Danh Vo: Shop The Look

Danh Vo, VJ Star, 2010. Sold at Phillips in 2015

After reading Tim Schneider’s recent article about the market views of Danh Vo’s work, I realized I hadn’t written about Vo’s Guggenheim show.

Tim’s point is well taken, and borne out in the show: Vo makes both sexy, shiny, collector bait (gold-leafed flags & alphabets, Statue of Liberty fragments) and meaning-laden but head-scratchingly unaesthetic cultural detritus (the stuffing from Robert McNamara’s chair, the Unabomber’s typewriter). The typical market dynamics of art stardom readily attend to the former, while posing a challenge to the latter.

Parts is parts: The White House Years of Robert McNamara, Lot 20, 23 October 2012 image: Sotheby’s

At least that’s how it looks on the secondary market. Vo’s global network of top-flight dealers know a thing or two about placing “difficult” work with “connoisseurs.” Those McNamara chairs, purchased at Sotheby’s for $146,000, were promptly stripped for parts, which were sold as separate works to nine of Marian Goodman’s most well-cultivated private and institutional clients. And some of the wonkiest Gothic and Hellenic scrap mashups with the grossest Exorcist titles are in the collection of Francois Pinault. Then Vo installed them in the Dogana alongside scrap metal rented [rented!] from Cameron Rowland and plastic tarps David Hammons dragged into Mnuchin’s joint from the street.

Two things that stuck with me from the Guggenheim, and any time I see one of Vo’s spare, deliberate installations: he makes almost as many objects as he shops, and he shops a lot.

Just a few of the editions, mostly photogravures, Danh Vo has produced with Niels Borch Jensen starting in 2010

Vo makes a lot of very interesting editions, which get equal treatment in his shows, even if they don’t garner equal attention. An easy place to start looking is the sheaf of photogravures Vo has produced with Niels Borch Jensen. There was a burst of activity in 2010, starting with Joseph Carrier’s photos of Vietnam; various family snapshots; and a candid photo of the artist who, at that moment, would have been his ex’s ex. Loaded/awkward. Anyway, seven of the 12 prints in the screencap above are in the show, and that’s still just the tip of an iceberg.

Danh Vo, Seasons Greetings, 2011, ed. 24, for the Fredericianum, image: newarteditions, which doesn’t have it.

The first Vo edition I regret not getting was Seasons Greetings, made for his show at the Fredericianum in Kassel. A gift box contains a T-shirt from the Statue of Liberty; a coffee mug with a Barbara Bush quote on it from the GHWB Library shop; a book about Ted Kaczynski Harvard sued out of print; and just when you think the loaded-souvenir-shopping-as-practice has gone too far, there is a card on which Vo typed out the name of the show, JULY, IV, MDCCLXXIV– using Kaczynski’s typewriter.

I started thinking about these editions because Tim Schneider hadn’t mentioned them, at least not directly. Tim broke out the auction performance for Vo’s works: of 52 pieces to come up for sale, 13 were not gilded cardboard or Statue of Liberty chunks, and 6 of these 13 were bought in. And two of those six, I realized, were the same piece.

Danh Vo, Untitled, 2009, two Imari plates previously owned by Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, ed. 7/12, not sold by Blake Byrne at Phillips NY, Feb 2016.

Two examples of Untitled, 2009 (above), from an edition of 12, had come up for auction: one at Phillips in 2016, from Daniel Buchholz (est. $8,000-12,000); and another, from Bortolozzi, in Christie’s London in 2015 (est. £10,000 – £15,000). [Christie’s deletes webpages for unsold lots, so unless you have a print catalogue, or an artnet database, you’ll need an Internet Archive.]

Untitled (2009) in 2010, hanging in Danh Vo’s kitchen. He opened his apartment as a venue for the Berlin Biennale. image: kunsten.nu

When Vo turned his apartment into an exhibition site for the 2010 Berlin Biennale, they were hanging in the kitchen [above]. And before that, in a Summer group show in 2009, Daniel Buchholz showed them in Köln. That credit line also includes an auction catalogue for the estate of Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, which was unmentioned anywhere else.

Lot 3498: Lyman Lemnitzer’s Japanese dinnerware, as purchased in 2007 by Danh Vo for $625+premium, image:liveauctioneers.com

Which immediately got me wondering. And sure enough, there it is: 2007, Alderfer Auction in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Among the various lots of Japanese Imari ware Gen. Lemnitzer had accumulated were two lots of twelve matching plates in slightly different sizes. They totaled, with premium, around $1200. Even as a barely emerging artist, I’m sure he netted out.

How low can you Vo? Lot 0402: 2pc Imari porcelain plates, looking very Vo-ish, sold for $60 in West Palm Beach, image: liveauctioneers.com

The super weird thing, though I didn’t know how weird yet, was that the day after I was searching for Vo’s 11-year-old sale, a near identical pair of Imari plates was coming up for auction in West Palm Beach. The pattern was identical, the marks identical, the sizes were very slightly different, but maybe not out of the auction houses’ margin of error. The auction estimate was $40-60. Even by the cruelest market calculus, that seemed like an unlikely price curve.

There must be thousands of plates like this, I thought, wrongly. A search through almost ten thousand auctions for Imari porcelain plates turned up only one that matched the Lemnitzer plates Vo bought and the two in front of me. [Sidebar: there is too much stuff in this world.] Could this pair be an overlooked Vo edition? If it was, could it be rescued? More interestingly, if it wasn’t, did it matter?

The auratic weight of provenance, history, culture, and memory are at the crux of Vo’s work. He buys the objects he buys because of these associations, and he puts them in an art context, where their backstory operates like an informational dye packet that explodes when you read a wall text, irrevocably staining the object in your mind, if not your eye. You can complain about the inertness or opacity of Vo’s objects, and their reliance on explanations, but I’m pretty sure he dgaf. And by the time you realize it, it’s already too late; Vo has changed the way you see–and think about–what he’s put before you.

