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.

Gursky Street View

Andreas Gursky, Utah, 2017, at the Hayward Gallery, London, thru Apr 2018

Whether it heals all wounds, time does cool all hot takes. When the Gursky show opened at the Hayward Gallery in January, I was immediately set off by this kicker from Laura Cumming’s review in The Guardian:

But the show’s masterpiece is unlike almost anything Gursky has made before. It is a new work, a single shot of some prefab houses skimmed on a mobile phone while driving through Utah. The photograph registers the speed of the car racing through the landscape – and modern life – in all its random glitches and blurs. At the same time, the houses look perilously ephemeral against the ancient mountains behind them. This fragile little thing, a spontaneous and disposable shot, is enlarged to the size of a cinema screen – a monumental homage to the mobile phone and the outsize role it plays in depicting our times.

Not just Gursky using a phonecam, but Gursky doing something new? Now that is news.

In addition to the phone and all its quotidian implications, what caught my attention was the subject: Utah. I had, just a couple of weeks before, driven along the very road in southern Utah as Gursky. I was also in the middle of a two-month mess on my server, which necessitated rebuilding my blog and its underlying software and databases. But that could wait until I identified the precise stretch of highway Gursky had captured. So I set out again, on Google Street View.

From the geology and the development, it was possible to narrow down the site of Gursky’s photos to the roads around Zion National Park, and east from Zion and Kanab, toward Grand Escalante and Staircase National Monuments. The sections of this rural, two-lane highway with guard rails and fresh blacktop were even fewer. And none of it matched.

This section of Utah is very sparsely populated, and very few roads cross it at all. So the options dwindled very quickly. But on the road between St George and the border-straddling polygamist towns of Hildale, UT and Colorado City, AZ,  I recognized the striated mountain range immediately. But there were no houses at all.

outside Hildale, UT, image: gsv

Which, two things: it’s now obviously a composite. But before that, those poles. Gursky’s original image is full of blurs and artifacts, including what are apparently some disembodied pole fragments. These artifacts, coupled with the disparate blur on houses, patios, guard rail, etc., led me to assume Gursky had experimented with an iPhone’s panorama feature from a moving car. That he was exploiting the stitching algorithm of the phone, a source of found digital manipulation.

Google Street View saw what Gursky saw, or vice versa

But of course, this turned out not to be the case. What hit me during these first few days was that this Gursky was being presented as a single image when it was now obviously a composite.

And so I set out to find the site of the other, lower half. Which, with every Streetviewed mile, was turning out to be an entirely fictional, constructed composition. While trying to rebuild my webserver I wandered the highways again, finding this or that house; meanwhile the more accurate version of Gursky’s process emerged: that he’d taken photos with a phone, and then returned to reshoot sites with his regular camera, and–like always–he just fixed the whole thing in post.

So my Gursky bust turned into a Guardian factcheck. And I was left dissatisfied, again, by Gursky’s view, even as I grew intrigued by Google’s. I found myself indexing the differences: vantage point, height, date, blur, glitch, and stitching. I imagined Streetview’s rooftop, panoramic compositor, and Gursky’s passenger driveby–which turned out to be a tripod on the shoulder. And I tried to imagine what it’s like for a maker of ambitiously scaled images to work in a world where giant companies are constantly taking a picture of the entire earth. Maybe the better digital analog for Gursky’s practice isn’t Google at all, but etsy.

Gursky Street View, v.1, 2018 –

In good etsy form, I have knocked off Gursky’s image by collaging the elements I’ve found. If/as I find more, I’ll add them until…until what? I don’t know, I guess until it’s done, or I get bored. If you see something say something.

Interest In The Medium: SUPERFLEX On Canvas

SUPERFLEX on Canvas, 1995, image via: superflex.net

In 1995 SUPERFLEX, they write, “was invited to participate in a painting exhibition (Painting after Painting), although they had never shown any interest in this medium. Fascinated with the International Klein Blue (IKB) they worked with several specialists in painting methods. No one knew how to copy Klein’s method of fixing the pigment to the surface of the painting, so SUPERFLEX went ahead with their own attempt, resulting in an orange painting entitled SUPERFLEX on Canvas.”

