One of the big questions we set out to answer when writing about Yayoi Kusama for ARTnews was how does the artist keep making so much work, of increasing scale and complexity, well into her 90s? Kusama has always worked at a relentless, obsessive pace; it’s as much a part of her story as of her practice. But her most high-profile work of the last decade especially–Infinity Mirror Rooms, installations, and giant pumpkins–and her many large-scale museum exhibitions, obviously requires an extensive organizational and fabrication infrastructure. How does that work, and who’s really in control of it?
I visited the National Gallery as soon as it reopened because I could. On the last day before everything shut down in March, I debated rushing down to see this kind of minor-seeming show of European plein air painting, but I passed. Except for Degas, it was the only show open, so I saw it, and was buoyed by these small paintings, most of them basically sketches in oil, with a freedom and looseness that would come to be associated with the Impressionists only decades later. These were minor, low stakes paintings, mostly by minor, and sometimes even unknown artists, and they communicated the simplicity and directness of their making.
Which is all fine, but on the way to the exhibition, in a gallery most everyone was just passing through, there were small French paintings from the collection, including four Manets. After unexpectedly weeping in front of a late arrangement of flowers in a crystal vase, I turned to see the National Gallery has two Manet portraits of dogs. Two!
The National Gallery has seventeen Manet paintings, and two are of dogs. What’s more remarkable, statistically, anyway, is that Manet only painted eight dog portraits, and the NGA has a full quarter of them. In the fifty years since Manet’s catalogue raisonée was updated, only two others have been reproduced in color. Others don’t appear to have been seen since at least 1932; some have no history at all beyond their original owner 140 years ago. Manet’s dog portraits are not considered important; in fact, they’re barely considered at all. But I am now fascinated with them.
At the end of February/the beginning of March, just as the Covid-19 pandemic started impacting the US, I was asked to make sense of the increasingly broad and intense interest in Yayoi Kusama and her work. As someone who’s looked at her work and tried to get smart about it for more than 25 years, I had tried to stop being surprised at how popular Kusama’s work has become–and I repeatedly failed. I just could not account for it. But I welcomed the challenge to figure it out.
Fortunately, there has been a surge of recent historical and academic interest, and a huge blind spot where Kusama’s Japanese career is concerned. So as museums and library shutdowns loomed, I dashed around town, taking snapshots of every Kusama-related publication the Smithsonian had: more than 1,500 pages, and then I started reading, and contacting scholars and curators and dealers, some of whom were very responsive to my inquiries. For their time and insights, I am very grateful. For those who did important work and never responded, I guess thanks for your work. For the unexpectedly large number of folks who did not respond at all, my interest is piqued.
The resulting article was published in the Summer issue of ARTnews, and is now available online. I’m fairly pleased with it, and am especially grateful to the editors at the magazine who helped guide and shape this look at an artist whose ambition and tenacity are absolutely unparalleled; Kusama has made transcendent, groundbreaking artwork while overcoming immense obstacles, both from within and without. I think her work holds a mirror up to the art world and how it’s changed in her 70+ year career.
A month before Art Basel, Thom Browne engaged Cultural Counsel to develop his profile as an artist and unveil his first ever public artwork in Miami’s Design District. Tol bolster our traditional PR strategy, we secured a high profile curator Deana Hagag, CEO Of United States Artists, for the installation, an programmed a panel with Thom Browne, Artforum Editor-in-Chief David Velasco, and Haggag, creating a strong foundation for the designer to build his art world credibility. Our VIP guests for the opening included Diplo, Jamian Juliano-Villani, and Kimberly Drew.
Thom Browne, the designer, is an established visionary in the fashion world, acclaimed for his cropped suits and unorthodox approach to tailored separates. But Thom Browne the artist has, until now, maintained relative obscurity.
Browne has been making art on the down-low for the better part of a decade. He paints minimalist compositions inspired by Pointillist techniques, and counts giants of 20th-century American painting—from Milton Avery to Andrew Wyeth to Edward Hopper—as influences. Browne has also dabbled in sculpture, integrating those works over the years into fashion runway shows that are more like full-blown thespian extravaganzas than industry events.
In his view, clothing was only a piece of a larger creative project for a designer with no formal training, but a strong taste for iconography and pageantry. So he dotted his runway shows with his installations, continued to privately paint, and waited. He had a one-off portrait in a 2014 group show at the Metropolitan Opera, but he continued to be known as a designer.