So can that connection be severed? And if severed, can it be reattached? If it never existed, can it be conjured by an identical object? Vo spends an awful lot of time shopping. It’s probably the main part of his practice, besides chopping. These intangible issues, evocations, and associations hover around every transaction we make; it’s how brands work, how fashion works, how art works. Vo transposes his objects from one sphere–the historical, political, or personal–to another, but every time we trawl through eBay or a museum shop, so do we. Consumption and the mechanisms and networks of capitalism implicate us all.

Whether these Floridian plates once sat on the shelf of the American father of the Vietnam War is immaterial. Because now these plates evoke Danh Vo. And that is something.

If you bought these plates, please know that you did so because the liveauctioneers app gave me the false impression that I had placed a winning bid, and then gave no warning before it closed the sale. While you enjoy your plates, I will enjoy thinking about them.

Pissed Off: Can You Hold It?

c.1990 Xerox poster for the Exit Art exhibition of David Hammons’ 1981 performance, Pissed Off. image NYU Fales Library Exit Art Archive via SAAM

I have been interested in David Hammons’ performance/interventions staged at Richard Serra’s T.W.U. for a while, so I made a point to listen to Columbia and Smithsonian American Art Museum pre-doctoral fellow Abbe Schriber’s presentation at SAAM yesterday.

 

Titled, “Word on the Street: David Hammons’s Negotiation of Rumor, ca. 1981”, Schriber spoke of Hammons’ “strategy of obscurity” and the careful ambiguities around the two projects, Pissed Off, and Shoe Tree, in which, respectively, the artist pissed on and threw sneakers over a three-plate Serra prop piece installed on a Tribeca traffic island at the intersection of Sixth Avenue & Franklin Street.

 

What I did not realize, is that Hammons sat on these works without announcing or showing them for nine years. The work was first shown publicly in the 1990 Exit Art exhibition, “Illegal America.”
Whether it’s the myopia of the blogger and tweeter compelled to feed the content beast, or the tyranny of the new, it’s hard to imagine maintaining this kind of years-long silence about a work today.  But that could also be the perplexity of hindsight. Maybe Hammons didn’t show Pissed Off because no one wanted to see it. Or he didn’t have the right context for it.
Which made me wonder again. Hammons’ Pissed Off was included in Exit Art’s 1990 show “Illegal America.” [Was the Xeroxed “poster” above, in the Exit Art archive at NYU, what was included in the exhibit? Was anything else?] But the 1990 show was a restaging of a February 1982 show of the same name. “Illegal America” was the first show Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo staged as Exit Art, and they did it at Franklin Furnace, which was located half a block from the site of Serra’s–and Hammons’–works. You could see Serra’s work from Franklin Furnace’s front door.
At SAAM, Schriber discussed Hammons’ interactions with JAM, an alternative space for emerging African American artists which had moved a couple of blocks west of Franklin Furnace, but she did not mention this earlier incarnation of “Illegal America.” 26 of the 36 artists in the 1990 show had also been in the 1982. Hammons was not among them. Was he going to be? Was he not?
Richard Serra, T.W.U., 1980-81, installed in Tribeca, image via publicartfund.org
It does seem like quite a coincidence that Hammons created two works involving the racialized and bodily precarity associated with illegal actions within pissing distance of the projected site of a show about artists working in the medium of illegality itself.
Could it be? “Illegal America” opened in February 1982, and included The Real Estate Show, which had taken place in 1980. Pissed Off happened sometime in 1981, but T.W.U. was only installed until July 30th, 1981, so that gives some parameters. Would Hammons have visited Franklin Furnace before, during or after Pissed Off? Would they have known of his work? Were they interested? Or not? If Hammons was going to be in, he wasn’t. If he wanted to be in, he wasn’t. Did something go down?
Would the Exit Art folks or Franklin Furnace have known in 1982 about the subject of Hammons’ artist statement for the 1990 show, which Schriber presented, and which I had never heard of?
“Pissed Off” is about the fact that in New York City a man doesn’t have any public access to relieve himself in a decent manner. There is no way for a gentleman to relieve himself in a gentlemanly manner without having to buy a drink.
Keep the rage going.
What started Hammons’ rage? Sure, a city and a system that denied the needs of its citizens on the most basic, bodily level, and putting a gentleman at risk of police intervention for the most basic necessities, but was there anything else?
Can you imagine Hammons and Bey the morning of Pissed Off, one of them with a camera, and at least one of them dressed in a dashiki that, as Schriber put it, gave him “the look of a city forager.”  What if they visited Franklin Furnace that morning? To drop off some slides? To talk about a show? Have a chat? Just to look around? What if they said they were there for a meeting? What if they asked to use the men’s room? Can you imagine what could have happened?
Hammons’ nine year wait seems short, and also way too long. And I don’t think he’s done.

‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’

I was absolutely floored by this tiny quote from Zora Neale Hurston’s 1928 field interview with Cudjoe Lewis, who was one of the last known survivors of the last slave-ship to come to the United States. He arrived in the US from what is now Benin in 1859 or 1860, smuggled in on the Clotilde at the age of 19. His given name was Kossula.

“I want to know who you are and how you came to be a slave; and to what part of Africa do you belong, and how you fared as a slave, and how you have managed as a free man?”

His head was bowed for a time. Then he lifted his wet face: “Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go in de Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody dere say, ‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’ ”

Hurston spent three months interviewing Kossula, and even longer trying to get his history published. Because of her training an anthropologist she refused publishers’ demands that she rewrite Kossula’s vernacular testimony. 87 years later, it is being released for the first time, and I just bought it.

The Last Slave [vulture]
Barracoon: The Last Black Cargo, by Zora Neale Hurston, drops May 8 [amazon]

[This is where I originally expected this quick post to stop.]