Which is relevant because the vaunted patent Klein was awarded for IKB related not to the color, or the pigment itself, but to the binding of the medium to the pigment. [Also it was not really a patent, so much as a registration, and it never had any applicability outside France. What matters now is trademark, and the Klein estate’ll getcha.]

The polyvinyl acetate that paint store chemist Edouard Adam paired with Ultramarine Blue pigment to create IKB is called Rhodopas M60A, and is sold by Adam Montmartre, the family’s fourth-generation paint shop, as Médium Adam 25.

All of which SUPERFLEX probably figured out by 2013, because that’s the date on the SUPERFLEX on Canvas, now happily available in an edition of 3, in “Whatever Works,” their career-spanning show at 1301PE, their longtime Los Angeles gallery.

SUPERFLEX on Canvas 1995/2013, Dry orange pigment, polymer medium on cotton over plywood, 78.35 x 60.24 inches, Edition of 3 (now) and The Campaign (which used to be called Meetings, apparently), 1994, installed in “Whatever Works” at 1301PE through last week.

I heartily support their sustained or renewed interest in the medium.

SUPERFLEX: Whatever Works, 19 Jan – 3 Mar 2018 [1301pe]
SUPERFLEX on Canvas, 1995 [superflex.net]

Previously, related:
SUPERFLEX’s Hospial Equipment: Context is Everything
I Copy Therefore I Am SUPERFLEX
Faux Sol Mio: SUPERFLEX/ FREE SOL LEWITT
International Jarman Blue

Minus Object, Plus-Sized

Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Minus Objects installation in his live-in studio, 1965-66; photo: Brassa via Flashart

Thanks to grupaok, I’d been looking at Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Minus Objects a lot when my server ran into trouble last December.

Partly because I’ve been long contemplating tables as a platform for paintings, and Pistoletto made a table out of paintings.

Partly because Minus Objects was Pistoletto’s attempt at breaking [or “dismounting”] the capitalist system that rewarded/demanded artists produce in a recognizable style, and all he did was jump off his own market, and confuse his dealers. [Though curator Germano Celant caught on quickly, and made Minus Objects a critical foundation for his proposition of Arte Povera.] Partly because that whole concept is LMAO now that his selfie-friendly mirror paintings have roared back into vogue, anchoring art fair booths around the globe.

Where’s Jap? A Minus Objects installation shot from the 1967 print edition of Celant’s Arte Povera essay in Flash Art

But let’s face facts, it’s really because of that awesome, giant, unmounted photo of a slightly demonic Jasper Johns.

It looks very different from our post-Struffsky vantage point, but I’d imagine this object was especially problematic for the art context of its day. Just as tables & chairs and cardboard teetered on the functional and material boundaries around art, respectively, this headshot was thwarting the idea that it was just information.

In a conversation with Celant in 2014 [5:00], on the occasion of Luhring Augustine’s capacious restaging of the Minus Objects show in Bushwick, Pistoletto sounded very interested in the space between art and life:

I decided to be directly transforming a feeling or an idea into an object. Being in that condition, the dream of the night became part of the daily life. Because I was living in the studio, in that place, and the work became part of my life. It was like a living activity.

Burnt Rose, 1965, image: luhringaugustine.com

And I had a dream that I was looking around for cardboard, and was cutting cardboard, it was like a recipe to make a rose, that I had in my dream. And getting up in the morning I decided to realize this recipe that I was dreaming in the night. I find the cardboard in my studio, and I did exactly what was the dream, and the work was done.

At the end of the dream I was giving the fire to the center of the rose, and I did it.

Very Johns & Rauschenberg both. Anyway, as he later explained [46:00], the photo of Johns came about in a similar way:

Because I was living the occasion of the moment, and getting up in the morning, the mail arrived. There was an envelope, and inside a catalogue of Jasper Johns, a square catalogue with Jasper Johns, he was smiling. In the morning, I see this face smiling to me, and I say, “OK, I will blow up it.”…I thought this the morning The Smile arrived.

