Talk-abouts: John Baldessari and Jeremy Blake in Artforum

still, Winchester, 2003, Jeremy Blake, image:artforum.com

Editor Tim Griffin introduces In Conversation, a new feature in this month’s Artforum, artists talking to artists. To start: Jeremy Blake and John Baldessari, two artists with deep interest in the intersections between painting and ______(cinema, photography, technology, text, conceptual art). Both artists also have deep, abiding interest in film as well, which explains why this turned up on daily.greencine.com.
One great thread: Baldessari’s contested label as a Conceptual Artist.

JOHN BALDESSARI: Well, in the late ’60s, I was introduced to some painter at Max’s Kansas City and he said, “Oh you’re one of those �write-abouts’?” I said, “What do you mean �write-abouts’?” ‘You know, critics write about your work.’ To him, that’s what made a Conceptual artist.

Related posts from Feb. 2003: Jeremy previewing his Winchester piece last Feb and his haiku-like shorts for the Punch-Drunk Love DVD.

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend of the Corcoran

Jessie Pettway's 1950's quilt, image: corcoran.org

One of the most rewarding shows last year in New York was The Quilts of Gee’s Bend at the Whitney. For generations, the descendants of former slaves in an isolated Alabama town developed quilt designs that stand alongside–and frequently prefigure by decades–some of the best modern art of the 20th century. The reminded me of Stuart Davis, 80’s Sol Lewitt, and most of all, Ellsworth Kelly.
Anyway, as of yesterday, that show is at the Corcoran in DC. I understand if you’re still boycotting because of that embarassing Seward Johnson exhibit, but you’ll only be hurting yourself if you miss this. But if you insist, you can approximate the Gee’s Bend experience by buying the catalog and the more expansive Gee’s Bend: The Women and their Quilts, or with a handtufted, quilt-patterned carpet, made under exclusive license by the Classic Rug Collection.
Over 600 quilts are now owned by the non-profit Tinwood Alliance, which was established by Peter Arnett, an Atlanta collector who began amassing them in the 1980’s.

Anne Truitt Week

Since moving Modern Art Notes to Arts Journal, Tyler Green’s been demonstrating his critic-as-advocate chops, sometimes with a degree of acid that’d make even professional bee-atch Charlie Finch blush. He makes nice nice this week, though, by publishing brief excerpts daily from Anne Truitt’s Daybook. On top of simultaneously being a pioneer and stalwart contrarian of Minimalism, Truitt’s published journals are an unsurpassed window into the artistic process. Only Daybook is in print, but you can get the other volumes from ABEbooks.
Related: Truitt and Agnes Martin showing across the street from each other in Jan. 2003.
12/04 update: Mourning the loss of Anne Truitt.

On Jon Routson and the future of video art

For an artist who’s only shown a couple of times and whose most well-known work –a 22-minute, reconceived-for-network-TV version of Cremaster 4–has only been seen by a handful of people, Jon Routson sure gets a lot of press. Baltimore City Paper’s Bret McCabe gives Routson the full feature treatment this week, a 5,000-word cover story, complete with inflammatory comments by [at least one] wannabe playah with a weblog.
greg.org's Greg and John Waters' John viewed askew by David O. RussellWith pleasant symmetry, another Baltimore artist, the indie filmgod John Waters, opens an exhibition of his work–thematic collages of images cribbed from 60’s and 70’s movies–at the New Museum Feb. 7. Read Artnet’s recent interview with Waters.
Related: my previous post about Routson, and my NYT article on bootlegging video art