Kossula was a leader of the community of Clotilde survivors who after attempting to return to Africa, created a settlement outside Mobile, Alabama called Africatown. In a 1914 book called Historic Sketches of the South, Emma Roche Langdon recounted the stories of the Clotilde’s voyage, the survivors, and their descendants. She spelled his name Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis.

Bronze bust of Cudjoe Lewis after Charles Rhodes’ carved wood original, some time before 2002, image via WKRG

In 1959, on the 100th anniversary of the Clotilde‘s arrival, the Progressive League of Plateau erected a memorial to Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis in front of the Union Baptist Church. The monument was created by Henry Williams, “a welder and history buff”, which is what they call someone who also saved and preserved the Africatown cemetery. On a pyramid of bricks made by Clotilde survivors sat a lengthy bust of Lewis by Charles Rhodes, a “young understudy” of Williams.

AP photo of the brick base of Cudjoe Lewis memorial in front of Union Baptist Church, Jan. 2002. image via Gadsden Times

The original was carved in wood, to be cast in bronze. When the bronze bust was ripped off the base and stolen in 2002, the pastor said it had been in front of the church for “about three decades.” Was he off by 15 years, or had it taken until the 1970s to make the cast of Rhodes’ sculpture?

unveiling of a new bust of Cudjo Lewis, 2008, at the Union Baptist Church, Africatown USA, AL, image via WKRG

In 2008 a new, similarly shaped sculpture was unveiled, though this picture from a local newscast shows it next to a wall, not on the brick pyramid, because it was installed at the Africatown Welcome Center alongside a bust of John Smith, a mayor of the nearby town of Prichard. The sculptures were donated by two filmmakers from Africa, Thomas Akodjinou from Benin and Felix Yao Amenyo Eklu from Togo, in 2007.

On his blog Akodjinou honored John Smith for his involvement in the Alabama Benin Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, which saw Africatown as an historic symbol of reconciliation between the two interconnected cultures.

Vandalized busts of John Smith (front) and Cudjo Lewis, and Robert Battles, executive director of the Africatown Welcome Center, Mar 2011, image via al.com

In March 2011, both sculptures were vandalized, with their heads ripped off. The sculptures were originally described as marble, but from the look of this painted and chipped base, I am doubtful.

John Smith & Cudjo Lewis busts as photographed in 2016 by Maarten Vanden Eynde, image: deltaworkers.org

The headless busts were still visible in 2016 when Belgian artist Maarten Vanden Eynde visited Africatown. His account is disheartening, if not downright harrowing. Besides the historic cemetery, which is sinking, many of the structures and homes are run down or abandoned, and the area is threatened by surrounding industrial redevelopment. [Tho tbh, it looks kind of typical on GSV from 2011-2017.]

In 2016 sculptor April Livingston launched a GoFundMe to make a new bust, just the head this time, to be cast out of iron. It was bolted to the base in February 2017, when she promised the local news that she could cast a million more. Me, I’m most interested in the history of the previous three.

Sculptor April Livingston with her newly unveiled bust of Cudjoe Lewis, image: Gary Hadaway via UA

Historic Sketches of the South (1914), by Emma Roche Langdon [archive.org]
On her 1928 trip Hurston filmed Cudjo Lewis and other AfricaTown residents. [youtube]
New Cudjoe Lewis bust dedicated (the 3rd or 4th, depending) [wkrg]
A few months ago, a reporter [thought he] found the wreckage of the Clotilde [al, thanks wb]

May 2018 UPDATE: WNYC’s On The Media devoted an entire show to Africatown and the importance of preserving and telling its founders’ stories. [wnycstudios.org]

Johnson On Johns

Ray Johnson, Untitled (Letterbox), 1964, correspondance with David Bourdon, collection: NGA

[UPDATE: WE KNOW.]

It’s hard to process Ray Johnson’s work, there’s so much of it. It’s intentionally slight and esoteric. It often feels like a quick visual read. But it can also reward a slower look, even when it’s sort of stuffed and strewn about.

The National Gallery has a 1964 piece, Untitled (Letterbox), which is actually a mailbox stuffed with a few years’ worth of correspondance art pieces Ray Johnson sent to the critic David Bourdon. If I remember the label correctly, the stuff was piling up, so Bourdon got a classic brownstone-sized three-unit mailbox to hold it all.

Ray Johnson drawing & notes on Jasper Johns’ #5 from 0–9 Color, 1960-63, in Untitled (Letterbox), collection: NGA

Anyway, I’ve seen but not really looked at it since it was installed way back before the world ended, but the other day I noticed that unlike other pieces, this was not a Jasper Johns exhibition announcement; it was a Jasper Johns.

And not just any Jasper Johns. This is from 0–9 (1960-63), the foundational series with which Johns began making prints, and with which he began his extensive relationship with Tatyana Grossman and Universal Limited Art Editions. [Though other prints were completed and published before 0–9, I think it was the first one he started.] It’s signed and numbered–and folded up and stuffed in an envelope at some point, apparently.

Grosman wooed Johns to start making prints with her fledgling contemporary foundry by sending him a lithography stone to play with. Over years, Johns worked his stenciled numbers on the stone’s surface, printed some, and then wiped and started drawing and printing again. The sequential prints in 0–9 trace the changes and palimpsests of the process, capturing the lithographic process the way Johns’ encaustic froze the mark of the brush that applied it. This ambitious series was published in three versions: a rainbow of colors, black, and grey.

The print Ray Johnson used here is #5 from C/C 1/10, which means it’s from the first edition of the color set. Johnson took this first print of his friend’s massive project, and started circling and labeling individual lines in the print as “snakes.” Then Johnson signed his name and date next to Johns’. And then he folded and taped it up and mailed it to Bourdon.

