening salt crystals, cotton candy pink water, and that drive…) was from seeing it in pictures (aerial B&W on the last page of the art history text). Now it seems that that was the point. Mapping the distance between two worlds is what filmmaking’s all about.
Let me offer unqualified praise for the editorial acuity of Artforum’s links recommendations.
Two quotes from Calvin Tomkins’ good Richard Serra article in the New Yorker:
According to Richard Serra:
Abstraction gives you something different (from figuration). It puts the spectator in a different relationship to his emotions. I think abstraction has been able to deliver an aspect of human experience that figuration has not–and it’s still in its infancy. Abstract art has been going on for a century, which is nothing.
About Richard Serra’s usually high degree of professionalism and realistic approach to commission negotiations (from his longtime European dealer, Alexander von Berswordt): When he calls someone a motherf***er, that doesn’t help, of course. But he rarely does that without a reason.