The Leonard Riggio Spiral Jetty Visitor’s Center, Valet parking to the right

Well, not yet. But after years of drought, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is so visible (and walkable), it’s getting so many visitors, the Dia Center is thinking: upgrades. Making the bone-jarring road more accessible; maybe adding some rocks here and there; getting it up out of the water so those pesky salt crystals don’t form on it anymore. As Michael Govan, the Dia’s director, notes, “The spiral is not as dramatic as when it was first built. The Jetty is being submerged in a sea of salt.”
“What we’re conceiving is an exciting, interactive, immersive Spiral Jetty experience. It’ll be educational, and entertaining. With the lake’s salt level where it is right now, you just float. You can’t actually immerse. We’re talking to some of the governor’s economic development folks about fixing that, though. They’re in Salt Lake. And IMAX. Can you imagine Smithson’s movie in IMAX? Oh, and we gotta fix that fence over there.”
Okay, I made that last paragraph up. Basically, all that’s happening is, they’ve surveyed the site, and they realize the Jetty won’t survive if 2,000 people walk across it every year. One potential benefit of rebuilding Spiral Jetty: Journalists might stop pretending it’s missing.
Related: Dia, the Baedeker for the Contemporary Art Grand Tour [bonus non sequitur: post includes the sole remaining excerpts from Plum Sykes’ outline for Bergdorf Blondes]
Update: check out John Perrault’s commentary at ArtsJournal In 25-words or less: “I knew Smithson. Smithson was kinda a friend of mine. A reconstituted Jetty, sir, is no Robert Smithson.”

Artist Books for the Holidays

If you’re still looking for just the right gift for your Jewish (you better hustle) or Christian friend (you have a little more time), try an artist book from Printed Matter. Here are my, ahem, suggestions:

  • David Hammons, The Holy Bible: Old Testament. The complete works of Marcel Duchamp, rebound as a bible.
  • On Kawara’s CD, One Million Years (Past), which covers the years 998,031 BC to 997,400 BC.
  • Erin Cosgrove’s take on romantic fiction as conceptual art project, The Baader-Meinhof Affair, which sounds like The Rules of Attraction if Bret Easton Ellis had gone to Williams instead of Bennington.
  • J. Meejin Yoon’s Absence, a simple, remarkable “portable memorial” of the World Trade Center. It consists of diecuts on 127 pages (one per floor, including the radio mast), which create sculptural voids in the shape of the towers when the book is closed. The perfect gift for the nonfinalist memorial competition entrant in your life.
  • Barnes Storm

    Over at Modern Art Notes, Tyler’s on a roll, posting frequently and furiously about the current court proceedings to decide the fate of The Barnes Collection, the greatest assemblage of modern art in the country. Tyler does his gadfly best, providing some very useful context (and a bit of foaming at the mouth) for this big, somewhat under-/mis-reported story.

    some cheesy Renoir pinup from the Barnes Foundation, image: abcgallery.com

    Barnes was a new moneyed crank with a voracious appetite for once-unpopular art (Cezanne, Matisse, Renoir, Soutine, etc.), which he frequently bought in bulk, out of the artists’ studios. He had an unparalleled–but not unbiased–eye; by cornering the market on cheesy Renoir nudes, for example, he forced generations of Third World dictators to decorate their palaces with much less desirable, generic soft porn. His collection, foundation, and vision were all mercilessly mocked by Philadelphia society the art establishment of his day, and he took great glee in their eventual comeuppance; he knew the world would have to come groveling back to his art someday.
    Now, though, after a couple of generations of pathetic mismanagement (“hundreds of items,” including a Matisse and a Renoir gone missing. Did you check the bathroom for the Renoir, your honor?); a feckless board; the inept defensiveness of Lincoln University (the historically black institution Barnes’s will put in charge of his legacy), and an utterly clueless-sounding judge, it looks like that same Philadelphia Establishment’s shameless attempt to take control of the collection may succeed. It’s all pretty ghetto.
    I haven’t thought it all the way through yet, but Barnes comes to mind when I see the sometimes clumsy, always entertaining, mega-collecting arms race in Miami right now. I doubt that Marty Margulies or his competitors are the Alfred Barnes of the 22nd century, but I know that there are enough snotty art worlders who try to proclaim their own insiderness by mocking them behind their backs.