Snakes were a thing for Johnson. That same year Dick Higgins published a compilation of his correspondance works from Johnson in an artist book he titled The Paper Snake. But this is ultimately less surprising than his readiness to treat an artwork from a friend like a cigarette wrapper or rubber stamp, as an element of his own production. [Of course, Johnson was friends with Rauschenberg and Sue Weil, too, so he certainly knew of Bob incorporating Johns’ and Weil’s paintings into his own combine. And don’t forget Twombly drawing all over everything. So maybe surprising should not be the word.]

So far two of the three artist proofs of 0–9 (Color) (ULAE 19) have sold at auction: Merce Cunningham & John Cage’s set, in 2009, and last year, the set Johns gave to art historian Robert Rosenblum, who wrote the accompanying text. [Awesomely, on four of Rosenblum’s ten prints Johns inscribed, “Proof to replace stolen.” So keep your eyes peeled for four rogue prints.]

Jasper Johns, 5 from 0–9, 1963, ed. C/C 1/10, collection: MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art has one of each variation, of course, because back in the day MoMA and ULAE made it so the museum could get the first print from every edition they published. And hey, look at that, MoMA’s print of 0–9 (Color) has the same number as Johnson’s. Did someone mention rogue prints? How’d this happen?

A FEW DAYS LATER UPDATE: Thanks to some attentive folks at the National Gallery, we know how this happened.

Curator Jennifer Roberts explains that the Johnson Johns is not a print, but a page from a Vogue Magazine article on Johns by Harold Rosenberg  (“Jasper Johns: Things the Mind Already Knows,” Vogue, February 1, 1964, 174-175.)

Johnson has annotated a paragraph on the reverse (page 175)  in pencil, adding half-brackets, three underlined selections, and a notation in the margin that says, “this paragraph could be sent to May Wilson.”

There is nothing commonplace about an 8.

The symbols selected by Johns are separated from the banal by their abstractness and dignity, qualities which are also outstanding in Johns’s personality. In the absence of his big grin, he reminds me of William S. Hart, the deadpan sheriff of the silent Westerns. Johns has Hart’s long, flat poker face, thin lips and alert eyes slanting up at the outer corners. Like Hart he gives the impression of one who sizes things up, keeps mum, and does his job. Johns’s detachment is of the era of the beats, the cool cats, and Bohemian Zen, as Hart’s belonged to that of “Howdy, stranger” and the cardsharp. With his level stare Johns paints targets: Hart perforated his with a six-shooter.

Roberts also notes that Johnson has covered half an illustration of a Johns lightbulb sculpture on the back (p.175) by taping an ad for a George Overbury “Pop” Hart watercolor exhibition held at Frederick Keppel and Co., New York, over it. Thanks to Stephanie, as well as to Anabeth Guthrie and Peter Huestis of the NGA for noticing the mystery and sharing these details.

 

Everyone Gets A Plinth By Philip Johnson!

Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk being installed by crane at Seagram Plaza, Sept. 1967, image nydn via gettyimages’ horrific website, which literally siphons information away from you, just google it

In the heat of hyping Luis Castañeda’s amazing essay on the history of 60s modernists’ enthusiasm for putting colossal Olmec stone heads on exhibit, I managed to leave out the part about their impact on public art, on the scale of contemporary sculpture, and on the reconfiguration of public space into exhibition space.

San Lorenzo Monument One being installed at Seagram Building on Park Avenue, May 1965, as seen on the cover of Artforum in October 1966

So imagine my surprise when looking for a different image of Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, I instead found this 1967 pic of it being installed by crane on Seagram Plaza, two years after the flying Olmec head made the cover of Artforum. Everyone gets a plinth by Philip Johnson!

The occasion? A 27-work show organized by New York City called “Sculpture In Environment” that temporarily installed contemporary sculptures all over town.

The curator was Sam Green, the impressario/museum director/walker/hustler who singlehandedly dragged all those Agnes Martins out of the catalogue raisonné. The show included Tony Rosenthal’s Alamo, which is still at Astor Place. So temporary is relative.

Bigger Thinking Needed For Giant Heads

Dr. Matthew Stirling & friends admiring a cast of an Olmec head from La Venta installed at the NGS in 1943, via Historic Images (obv) on eBay, where I (also obv) did not buy it.

First I stumbled across this 1943 photo of a giant Olmec head at the National Geographic Society.

Then the caption says it’s actually a cast of the 20-ton original, which remains in La Venta, Mexico, where Dr Matthew Stirling (kneeling) led the NGS-Smithsonian expedition to document them. Stirling was the leading anglo archaeologolist working on the Olmec, a civilization that pre-dated the much better-known Inca and Maya.

Then while I tried to find out more about casting a 10-foot head onsite in the middle of World War II (turns out the head was one of five uncovered on a 1940 expedition), I stumbled upon Luis M. Castañeda’s extraordinary essay from 2013 for Grey Room, a journal at MIT Press. Castañeda tracks the history of exhibiting Olmec megalithic heads in the modernist North, and their shifting political, aesthetic, and ideological contexts.

Olmec megaliths were shown in the early 1960s at the Petit Palais in Paris; the LA County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; the Mexican Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair–with a pit stop on the plaza of the Seagram Building.

Castañeda tracks the equal interest in the megaliths as exoticized artifacts and engineering mysteries, and how they were experienced, in spectacular motion, temporarily installed in high modernist spaces. Here’s folks discussing the most epic way to transport an Olmec head from its original site in Veracruz, Mexico to the new Mies van der Rohe-designed museum in Houston:

Before they decided to use a trailer, [documentary filmmaker Richard] de Rochemont and [MFAH director James Johnson] Sweeney considered other options. In a June 19, 1962, letter, for instance, de Rochemont wonders whether a helicopter could get the job done more efficiently. In making this suggestion, de Rochemont also makes explicit that the real point of the project was not Figure 5 the head itself but the spectacle of its motion. “I estimate that ‘your’ head,” he writes to Sweeney, “weighs 15 tons… . Biggest known helicopter … lifts 10 tons … Would [Mexican authorities] mind if we cut the head in half?” Although the artistic and archaeological value of the Olmec head was of importance to Sweeney’s exhibition, in de Rochemont’s words, the visual documentation of the massive head’s movement was what truly transformed the film and the exhibition into “an archaeological epic.”