 

The Ears of Jasper Johns, 1966? 250 x 250? cm, 80 cm each

The installation photos show the single, giant photo.  And I always thought the cutout version, with The Ears of Jasper Johns came later. But Pistoletto says his idea was to make a 2×2 meter photo of The Smile, and that his printer only had meter-wide paper. The two sections are listed as each 80 cm wide. Everything’s 250cm tall. So there are some rounding issues, maybe, and the single pic is listed as 125 cm wide. Whether there was cropping or reprinting or both, I don’t know.

Minus Objects, 2014 installation view at Luhring Augustine Bushwick

In any case, I was taken with the idea of tracking down the original photo–I assume it’s in the square catalogue for the 1964 Whitehall Gallery show–and making a giant Smiling Johns myself. But I guess sometimes it’s good to wait? Because in the mean time, the press around the show at The Broad helped surface this photo of Johns:

4yo Jasper Johns in a South Carolina photobooth, image probably the artist’s, via nyt , now also Study for Foto di Jasper Johns, 2018, 200x280cm, digital inkjet print

And oh my gosh, now I want to make 2-meter wide versions of this in an edition of a million and hang them everywhere on earth.

Previously, slightly related:
How to make a giant, Steichen-style photomural
How to make an Ansel Adams photomural/folding screen

There Is Another Sheeler Photo Of Baroness Elsa’s Duchamp Portrait

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, 1920, photo: Charles Sheeler, published in the Little Reiew, 1922. image: brown.edu

After 6 years and 72 issues, I am sure glad Margaret C. Anderson hung in there to publish one more issue of her avant-garde poetry magazine The Little Review in the Winter of 1922. Because it includes a different Charles Sheeler photo of Baroness Elsa’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp.

The one that’s been floating around, via Duchamp dealer Frances Naumann, mostly, is a more clinical, perhaps Sheeler-esque photo [below].

Charles Sheeler
The Baroness’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, ca. 1920
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 x 7 5/8 inches, via francesnaumann

But besides the dramatic lighting, the Little Review version actually reveals more of the cocktail of feathers, gears, and flywheels that filled Baroness Elsa’s glass. Also it’s sitting on a plate.

All of this matters to me because this, my second favorite portrait of Duchamp after Florine Stettheimer’s, is lost, destroyed. And so this kind of documentation will help make a reconstitution of it truer to the original, and less of an inspired-by approximation.

Brown University and the University of Tulsa have digitized The Little Review as part of their Modernist Journals Project [brown.edu]

Previously, related Elsa-iana: In The Beginning

Untitled (No Evil Befall Thee), 2018

Untitled (No Evil Befall Thee), 2018, latex paint and crayon on door (if I ever refabricate this it’ll probably be written by my dad? idk) , trash bags, installation shot by @JacobGarchik

Vintage wood chopped in half, Biblical evocations written on architecture by anxious parents, folks on Twitter wondering aloud about “exorcism gone wrong?” Sounds to me like New York City’s caught a case of Danh Vo Fever!

[s/o to the OG Twitter Garbage Sculptor Jayson Musson]

Bob Adelman’s Rauschenberg Scene Photos

Bob Adelman photo of Jasper Johns & Robert Rauschenberg talking during a 1966 loft party. No offense, but that sad woman holds the composition together like a Degas watering can. image: bobadelman.net

In 1966 photographer Bob Adelman covered the scene around the Leo Castelli Gallery for New York Magazine, but the greatest photos in his deep dive archive are from parties at Robert Rauschenberg’s loft.  By 1966 Bob and Jasper Johns were apparently talking to each other again. [Oh hi, Andy!]