    V(S)IP at Art Basel Miami

    The S is for Self, as in Self-Important. And I wasn’t alone. Far from it. The most unnecessary question of the day was the endearing, “Do you know who I am?” It wasn’t unnecessary because the Swiss minions running the art fair were so gracious, but because people were always telling you how fabulous they and their taste are anyway. My VIP card didn’t score me an early private screening of the only piece I wanted to see in the video program; fortunately, though, the snow conspired to keep me in town one more night. I saw Amar Kanwar‘s 2002 A Night of Prophecy, which he produced for last year’s Documenta XI.

    Amar Kanwar's A Night of Prophecy production still, image: rennaisancesociety.org

    I left the tawdry spectacle of NY art dealers singing karaoke for what turned out to be basically a series of subcontinental music videos. Kanwar filmed people singing calls for caste revolution and protests of various ethnic conflicts. It was alternately moving and didactic, always poetic, but hopelessly at odds with the shiny-as-a-C-print materialist, money-soaked, elitistriving artfest that hosted it. The thirty people at the start of the screening dwindled to less than half that, with only about 8-10 of us pinko Gandhi-ists watching the entire thing. Why some people wouldn’t want to spend their Friday night in South Beach being called (in melodic Hindi) an exploitative thief living off the sweat of the poor is beyond me.
    (Of course, I’m writing this from the Delta Crown Room at the airport…the sweaty sunburned masses are already too much for me to deal with apparently…)

    Art Roundup

    Spums Stream, 2003, Gabriel Orozco, image: mariangoodman.com

    You should feel horrible for missing Gabriel Orozco’s latest show at Marian Goodman. His elegant, biomorphic sculptural shapes are recognizable at first as found objects: bones, husks, driftwood. In the rear gallery, though, less finished “sketches” of polyurethane foam extruding through fine wire mesh point to Orozco’s material process. Gradually, it dawns on you that the artist didn’t find the previous shapes; he created them by manipulating quick-drying foam on sheets of latex with a hard-to-fathom series of gestures and pauses. What looked so familiar becomes perplexing and unknown. At least it did until Saturday.
    Start making it up by going to Sargent’s Women at Adelson Galleries. It’s a museum-quality exhibition of portraits, scenes, and studies by an artist whose paintings I like for their photographic influences, which I discovered at the giant National Gallery show in 1999 (which rocked). [via About Last Night]
    Then, if you go to Feigen for the Joseph Cornell show, and then buy Robert Lehrman’s unprecedented, awesome-looking catalog/DVD-ROM tour of the boxes, you’ll be just fine.

    Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Accelerated Buddha

    sugimoto_hall_of_33_bays.png
    Hall of Thirty-Three Bays, 1995, Hiroshi Sugimoto
    Hiroshi Sugimoto: I came for the Seascapes, I stayed for the Hall of Thirty-Three Bays. I love Sea of Buddhas, 1995, his series of nearly identical photos of the Sanjusangendo, shrine in Kyoto. They’re generally under-appreciated, partly because they work best when seen all together.
    Fortunately, Chicago has started making up for the Cow Parade embarrassment by putting the whole series of Sea of Buddha on view at the Smart Gallery at the University of Chicago until Jan. 4th.
    sugimoto_accelerated_buddha_still.jpg
    Hiroshi Sugimoto, Still image from Accelerated Buddha, added 2013
    Also on view, the artist’s rarely seen video, Accelerated Buddha, which rocks like only an increasingly shimmering animation of nearly identical still photos with a sharp electronic soundtrack by Ken Ikeda can.
    Related: an interview with Hiroshi Sugimoto [update, which I retrieved from the Internet Archive, since the original site is gone.]