San Lorenzo Monument One being installed at Seagram Building on Park Avenue, May 1965, as seen on the cover of Artforum in October 1966

Also here is one of two Olmec heads being installed on Seagram Plaza, on a base designed by Philip Johnson, on the cover of Artforum, where Irving Sandler writes of the impact of the head on contemporary sculptors.

Most stunningly, Castañeda notes, that almost no one has looked closely at these Olmec sculptures, their genesis and impact, on the work of land artists like Robert Smithson or Michael Heizer. Heizer’s father Robert was a protege of Stirling, one of two US archaeologists who established Olmec studies as a distinct field. By the 1960s Heizer the father had left his research on Olmec engineering techniques and had begun helping his son excavate artworks in the Nevada desert. When LACMA opened Renzo Piano’s Resnick Pavilion in 2010, it was with a show titled, Olmec: Colossal Masterworks from Ancient Mexico, which featured two megalithic heads on cor-ten steel bases designed by Michael Heizer.

Doubling Time, by Luis M. Castañeda [greyroom, spring 2013]

On Some Historical Objects Relating To George Washington

St Paul’s Chapel celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. image: trinitywallstreet

Built in 1766, St. Paul’s Chapel is the oldest public building in New York City and has been in continuous operation for over 250 years. When its sister parish Trinity Church (built 1698) burned down in 1776, St. Paul’s Chapel served as the primary place of worship for the likes of George Washington while Trinity was rebuilt. This august, historic, sacred space contains one of the two earliest public depictions of The Great Seal of The United States, of which visitors to this site have so recently read.

And St. Paul’s Church is also the place where my critique of the impertinent treatment and presentation of The Great Seal gets laughed out of town like a mobbed up president’s stooge claiming attorney-client privilege.

The Great Seal of the United States painting and friends, St Paul’s Chapel c.2013, image: pastinthepresent

Behold the wide shot of the painting of The Great Seal hanging in its original spot, over the Washington Family Pew (reconstructed to some non-original spec, apparently some time after the radiators went in), and sandwiched in between World Trade Center Relief Swag exhibitions made of PVC jungle gym and clip-on tracklights? Are these original, historic exhibition fixtures made by first responders in October 2011?

#neverforget? no problem! what is this? c. 2013, image via pastinthepresent

Is it still there? Because this photo was taken in 2013 by historian/blogger Michael Lynch. So maybe it’s gone? I honestly don’t know whether to scream or ask for their fabricator’s contact info, whether to help one of the richest parishes in the country Kickstart some proper vitrines or take a vow to never show work again without a PVC kiosk.

But Professor Lynch is not through. He also went to Federal Hall, the site (but not the building) of George Washington’s inauguration on April 30, 1789. I have stood on the porch of Federal Hall. I have seen a musical version of the life of JP Morgan performed on the steps of Federal Hall. I have gone to the gym many times across the street from Federal Hall, but somehow I have never been inside Federal Hall.

Fragment of Federal Hall 1.0 Balcony on view at Federal Hall 2.0, c. 2013, image: pastinthepresent

So I have not known about the slab of the balcony from the original Federal Hall, which is on display there. The National Park Service calls it a balcony, but looking at this engraving of Washington’s inauguration, I might call it a loggia.

Federal Hall, Seat of Congress, 1789 engraving by Amos Doolittle of Washington’s inauguration, image via wikipedia

Anyway, despite being the site of the 1st Congress, the formation of the United States, the adoption of the Bill of Rights, and Washington’s inauguration, Federal Hall went back to being City Hall when the capital decamped to Philadelphia in 1790. And then New York City tore that place down in 1812 when they built their new City Hall.

Pay no attention to the little cart behind the blue curtain. Also, elevator out of service, probably. image: intro-ny

Fragments of the building were saved, including this piece of brownstone from the loggia, which apparently went on display at Bellevue Hospital until it was returned in 1889, for the centennial. And it was given a coat of concrete, so they could carve it. And it was put in a frame on little wheels so it could be rolled around. Oops, it broke. At least now we can see the actual stone under the concrete skin, the part where the concrete repair came off also.

Here is a concrete-coated-and-carved piece of stone which you can barely see the original of, which used to be on the building here, till we tore it down, and anyway, George Washington probably stood on this to found our country. Or near it, it’s really hard to say. But this is how we do, and it apparently always has been.

fragment of the balustrade of the original Federal Hall where G. Washington was inaugurated, painted wrought iron, later oak base, collection: NYHS

Fragments of the building were saved. In a minute I have found another: the balustrade of the balcony where Washington was inaugurated. It, too, went to Bellevue, where it was incorporated into a portico. Perhaps this stone was, too? Anyway, in 1883 the balustrade went to the New York Historical Society, where it remains. [Interesting. A 1917 catalogue of Old New York views distinguishes between the NYHS and Bellevue balustrades.] It is positively lyrical. Was it by Pierre l’Enfant, who was commissioned to renovate Federal Hall in 1788? Yes. It is dated 1788-89. Thirteen arrows. Wrought iron painted yellow-gold. The New York Historical Society was headquartered in Federal Hall in 1809 and took the city’s donation of some of the original furniture.

fragment of a painted silk flag flown at George Washington’s inauguration, Apr. 30, 1789, collection: NYHS

And back to painting. Here is a fragment of a flag flown at Washington’s inauguration. It is about four inches square, paint on silk, with part of the word PRE[sident] visible.