“It’s not that much of a secret,” Browne said in his office recently, referring to his longtime art practice. “I think the secret would be more opening it up to show to people.” For the most part, he thought, it was simply unclear that the installation for his 2013 Amish-inspired collection or the 2009 performance he staged for his show in Florence were meant to stand on their own.
After keeping his fine-art practice more or less under wraps for years, Browne is finally stepping out with his first-ever public artwork: a 21-foot-tall likeness of a palm tree that will go on view in Miami’s Moore Building come December 5, when Art Basel Miami Beach opens to the public.
“All this time, Thom has been…upending rigid gender assumptions, exploring uniformity and individuality, and investigating the monotony of everyday life,’” says the project’s curator, Deana Haggag, who is also the president and CEO of the nonprofit United States Artists. “We’ve become accustomed to reckoning with some of these tensions, but Thom has been consistently and meticulously considering them for years. I think it’s tremendous that we finally get to see him expand fully into this artistic dimension of his making practice.”
Painting, Browne says, is the medium that currently interests him the most, but performance remains his bread and butter. While Palm Tree I doesn’t move, Browne considers the sculpture to be a performative artwork, “in the way that it invites the viewer to interact with the piece and the environment made for it through the sandpit and mirror,” he explains.
In the Spring of 2020, Cultural Counsel worked with Thom Browne to launch an international campaign around their Samsung cellphone, staging an event to unveil the collaboration at Sotheby’s in New York. Cultural Counsel handled guest list management, on-site support, and targeted media outreach that resulted in top-tier coverage in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Vogue, GQ, and Vanity Fair.
Though Browne said fashion remains his primary outlet, he debuted his first stand-alone sculptural installation at Art Basel Miami in December. The Sotheby’s performance continued in that vein. “This performance was more art performance than fashion,” Browne said, “that’s what I told the models that were actually in the performance.”
At the beginning of the performance, rows of models sat at desks with typewriters in front of them, frozen in an eerie quiet. One model by one, a standing ringleader activated them to begin their task: an athletic bout of typing. By the time he made it to all the desks, the room was clattering with keys, until the latter of a pair of phone calls eventually ended the din, one typewriter by one, and the models processed out of the room with their workdays complete.
Ermenegildo Zegna acquired an 85% stake in Thom Browne at a $500 million valuation in 2018, which appeared to leave the future of the brand secure. “In the past I did collaborations of course that I was proud of,” Browne said on Wednesday, “but more to keep the business going. Now I don’t really need to do collaborations, so I only do collaborations with companies who make a product that I really, really believe in.”
The main problem with Browne’s commitment to his silhouette, then, might have been that it worked. He described himself as permanently restless, and after the Zegna acquisition and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ and FC Barcelona’s public embraces, where to go next if not Miami in December? “After a while, people—I don’t think they get bored—but they expect more,” Browne said. “And I think now is the perfect time to show them different sides.”
Until I got to the last paragraph, I could not figure out why Browne needed to be identified as an artist to launch a Fashion Week phone collabo, but this is all inspo for all artists looking for innovative ways to support their practice, whether painting, sculpture, or performance. If I ever find footage or a transcript of the panel discussion, I will add it here. [h/t]
I was looking for the Life Magazine photo Andy Warhol used in the summer of 1964 to make his World’s Fair replacement mural, Robert Moses 25 Times, and this was not it.
It’s from “Throttle The Fair–the Public Be Damned,” an article that ran the week the Fair opened, in the April 24th issue. The photo is captioned, “The Victim”:
Only because he is the head of a huge extravaganza–the New York World’s Fair–is Robert Moses the target of militant Negroes. They are led by a 22-year-old zealot named Isiah Brunson, who, spelling out his threat last week, said, “We’re going to block every street that can get you anywhere near the World’s Fair–and give New York the biggest traffic jam it’s ever had. If people are made uncomfortable by it, good! Maybe they’ll get some idea how uncomfortable it is to be a Negro in this city.”
Life is just being coy; there were many reasons for Blacks to protest against Moses. The Brooklyn Chapter of CORE, which Brunson chaired, had been protesting against discriminatory trade union hiring practices during construction of the Fair for more than a year. In addition to access to union jobs, Brooklyn CORE was calling for a citywide rent strike, and the investigation of police brutality.
Brunson proposed a stall-in, where thousands of Black drivers would run out of gas and block all the access roads to the World’s Fair on opening day. The city was worried enough about it, Life reported, that they hastily passed a law making it illegal to run out of gas. In the end, the stall-in did not shut down, or even slow down the Fair. But by deploying broader inconvenience, instead of targeted shame, the stall-in was a model for expanding awareness and the impact of a protest action beyond, say, an unaccountable and inveterate racist politico–or a biased white media outlet.