Bob Adelman photo of Elaine Sturtevant, Robert Rauschenberg, IDK, IDK2, and James Rosenquist, at Bob’s loft party, c. 1966. image: bobadelman.net

Adelman’s captions have some gaps, so though it’s easy to ID Elaine Sturtevant there, huggin’ and grinnin’, with Bob and Jim Rosenquist, the man and woman in the center are still unknown to me. Part of me wants to say Yvonne Rainer, but the hair doesn’t seem right. One not-helpful clue: neither of them made a Warhol screen test.

Bob Adelman’s 1966 Leo Castelli Gallery galleries [bobadelman.net, thanks greg.org reader Calum]

Matson Was Mrs. Rauschenberg’s Maiden Name

If you’re ever wondering how hard it is to see something that’s been right in front of your face all along–even if you knew the details and the discrepancies–this entry is from the chronology Joan Young prepared with Susan Davidson for Walter Hopps’ 1997 Robert Rauschenberg retrospective:

With Johns as partner, forms Matson Jones–Custom Display; “Matson” is Rauschenberg’s mother’s maiden name and “Jones” stands for Johns.

So together they were Matson Jones.

Previously, related:
Mr. Rauschenberg’s Neighborhood
The Tiffany’s Windows of Matson Jones

10 MINUTES LATER UPDATE: SFMOMA has a new recap of the Matson Jones era from none other than Richard Meyer [Outlaw Representation ftw] . In a 2018 essay about scholarly dismissal of or disdain for their relationship, this sentence makes an unusual effort to say yes, Bob & Jap were “family,” but only distantly related: “’Matson’ was the maiden name of Rauschenberg’s maternal grandmother, and ‘Jones’ is a phonic near cousin to ‘Johns.’” How about homophonic kissing cousins, at least?

Also, I guess after tracking decades of academic and critical avoidance and differentiation, from Alan Solomon onward, I also completely disagree with Meyer’s first sentence: “The intensity of the creative dialogue between Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the 1950s has long been recognized by scholars, critics, and curators.”

But I do look forward to that first two-man show. And don’t get me started with Cy.

44 America: David Hammons’ House Of The Future & America Street, 2007-2017, 2018

David Hammons & Albert Alston, House of the Future, 1991, photographed in 2006 by ksenia_n

In 1991 the artist David Hammons was invited by Mary Jane Jacobs to create a site-specific work in Charleston, South Carolina for a new, visual arts program linked to the Spoleto Festival. Jacobs had patterned the exhibition, “Places With A Past”, after the Skulptur Projekt Münster. Spoleto founder Gian Carlo Menotti hated the whole thing; the exhibition divided the board and got the director fired (he came back a couple of years later, after Menotti quit), but the show’s art historical reputation has only grown.

That said, Hammons’ is the only one of 61 installations left standing, thanks in large part to his early decision to collaborate with Albert Alston, a local builder, who seems to have maintained and championed the work over the ensuing 27 years.

Hammons and Alston built House Of The Future on a vacant, city-owned lot on Charleston’s segregated East Side using architectural fragments and materials from renovation and demolition projects nearby. It is a 6×20-foot teaching model of Charleston’s signature style, with labels for each component. At some point, a young, local artist used the ground floor as studio space, and Alston oversaw other public programmatic uses. On the back of the House, Hammons painted a quote from African American writer Ishmael Reed:

The Afro-American has become heir to the myths that it is better to be poor than rich, lower class than middle or upper, easy going rather than industrious, extravagant rather than thrifty, and athletic rather than academic.

[Though Reed gets–and takes–credit for the quote, it seems that it actually originates with musician/composer/sociologist Ortiz Walton. Reed quoted Walton’s critical history of cultural exploitation, Music: Black, White & Blue in a 1973 review for Black World Magazine. Reed & Walton seem to have been frequent collaborators and interlocutors, so maybe this is one more of those Hammons/Alston situations. In any case, the quote itself was criticized by some in the community, and it has disappeared and reappeared from the wall of House Of The Future with various repaintings. According to an unrelated 1995 lawsuit by a disgruntled muralist, though, it was integral to the community’s embrace of the installation that helped preserve it after the Spoleto Festival ended.]

Oh, say, can you see?