I don’t yet know what to do with this information and these objects, but it must be something.

Previously, related:
Untitled (George Washington’s Coffin), 2016–
This window from Hanford is being sold as ‘Manhattan Project Glass’
The hydrogen gas generators of Prof. Thaddeus SC Lowe’s Union Army Balloon Corps

Of The Great Seal Of The United States

The Great Seal of The United States, painted by an unidentified artist in 1785 for Trinity Church on Wall Street. image: Trinity Church

In 1776 a committee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were charged by the Continental Congress with creating an official seal, a sign of sovereignty and authenticity, for the new United States. Two committees later, in 1782, the primary suggestion from their committee included in the final design was the motto, E Pluribus Unum. Other committees, meanwhile, contributed the eagle, and the use of 13 elements–stars, stripes, arrows, olive leaves–to symbolize the original states in the Union.

The final design was described in terms of its heraldic elements by Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson, and this text remains the law Congress enacted in June 1782. Thomson provided an engraver with a sketch, which was turned into a die and put to use by September.

In October 1785, as the new Constitution was being negotiated nearby, the Vestry of Trinity Church on Wall Street commissioned an unidentified artist to paint one of the earliest public depictions of the Great Seal of the United States. The painting was installed on the north wall of St. Paul’s Chapel above the pew reserved for George Washington’s family. The pew is gone, but the painting (above) remains.

After his inauguration in April 1789, President Washington asked Thomson to transfer custody of the Great Seal from Congress to the Department of Foreign Affairs. It has remained under the charge of the Secretary of State ever since.

The counter-die of the Great Seal of the United States, at the Department of State, or it was…

Between 1782 and 1885, four dies were created as replacements were needed, with minor changes or heraldic corrections each time. But since 1885, the die’s design has been fixed. It was installed inside a new press in 1904, and in 1986, the current die, along with a master die from which all future dies may be created, was put into service. An officer of the Department of State uses the Great Seal for 2-3,000 official statements, treaty documents, ambassadorial appointments, and such, per year. It is most widely seen via its depictions on the back of the $1 bill and the covers of US passports.

Untitled (Art In Embassies), 2018, 8 x 8 x 1 ft, inkjet print on fabric, powder-coated aluminum, plastic; ed. 1/3+1AP installation view, US Embassy, Peru, 12 Apr 2018

With this context in mind, I hereby announce a new work, Untitled (Art In Embassies), which went on exhibition this week in some courtyard at the US Embassy in Lima, Peru. It comprises a pop-up The Great Seal step & repeat tradeshow photo-opp backdrop and thirteen folding chairs, arranged in a circle.

The installation is visible in these photos showing the US’ official representative to the Summit of the Americas, a relative of the president with no experience or actual role, who cannot obtain a security clearance because she and her family are under criminal investigation; eleven alumnae of some economic development grant programs of the previous administration; and someone’s tio.

Previously, related:
Untitled (Presidential Seal), 2017, ed. 25+5AP
The Great Letterpress of the United States
How ya like How Ya Like Me Now?

For Sale: Flavin Sketch, Never Realized

Dan Flavin, untitled (to Marianne) 2, 70, executed in 1972, ink and graphite on paper, image via christies 2018

Ciao, come stai? Welcome back from Italy,  untitled (to Marianne) 2!

In 2011 I was puzzled by this Dan Flavin work on paper being sold at Christie’s. It sure looked like a diagram for a light work, and it was described in Leo Castelli’s inventory as such, but one which had never been realized. It ended up in the Tiffany Bell light works catalogue raisonné as a sketch, not an orphaned certificate. [Flavin did not recognize orphaned certificates, or orphaned hardware. If you were missing one or the other, you were SOL and your work was, too.] This work’s inscribed with the date 1970 and “executed in 1972,” which adds to the piece’s excitement.

It found a new home, for £20,000. And now it’s back. Christie’s is auctioning it again, online, this week, as PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION, MILAN. The estimate is GBP 15,000 – 20,000, and I’m sure it’s a bargain at twice the price.

Which is just about what it was estimated to sell for last May in Milan, the first work of Flavin’s ever offered at the illustrious regional auction house of Farsetti Arte, who reports it sold for EUR30,000 [risultati, pdf].

If it did, it probably just got left off the Christie’s provenance by accident. Or if the sale didn’t go through, the IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTOR got to live with it for another year, a privilege that is now being valued, graciously, I’m sure, at around EUR 10,000.

Allora & Calzadilla, Puerto Rican Light, 2015-2017, installation view via dia

Meanwhile, the Flavin world has been a hotbed of discourse. From 2015-17 Allora & Calzadilla installed a Flavin light work in a Puerto Rican cave. The project was a commission from Dia, who published the Bell catalogue raisonné, and it went against the wishes of the Flavin Estate, run by the the artist’s son Stephen.

In her review of this, the third instantiation of Puerto Rican Light, Irene V. Small quoted and, arguably, refuted Flavin: “All posthumous interpretations are less. I know this. So I would rather see it all disappear into the wind. Take it all away.”

Meanwhile the Estate has kept busy by selling posthumous editions of works unrealized by the time of the artist’s death, editions it had once officially declared closed.

Posthumous? Only your dealer knows for sure! untitled (to Harry Coper, master potter), installation view at Vito Schnabel in St Moritz, photo: Kenny Schachter

Vito Schnabel showed some in St. Moritz last season, and Kenny Schachter said there was some vagueness about their status. Nothing mentioned in the press release, except the Gallery’s new collaboration with the Estate, and the light works being described as “proposals”. Indeed!

I would think that in such a dynamic conceptual environment, there must be a way for untitled (to Marianne) 2 to exist as an actual, physical light work. You know what, this is something that’s changed since 2011, too. Now we make things happen! If you buy this drawing, and Stephen won’t make this into a light work for you, I will. I’ve got a “proposal”, so HMU.