Anyway, the smiley Moses photo Warhol used came from a 1962 Life puff piece which, how did he land on that? did he have a clipping service? Did he go to the library topical guide? Holy smokes, October 22, 1962? Just weeks before Warhol getting the commission paperwork? What if a giant portrait of Moses was the *first* idea for the World’s Fair mural?
Here is Fred McDarrah’s photo of Andy Warhol partying at the Factory on April 21, 1964, the night of the opening of his Brillo &c. boxes show at the Stable Gallery. The Sculls threw the party, even though it was at the Factory. That’s, from left, Tom Wesselman, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Warhol, and Claes Oldenburg. Behind them is a diptych of mugshots from Warhol’s New York Pavilion mural, Thirteen Most Wanted Men, which had been destroyed just days before this photo was taken, and before the World’s Fair even opened.
I’ve never been satisfied with explanations of why the mural was painted over with silver. But I blame pavilion architect, art curator, and unremorseful nazi Philip Johnson, who knew the subject–mugshots from an NYPD brochure–told Warhol to keep quiet about it, and then apparently caved within a day of the publication of a Fair preview by a Hearst-owned tabloid that criticized the mural as “Thugs at the Fair,” in which an NYPD spokesman questioned how Warhol had obtained these internal police documents.
On Friday, April 17, after two days of who knows what, Warhol sent an unsigned, one-sentence letter to the New York State Department of Public Works, Division of Architecture:
This serves to confirm that you are hereby authorized to paint over my mural in the New York State Pavilion in a color suitable to the architect.
The architect apparently decided silver was suitable. I think the Times ran this image on the 17th, so the letter was just ex-post-facto CYA. In the aftermath of the mural’s destruction, Warhol decorated his party with images from the project he’d worked on for almost a year and a half. The dates are otherwise unclear, and I haven’t read The Biography*, but Warhol had moved into the Factory in November 1963, and maybe it was painted silver by April, too.
But the images are reversed. [This perp is center right on the mural.] And it looks like a double register. This other McDarrah photo from a second earlier, a print of which is in the collection of the Nasher Museum, shows light reflecting off the mugshots. These are not double-printed outtakes, but the full-scale transparencies used to make the screens, casting shadows on the wall behind them. These ghosts of the mural destroyed just a couple of days before were now decoration for Warhol’s party.
Almost three months later, the Times is still on it, and Warhol feels the need to say the mural was painted over because one guy was pardoned, and so it’s not valid anymore, and he’s working on inspiration for a replacement. That was in July, when he went to the trouble of making 25 panel portraits of World’s Fair commissioner Robert Moses, which were rejected in some paper trail-less way. And which cannot be random; did Philip Johnson pin the blame on Moses? Another, much later conversation used to explain the destruction had Henry Geldzahler and Johnson citing Nelson Rockefeller’s fears of offending Italian American voters in an election year. If that was his choice, between Rockefeller and Warhol, is there any question which way Johnson would go? When the chips were down, Johnson loved power more than art, and he threw Warhol and his rough trade artwork under the bus of New York politics.
Anyway, I now think more about how this must have sucked for Warhol, who spent so much time before–and after–having to destroy his biggest project to date. Not sure what to do with my sympathy for him, except to recommit to bringing his destroyed mural panels back into existence.
Update: Blake kindly shared the section of his Warhol biography dealing with the mural [my copy is inaccessible atm in storage], and basically all this is in there and more, including: the newspaper column by the highly influential Jimmy Breslin singling out the mural for Archie Bunker-grade criticism basically as soon as it went up; a fierce anti-gay crackdown across the city in the run-up to the Fair; the menu for Wynn Chamberlain and Warhol’s dinner where the most wanted idea came from; and so much more. Thanks!
Update a month later: and I found my copy of Larissa Harris’s exhibition catalogue, and slowed down to read it, and of course, it’s all in there, too.
“I realized that from the small windows of my studio, I could not hear the sounds of honking cars or people shouting. I could hear the birds chirping energetically and sound of wind in the trees, and I looked up and saw the bright sky, beautiful as ever despite the changed world beneath it.” –Sho Shibuya, via Spoon & Tamago
Sho Shibuya began photographing the sunrise during the pandemic lockdown in New York City. By late April he was translating these photographs into gradient paintings. He cut portrait-shaped rectangles and applied them to examples of his print and graphic design work. On April 27, he taped off and painted the sunrise directly onto the front page of the print edition of that day’s New York Times.