At some point after the May 1991 opening of “Places With A Past”, Hammons’ second element was realized kitty corner from House of The Future. America Street is a small, grassy bump of a park on another vacant lot, where Hammons’ iconic African American Flag flies from atop a 40-foot pole. A black and white photo of a group of children looking up, as if at the flag, filled a sidewalk-scale billboard that had previously featured ads for liquor and Newports. From this 1996 account of the Spoleto fallout over “Places With A Past”, it sounds like the works survived some entropy, if not straightup neglect. But both the flag and the picture have been replaced over the years.

Hammons’ America Street, January 2017
Detail of David Hammons’ America Street, 1991, a billboard photo of local kids looking up, img: gsv, jan 2017

I have not visited Hammons’ piece(s), except in Google Street View. The first thing I noticed was they differed in appearance from the historical photos. I realized GSV’s own decade of historical imagery is useful here, for marking the changes this tiny house and its neighborhood have undergone.

Clicking through the changes wrought by time on a piece of Southern vernacular architecture, I immediately thought of the work of my late neighbor, the photographer William Christenberry. He would travel back to his native Alabama year after year for decades, photographing the same houses, churches, and stores, usually documenting their deterioration and subsumption by kudzu.

William Christenberry, Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama, 1983, image: Hemphill

What I was seeing in Hammons’ and Alston’s piece was the opposite: a structure built from the castoffs of renovation and gentrification, surviving thanks to a small but persistent maintenance effort. And through it all, year in and year out, no matter the storms or racial strife that battered some other flags in South Carolina, Hammons’ star-spangled banner is still there.

In the spirit of Christenberry, I decided to make some historic GSV printsets [prints of screenshots; GSV is a screen medium] of Hammons’ and Alston’s House Of The Future and America Street. I’ve followed Christenberry’s format, but I’m skipping the traditional photographer’s approach of making editions of a bajillion in a thousand sizes. Each set of 7-9 images is printed small (8×10 in.), in an edition of 2, plus 1 AP: one for you, one for the museum, one for me. Because srsly, why overthink it? If anyone actually wants to buy them, I turn into some kind of crazed Amazon artworker pick&packing prints all day? Hard pass right now, thanks. If you don’t move in time to get it, just make your own.

All the pics are after the jump.

Continue reading “44 America: David Hammons’ House Of The Future & America Street, 2007-2017, 2018”

There Is No Obama Chair

The flowers we know, but about that chair…

Last week I went to the Obamas Portraits Unveiling and wrote about it for ARTnews. What I wasn’t able to conclude was what low-key obsessed me the most from the moment I left the National Portrait Gallery: what is up with that chair?

I’m off the sauce now, but there was a time in my life where I was pretty deeply interested in American antique furniture, and so the significance of the chair Kehinde Wiley depicted President Obama sitting in felt like a story waiting to be told. Because no one mentioned it at the National Portrait Gallery event; I didn’t think to ask him about it until later; and none of the hottest takes I’ve seen have really taken up the subject.

Also, that chair felt terribly specific, and yet it is also pretty confounding. Its stylistic details do not line up easily with any period of 18th or 19th century American design. And if it wasn’t American, it might be British, and how did that happen? And if it wasn’t British, well, what could it be? The more I searched archives and museum collections and auction databases, the more convinced I became that the chair held a secret, especially when some of the similar comps out there were mid-19th century Neoclassical Russian. Oh damn, is that why Obama looks so serious? What sort of chair drop was this? [SPOILER ALERT: IT WAS NOT RUSSIAN.]

c. 1890 Russian mahogany armchairs, via debenham

The details: an armchair with curved arms, with scroll ends that don’t reach the seat but have some kind of support, sometimes called an elbow chair. The arms are reeded, aka, they have grooves along the top. The skirt appears to have an inlaid pattern. The front legs are turned on a lathe. The back has both an oval top, which is either inlaid or carved, and a pierced splat below. All of this indicates a fine wood, either rosewood or mahogany. There are elements of Regency style, common in the 1800-10s or so, but most of the similar examples are from England. The round back feels like much later 19th century, though, and one super-savvy designer friend I asked suggested it was an 1870-80s American interpretation of earlier, Regency style.

c.1800 mahogany Regency armchairs, via sellingantiques.co.uk

So what does that mean? Where does it come from? Maybe the historical record is the better way to a solution? Except there is no remotely similar chair in the White House collection, or in portraits of previous presidents. (I think it was LA Times critic Christopher Knight who saw a reference in Obama’s pose to a seated Abraham Lincoln in a group portrait by George P.A. Healy. A salient reference, even if the chair is clearly different.)