UPDATE: Congratulations to the new owner (assuming you paid the GBP18,750, obv). If the Estate is not your thing, drop me a line, and I will make you one of mine.

Online Only, ends 17 Apr 2018, Lot 18: Dan Flavin, untitled (to Marianne) 2 [christies]
Asta Contemporanea, Prato 26-27 Maggio 2017, Lot 503: Dan Flavin
[farsettiarte.it]

Satelloons Over Manhattan

It’s been a while, too long, since I’ve had a good, old-fashioned satelloon post around here, and wow, is this one.

Arthur C. Clarke & Stanley Kubrick looking through the Questar on the terrace of Kubrick’s CPW penthouse, 1964, image: Kubrick deutsches filmmuseum catalogue via: 2001Italia.it

On March 31, 1964, Stanley Kubrick wrote to Arthur C. Clarke in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka, obv), asking to meet to explore the possibility of working together–and for advice on buying a larger telescope than the Questar model he already had. Clarke responded immediately, and added a visit with Kubrick to his New York City itinerary just three weeks later.

As Michael Benson recounts in his new book, timed to the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the film 2001, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece, it went pretty well. AND THEN SOME:

After shaking hands on their deal, or at least their intention to negotiate one, Clarke and Kubrick repaired to the patio. They had established a real rapport over the past month, and any guardedness had long since dropped. Both were excited and didn’t mind showing it. It had been a beautiful late-spring day, with temperatures reaching 75 degrees, and was now a perfectly mild evening, with a crescent Moon hanging in a slight haze several degrees above the southeastern horizon. Thankfully the building’s heating system had been switched off weeks before, and the ash-spewing chimney was now silent. To the south, all of Midtown Manhattan was spread out before them, its lights twinkling.

Suddenly they noticed a brilliantly bright, unwavering point of white light rising above the horizon in the southwest.

Continue reading “Satelloons Over Manhattan”

Untitled (Avoidable), 2018–

Each of the five elements in Tony Smith’s sculpture Wandering Rocks (1967) has a name: Smohawk, Shaft, Dud, Slide, and Crocus.

 

Wandering Rocks National Gallery of Art installation view, image via nga.gov

Of the edition of five, at least one Wandering Rocks is installed indoors. The National Gallery’s is on the lawn [above]. The Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park’s, which is the artist’s proof, was previously installed on and around a woodchipped path [below].

Tony Smith’s Wandering Rocks Olympic Sculpture Park 2012 installation view, image via seattlepublicart.com

Wandering Rocks has since been moved.

Wandering Rocks, OSP 2018 installation view, image via: tylergreendc

This installation seems a deliberate mockery of the plaque at the OSP, which is a quote from Smith:

What is my intention? It is a new measure of man, in forms of free space, in terms of space that is defined but not enclosed, in terms of measurable space that flows so subtly into the infinite that it is impossible to know where the boundaries of art and nature lie…”

Placing art is hard. Placing sculpture in public is harder still. So many decisions can detract from the experience of art, or can thwart the artist’s intentions. With close looking and self-awareness, it is often possible to overcome these environmental obstacles and appreciate what the artist has accomplished. Additional benefit can be gained by understanding what the curator’s intentions might have been, too, whether or not they achieve them.

For the experienced art viewer, it is a special challenge to appreciate the work and understand its context while identifying the flaws, errors, or shortcomings that mar its presentation. A wonky spotlight. No benches. Audio bleeding from the video installation two galleries away. One or two of these, we can let slide. When such seemingly avoidable distractions pile up, though, and threaten to ruin an art experience, perhaps a conceptual artistic exercise can help.

To deal with unnecessarily problematic encounters with art, I propose to turn the third most egregious or annoying thing about it into a new work of its own. It may not solve the problems you identify, but maybe you’ll get some relief from art’s power to give significance and meaning to your annoyance. Maybe the thrill of discovering installfails and the interpretative exercise of ranking them will become a reassuring relief, if not a delight, when you look at art.

the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.

Wrote Duchamp, who could not have imagined a work whose form–indeed, its entire existence–is predicated on the spectator’s decision to conjure it through affront.

Now, I don’t want to uncritically gamify your museum visits. Being compelled to contemplate an artwork about your connoisseurship of annoyance could become infuriating if it begins to intrude on. Every. Freaking. Poorly glazed. Painting. In the place. But it could also lead to an awakening, a liberation from the burdens of the imperfections of the external world, which in turn fosters deeper encounters with the art in front of you. Deciding not to conjure the work by deciding not to log more than one or two annoying things in an encounter is a valid, and powerful, option.

Untitled (Avoidable), 2018, dimensions variable, the third most annoying thing about an art installation or encounter, image: tylergreendc

And so in honor of the eagle-eyed spotting of the sprinkler cover sitting in the lawn next to Wandering Rocks, between the otherwise unremarked-upon stanchions and the steel cheese grater fence, I have designated this work Untitled (Avoidable).

May it be ever at your service. Send pics.

Previously, slightly related:
On Tomason, or the flipside of dame architecture
Tomasons and Akasegawa Genpei, translated

Better Read #021 – Federal Painted Portrait Ban

Artist Joy Thomas and the John Brysons posing with his official Commerce Secretary portrait, Sept. 2012. image: joythomasart.com

As Artnet reported last week, in the wake of the unprecedented popularity of the National Portrait Gallery’s new portraits of the Obamas, Donald Trump signed a law banning the use of federal funds for painted portraits of government officials and employees. As the Obamas’ portraits were funded with private donations, the law would have no effect.

The text in this edition is the law, S.188, first sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, who took issue with the commissioning of a $22,400 portrait of an Obama-era cabinet official who stepped down before the portrait was even finished to recover from a severe car accident.