    Interview with Hiroshi Sugimoto, March 1997
    by William Jeffett
    Edited from Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK Catalogue Hiroshi Sugimoto, from an exhibition held 1997
    WJ. How and when did you first take up working with photography?
    HS. When I was six or seven years old, the science teacher at my elementary school taught us to make photographs with light sensitive blue paper. By placing an object on this paper under direct light we could transfer its shape to the paper’s surface. This activity made a strong impression, not only on the paper, but on my mind. As I think about it now, it was as if I had started at the very moment of the invention of photography as if I was reliving the experiences of photographers like Niepce, Daguerre and Fox Talbot.
    WJ. You have lived in the United States for most of your career. How has this shaped the development of your approach to photography?
    HS. Wherever I lived, art was the only activity that interested me. But both the move to a new country and the fact that photography is a relatively young medium seemed to welcome new attitudes. However, while living in a new country, I started to deal in ancient Japanese art and consequently was involved with continuity and tradition. I think my work is the product of both of these influences.
    WJ. What does it mean for you to have a show in the Sainsbury Centre with its rich collections of world art?
    HS. The Sainsbury Centre has a collection of several works of ancient Japanese art that were acquired from me while I was still a dealer, and I feel that this exhibition of my own work brings these two parts of my life and activities together. I think it is very good to see one’s work together with ancient art. Looking back gives a sense of perspective you cannot get when looking at works of your contemporaries.
    WJ. Often there is a sense of stillness in your work, as if time were somehow frozen. Indeed, time is one of the features more evident in your work, and in the past you have even used very long exposures in a time lapse. Could you tell me about your thoughts on time in your work in general?
    HS. Time is one of the most abstract concepts human beings have created. No other animals have a sense of time, only humans have a sense of time. But time is not absolute; the time measured by watches is one kind of time, but it is not the only kind. The awareness of time can be found in ancient human consciousness, arising from the memory of death. Early humans buried their loved ones and left marks at the grave site, trying to remember images of the dead. Now, photography also remembers the past. I am tracing this beginning of time, when humans began to name things and remember. In my Seascape series, you may see this concept.
    WJ. Your work has taken both natural and highly artificial subjects as a point of departure (Seascapes and Dioramas). Where would you situate yourself in relation to artifice, on the one hand, and nature on the other?
    HS. The natural history dioramas attracted me both because of their artificiality and because they seemed so real. These displays attempt to show what nature is like, but in fact they are almost totally man-made. On the other hand, when I look at nature I see the artificiality behind it. Even though the seascape is the least changed part of nature, population and the resulting pollution have made nature into something artificial.
    WJ. Do you manipulate the image? In what way does your work interrogate the process of looking?
    HS. Before we start talking about manipulation, we have to confirm the way we see. Is there any solid, original image of the world to manipulate from? Each individual has manipulated vision. Fish see things the way fish see, insects see things the way insects see. The way man sees things has already been manipulated. We see things the way we want to see. Of course I manipulate. Artists create excitement by manipulating a boring world. All art is manipulation, to take still photography with black and white images is further manipulation, but before all this the very first manipulation is seeing.
    WJ. You work in series and in this respect your work parallels the approach of movements like Minimalism or even Pop Art. Could you tell me why you have adopted a serial approach and how you see your photography in relation to other forms of contemporary art?
    HS. I see the serial approach in my work as part of a tradition, both oriental and occidental – Hokusai’s views as well as Cézanne’s landscapes or Monet’s Haystacks, Cathedrals and Waterlilies.
    WJ. Do you see time as an important component in the Hall of Thirty-Three Bays series?
    HS. Time is an important component of all of my work. In my videotape Accelerated Buddha, time takes on an accelerated shape.
    WJ. Your earlier series devoted to the Dioramas, Seascapes and Theatres depict subjects which are not recognizably Japanese, while the Hall of Thirty-Three Bays is based on one of the most important shrines in Japan. Could you tell me why you chose this series to work on over the last six years and how it relates to your other work?
    HS. All of my works are related conceptually. The photographs of the Hall of Thirty-Three Bays extend the concept behind the Seascape series: repetition with subtle differences. Even though these images seem similar to those of the Wax Figures, I see them more as a ‘Sea of Buddhas’.
    WJ. In what way does the series have a connection with Buddhist thought?
    HS. I don’t think that this series has more of a connection with Buddhist thought than any of my others. It interested me, however, that I was photographing this temple, built as a result of the fear of a millennium 2000 years after the birth of Buddha, at a time when we ourselves are approaching a millennium 2000 years after the death of Christ.
    WJ. You said you made each of the photographs from this series at the same hour of the morning. Could you say why and explain a little about your working method?
    HS. The photographs were all taken between 6.00 and 7.30am so that the natural light would be soft and diffused, also so that each image would be photographed in the same light. Working at this hour also allowed me to be alone in the Temple since the monks are not around until 7.30am. Each subject calls for different working hours. Only the Seascapes allow me to work 24 hours non-stop.
    WJ. The Hall of Thirty-Three Bays depicts a sacred subject. Do you see your work as in any way engaged with the sacred?
    HS. The relationship between the Buddha series and religious thought is somehow parallel to the one between the Seascapes and nature. Pollution has made nature artificial and the commercialization of traditional religions has de-spiritualized them.