George P.A. Healy, The Peacemakers, 1868, image: whitehousehistory.org

I asked decorative arts curators, and an antique dealer, who all felt the chair was unusual, even odd, but no one could identify it or explain its significance. It felt like conceding defeat to ask the artist for the answer, which I did, two days later, via the NPG’s press office, since it’s their painting now.

Word came back, but no detail: Wiley had created the chair. It is an imaginary synthesis of design details for which there is no explanation. At least it’s not me, I thought. And I wondered whether this fixation on decoding stylistic quirks, the foundation of antique connoisseurship, was a foreign language of exclusion and privilege (yeah), and whether that came to bear. Or maybe the point of the chair was simply visual, aesthetic, a requirement for how it functioned in the painting in terms of pattern, form and design (maybe). The flowers may transmit a coded signal, but the ornate particulars of the chair are noise.

Or maybe there’s more explanation to be had some day

Previously, related: On The Unveiling Of The Obama Portraits

Untitled (A Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017

Untitled (One Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017, cornflower blue and green wall paint, landscape painting (framed), charcoal, dimensions variable, installation view

I am pleased to announce that a work I thought was gone has perhaps come back on view in Washington, D.C. The title, obviously, is derived from Gerhard Richter’s 1971 work, Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo (below). But its creation, including all the vagaries involved, are inspired directly by Palermo’s work and practice.

Gerhard Richter, Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo, 1971, plaster & wood, painted, in ochre room, image:gerhard-richter.com

Talking about his late student in a 1984 interview with Laszlo Glozer, Joseph Beuys said:

I believe that one of the most important things for art–and he knew it too–is the behavior of people in general. The way people live, the way they live in their space. The way people live was very important for him. The way they inhabit, the way they live, what chairs they sit on, or what they have around them, what they stuff into themselves.

Untitled (One Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017, cornflower blue and green wall paint, landscape painting (framed), charcoal, dimensions variable, installation view

I’d seen the painting first (what they have around them), but it was that charcoal (the way they live) and the horizontal blue passage on the upper left that made the work come into being (the way they inhabit). But that was last year.

Beuys again:

Well, if I could, I would say one should perceive his works like a breath. They have something of a breath about them, a breath that vanishes…One ought to see his paintings more like breath that comes and goes, it has something porous, and it can easily vanish again. It is also highly vulnerable. Vulnerable, say, like a cornflower: when you out it into light, it fades very quickly. So one has to perceive that breathlike being as an aesthetic concept and not as a solid structure…

I still don’t know whether to post these matters, or whether it differs from filing it away, or from seeing it, or thinking it. I mean, it’s posted now because the house where this was installed last year came back on the market, with the same listing photos, and I saw them again. But what changes? Is the work still there? Would it matter if it is or isn’t? Does it matter what that crappy little painting even is?

Which seems as good a time as any to mention another work from last year, which I intentionally didn’t post, to see what it was like.  Does it change now? Now that situation has been moved out and gut renovated for sure? Now that I can search for it in a different dialogue box? Now that someone else can, too?

Untitled (Macomb Wall Painting), 2017, eggshell finish paint, painting hook, est. 36×40 in., installation view

For me the value lies in the wonder, the fleeting marvel, the tiny layers of history, of how some people lived overlaid with how other people staged. So I’m good.

Previously, related: http://greg.org/archive/2016/01/29/untitled-border-2016.html
http://greg.org/archive/2016/05/27/monochrome-house.html