It bans federal funds being used “for the painting of a portrait of an officer or employee of the Federal Government,” and then goes on to specify the Executive and Legislative organizations to which the law applies. There is no specific mention of the law’s applying to the Judicial branch of the federal government, or to unmentioned independent entities like the Smithsonian, NASA, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the Federal Reserve Bank, just to name four that come to mind. But perhaps the ban on any Federal employee is broad enough.

The implications for this law are as yet unknown. Perhaps it will lead to an expansion of photography-based portraiture, including, hypothetically, portraits by artists that rival the expense of paintings. Perhaps artists will create official paintings that are somehow not technically portraits, or at least not representational. Scott Pruitt could be depicted by a painted picture of the $25,000 concrete phone booth he had installed in his EPA office, for example. Or Ryan Zinke could be included as a small but still recognizable figure dwarfed by the active face of a giant, publicly subsidized coal stripmine.

Perhaps artists will paint the portrait for free with purchase of a frame, or a $31,000 office dining set, or a $125,000 door. Perhaps lobbyists, corporations, or others who wish to ingratiate themselves with a government official will donate their extravagantly expensive portraits, or commission them from the official’s dabbling wife. Perhaps painters will donate the portrait to an auction gala for a fake charity run by the president’s family and held at the president’s hotel, and the subject will need to bid his own portrait to a sufficiently high amount that he can keep his cabinet job another year. Or perhaps George W. Bush will paint them all.

Download Better Read #021: Painted Portrait Ban [greg.org, mp3, 8:47, 4.2mb]

Not Untitled (Sold Out)

Lots 365, 369, and 388 in Wright20’s art & design sale, 19 Apr 2018

A pre-emptive note: I have seen Carl Auböck’s 1950s-era stone and leather paperweights coming up for auction at Wright20 in a few weeks.

Though they bear a superficial formal resemblance, they do not quality as editions of Untitled (Sold Out).  If you submit them for authentication, please be assured that I have logged their dimensions, patina, and images, and I will know immediately that you did not buy them at a Nordstrom’s Christmas 2016 pop-up shop, so please save me the hassle and you the certain public embarrassment.

19 Apr 2018 Lots 365, 369, and 388: Carl Auböck II, Paperweights, est. $1000-1500 each [wright20.com]
Previously, related but not: Untitled (Sold Out), 2017, Leather-wrapped stone from Nordstrom

You Mean The Hicri Who Hung Out With Jasper Johns?

Hicri brushing Jasper Johns’ cat, next to a Warhol Heinz box, with a monkey in a cage in the background, October 1971 image:Suzi Gablik papers, AAA/SI

Hi, are you or do you know Hicri, the 10 year-old or so kid in the picture brushing Jasper Johns’ cat? With the grape-eating monkey in a cage behind you? If so, I’d love to hear your story.

This was October 1971, Johns had his studio at The Bank, as it was called, a sprawling 1912 building at 225 East Houston St, on the corner of Essex. Artist/writer Suzi Gablik took these photos and captioned them in her scrapbook as Hicri & Jap. Gablik’s scrapbooks are now in the Archives of American Art.

It’s possible Hicri’d hang out there while his mother or some other family members worked for Johns; there’s a snapshot of Hicri in Johns’ kitchen corner, surrounded by the preparations for a meal or a party. There’s a photo of Hicri helping Jap carry stuff to a cab, and it’s labeled “Off to St. Maartens.”

Some folks at the AAA had wondered what Johns’ cat’s name was, and I thought Hicri might know. He’d probably be 57-58 by now. (Hicri, that is, not the cat.) Me, I just wonder what it was like hanging around the studio back then; it seems unimaginable, but probably memorable. So Hicri, HMU.

Continue reading “You Mean The Hicri Who Hung Out With Jasper Johns?”

I See Dead People

Alice Neel, Dead Father, 1946
Dana Schutz, Emmett Till, 2016, image of painting installed at the 2017 Whitney Biennial via Washington Post

A reader, Jon Auman, who is amused by my sense of art mystery, recently sent along a pairing of paintings. He saw Alice Neel’s 1946 Dead Father (above) in the catalogue of a Thomas Amman show in Zurich, and it reminded him of Dana Schutz’s Emmett Till.

For all but a few days after the Whitney Biennial opened, it has been beside The Point, if not impossible, to consider Schutz’s painting as a painting, not as a cultural flashpoint. But Auman’s noticed what I think is a real reference for Schutz, and it’s one that has not been raised or discussed publicly, afaik.

The immediately received and problematic genesis of Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till is the photograph of Till’s murdered body in an open casket that his mother Mamie Till caused to be published to protest his unjust killing. The most widely circulated of those photos was just young Emmett’s face, and it’s reasonable to accept that Schutz’s gashed painted surface was inspired by that picture. But other photos of the funeral reveal that Till’s body, his casket, and his surroundings, do not resemble Schutz’s depiction at all. Her painting is not a documentation; it is her construction. Which, of course it is.

And Neel’s painting of her own father’s funeral is pretty clearly a reference. Unlike her more famous portraits, Neel painted Dead Father from memory, a deliberate remove from experience and observation. Looking for a clean image of it brought up another Neel painting I’d forgotten, which feels even more relevant.

Alice Neel, Death of Mother Bloor, 1951

In 1951 Alice Neel painted Death of Mother Bloor, which shows the public funeral in Harlem of Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor, the revered American Communist organizer and suffragist, who died in the midst of McCarthy’s witch hunts. Like Schutz, Neel cast a sympathetic eye on the historic funeral of a politically controversial figure, and constructed a painting unconstrained by photography’s documentary assertions.

Ella Reeve Bloor funeral, August 1951, photographed for LIFE by Bernard Hoffman

In 2012, Dana Schutz talked with Jarrett Earnest at length about her painterly influences, or artists she admires. A lot of what she sees is construction. She doesn’t mention Neel, but I think it’s worth asking.