    “We can easily believe that Bill Viola is worth ten Scorseses.”

    Them’s fightin’ words. In his Cinema Militans Lecture, Greenaway thought he’d rile up his audience at the Netherlands Film Festival with his opening, “Cinema died on the 31st September 1983.” (Killed by Mr. Remote Control, in the den, if you must know.) But it’s his claim that Viola’d trump Scorsese that’s the real “they bought yellowcake in Niger” of this speech. He’s just got Britishvision, distracted like a fish by a shiny object passing in front of him [Viola‘s up at the National Gallery right now.] And the conveniently timely evidence he cites seems, well, let’s just say we know from conveniently timed evidence over here.

    Sleeping with the enemy, Peter Greenaway Bed Linens. image: bonswit.com
    Sleeping with the enemy: Greenaway
    texts up a set of bed linens. for sale at bonswit.com

    Greenaway argues for a filmic revolution: throw off the “four tyrannies” of the text, the actor, the frame and the camera, banishing at last the “illustrated text” we’ve been suffering through for 108 years, and replacing it with true cinema.
    The Guardian‘s Alex Cox sees video games and dvd’s rising up to answer Greenaway’s call, and he makes the fight local, pitting Greenaway against the British Film Establishment, as embodied by director Alan Parker. So the choice is either Prospero’s Books or The Life of David Gale?? This fight’s neither pretty nor fair.
    Also in the Guardian: Sean Dodson’s report on a Nokia-sponsored campaign for the new future of cinema, a “festival” of 15-second movies to watch on your mobile phone. It’s part of London’s excellent-looking Raindance Film Festival, and it embodies perfectly the military industrial telecom entertainment complex’s idea of revolution through perpetual hardware upgrading. [It should surprise no one that the little festival is at Nokia’s website, because you can’t actually download movies on your phone yet. Utopia’s always just around the corner.]
    image: badassbuddy.comMore than rallying the troops, Greenaway and Nokia are actually tottering to catch up with the next generation. Paul Thomas Anderson’s inclusion of Jeremy Blake’s animated abstractions in Punch Drunk Love. The Matrix Reloaded‘s all-CG bullet time “camera.” The Matrix launching the DVD player, for that matter. Gus van Sant’s Gerry as film-as-video-game and the multiple POV reprises of scenes in Elephant. Multi-screen master Isaac Julien, Matthew Barney, spawn of Mario Brothers. And the unscripted cinematic narrative mutations of corporate-sponsored mediums like PowerPoint and AIM buddy icons.
    Greenaway’s righter than he knows, but the evolution’s already underway, with or without him. It always has been

    More Olafur Eliasson Pix


    The Weather Project, 2003, Olafur Eliasson, Tate Modern
    The Weather Project, 2003, Olafur Eliasson, Tate Modern
    The Weather Project, 2003, Olafur Eliasson, at the Tate Modern
    The top one’s shot in the mirrored ceiling.

    I’m working on it, but right now, I got nothing that’ll top this.