By May 24, Shibuya’s sunrise filled the entire front page of the Times, just like the names of 100,000 people who’d died from COVID-19.
On June 2 he replaced the sunrise with a black monochrome field in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On June 7 he painted the sunrise on plywood barriers that had been erected in SoHo after police brutality-related violence and looting. On June 28 he painted six rainbow flag-colored monochromes on inside pages of the Times for Gay Pride.
On July 1 he released a video and gallery of the 30 NYT sunrises he painted in June. On July 2 he showed two days’ Sunrise/Sunset from a small window, paintings on square acrylic sheets in which two inverted gradients are superimposed on each other. On the July 4 Times he painted a David Hammons-style African American Flag.
On Kawara often included a clipping from a local newspaper in the cardboard boxes he built for his Date Paintings; most often, he was in New York, so it was the Times.
Byron Kim began making his Sunday Paintings, square sections of the Brooklyn sky, in 2001 as part of a practice goal of completing (at least) one painting a week. He transcribes information from his diary onto their surfaces in pencil. Kim showed over 100 Sunday Paintings in 2018, including new ones painted during the exhibition.
We see painting projects like Kawara’s and Kim’s as related to the passage of time, of course, but not necessarily as strategies for just getting through the day. In an article that is due to drop any day now, I wrote about a particular practice of art for daily survival: “The kind of singular accomplishment that can fortify a troubled mind, but can also accumulate to greater effect.” Shibuya’s NYT Sunrises convey a highly focused, abstracted experience during an exceptional and terrifying time, and now that he’s through it, that view of the world is expanding.
Because I’ve been researching Duchamp’s earliest days in New York, I looked for Ruckstahl’s take on the 1913 Armory Show, where Nude Descending a Staircase was famously shown, or the 1917 Independent Exhibition, where Fountain famously wasn’t.
The short answer, that this outspoken critic of modern art had nothing to say about the most influential artist of the modern era, is worth bookmarking for later, when thinking of how art/information travels, and how history is constructed. Because The Art World did publish scathing commentary on the Independent, but it was so preoccupied by the travesties perpetrated by every “aesthetic insanity from cubism to futurism” against the ideal beauty of the female nude, it missed its greatest scoop.
In their takedown of the 1917 Independent in New York, The Art World warned that without proper gatekeeping, Art would be sullied by the kind of modernist hoax that befell the 1910 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. That’s where a Parisian critic submitted an abstract painting by a fictional Italian artist from a fabricated art movement, which–honhonhon!–turned out to have been painted by the tail of a donkey in a Montmartre cabaret.
The set of six Cicadas were created by overprinting a cache of prints leftover from the original red/yellow/blue 1979 edition, to see what it’s like when one color tops another.
“The Cicada title has to do with the image of something bursting through its skin, which is what they do,” Johns said in a 1980 documentary. “You have all those shells where the back splits and they’ve emerged. And basically that kind of splitting form is what I tried to suggest”.
Join me and 13 other museums and museum-like private collections in embedding Arthur Jafa’s incredible “Love is the Message; the Message is Death” [2016, ed. 13+2 AP] on my front page for the next day or so.
“I am thrilled for the opportunity, finally, to have as many people as possible see ‘Love is the Message, The Message is Death,’” Jafa said.
Close t0 100K views so far, 300 simultaneous viewers at a time. Masks off and huddle up, let’s get this data to spike. Not that we can watch, collect, or curate our way out of this mess we’re in.
[Previously linked to: https://www.ustream.tv/embed/4222323]
The conversation in the second roundtable organized by sunhaus.us has barely started, and already the fact that most everyone saw the work first on a bootleg, and then marking the change between the first viewing and this moment, and the fear that exists now, is very important.
now 35min in, they’re talking about how this video was originally going to end up on the internet before it was pulled into the art world, and now here it is.
Everyone’s good, but Simone White is amazing, flat out.
I mean, this is a jpg of it, or a composite, or a rendering, or I just don’t even know what it is. Imagine making a 10-foot tall object in 1986 that becomes an image like this 34 years later. Amazing.
If that’s confusing, here’s a detail? I think I know what this is, but it would not surprise me to learn it is actually a vector graphic.
Just as Kelly created his works by abstracting the shapes and colors and lines he saw in the world around him, I feel like I could spend the rest of my life making work of the jpgs of Ellsworth Kellys.