Nancy Spector posted this to Instagram today. For the second World AIDS Day, December 1st, 1989, and the first Day Without Art, she and her then-boyfriend/husband-to-be Michael Gabellini unfurled a massive, black shroud from the Guggenheim. The original call for Day Without Art was to close museums, or to cover works of art as a reminder of the art that would not be made because of AIDS-related deaths.
“At the time, we didn’t know the depth of loss we would be facing in the art community,” Spector wrote.
I am so psyched for this. I’ve been deep in another writing thing for a while and couldn’t give it the attention I wanted to when it came out. But I wrote a research note for Panorama, the Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, and it is now available. It is the story of my six+ year search to identify all elements Robert Rauschenberg used in Should Love Come First? a collaged painting that, if it still existed, might be considered one of his first combines.
Back in the spring, when, hope against hope, a nearly blind eBay purchase yielded what I thought would be the toughest piece to find, the painted-over text that gave the work its title, I sent a snap to Michael Lobel, an art historian hero and friend who knows his way around early Rauschenberg & Weil. Because I knew he’d freak out just like I did, and he did. And then he said I should publish it in a peer-reviewed academic context, not just on the blog. And that was just intriguing and daunting enough to attempt it. And that’s what I worked on this summer.
My purpose for tracking down and buying copies of all these elements is, of course, to re-create the painting, which Rauschenberg painted over in 1953. (It still exists, in Zurich. I’ve seen it.) But now that I have (almost) all the pieces, I am stymied anew by how much I don’t know about the painting, including/especially the colors. So my re-creation project will take some more time.
But in the mean time, the amount of info that has been coming off the small pieces of paper I *have* found has been amazing. Meeting Susan Weil in the middle of this process (for another topic, and another husband) has been amazing. And getting the chance to systematically look and think and capture information in a (hopefully) clear and compelling way has been amazing. So thanks to Michael and to the folks at Panorama and to the folks at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. I don’t know when love should come, but I love doing this.
The artist Elizabeth “Betty” Stokes di Robilant was interviewed by Christie’s in May 2013. Stokes was a longtime friend of Cy Twombly. Their story and relationship and collaboration, and her later erasure from Twombly’s official story, is discussed in Chalk, a biography of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin, which was published in October 2018. Rivkin quotes the interview by Robert Brown, which was published on the occasion of the sale of a painted bronze cast of a 1966 [or 1956, or 1959, or 1980 or 1981, or 1990] sculpture Twombly gave to dee Robilant for her 10th wedding anniversary. Twombly later reworked and cast the sculpture in 1990 in an edition of five. Di Robilant’s three children each got one; she got one, and Twombly got one. Ed. 1 of 5 was sold at Christie’s London on June 25th, 2013, for GBP 1.63 million.
Last winter I was visiting museums on the Mall a lot in order to write this review/roundup. It was pretty grim going, and I don’t think I was wrong about the mood.
These black cubes appeared along my drive, and I would take note of them, think about them. They had an eye-catching, out-of-place presence and no discernible purpose, which made them feel of temporary sculpture. They were also alongside a conduit road whose main feature was not slowing you down on your way, which created a tension, if only for the briefest (passing) moment.
They made me think of Tony Smith’s Die, obviously, but if anything, that easy association pushed back against my own doing anything with these cubes. They also made me think, though, of Smith’s massive 1967 sculpture Smoke, which, like so much of his work, first came into being as black plywood.
Smith built Smoke in one half of the Corcoran’s atrium while Ronald Bladen built X in the other. Or rather, the Corcoran built Smoke and X for Smith and Bladen. The sculptures were commissions, fabricated by the museum’s carpenters for a three-artist show called, “Scale as Content.” [The third work was Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, which was installed outside, facing the White House and the Washington Monument. The Corcoran ended up owning none of these works.]
Artforum’s retardataire reviewer didn’t like it “as art,” but “Scale as Content” feels pretty on the nose for Smith, who realized Die in six foot steel in 1968 after noodling for six years over a six inch cardboard model. [In 1967 Smith also showed a plywood version of Maze, and published the cardboard version in Aspen Magazine.]
Anyway, these boxes were not placed where they are for artistic reasons. I finally went to investigate them on foot in January. They’re cover/markers for some infrastructure node, presumably related to the construction staging on the lawn between the Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument. They’re close to crosswalks; maybe they’re hookups for eventual pedestrian crossing signals.
But this is not really the time, and these are not in the place, for benign indifference to the apparatus of the state. In this era of plate readers, wifi sniffers, Stingrays, and ICE raids on pizza delivery guys, these black boxes now feel like–like black boxes. Given what we keep finding out on a daily basis in DC, what could we possibly not know yet? You don’t have to be Trevor Paglen to wonder about the menace of ersatz apparatuses popping up on the major thoroughfares of Washington. Are they some nefarious surveillance system in waiting, or one that’s already at work?
The intervening months have also brought Paglen’s Trinity Cube and Rachel Whiteread’s cast voids to town, and so I still pass these cubes and still think. One thing I think a lot about is the point of declaring something a work. Another thing is declaring. Another is a work. Sometimes, during a year of wondering if I’m rationalizing, I wonder if the reflexivity, the impulsion, the emptiness of these things are reasons in themselves. Emptiness as Content.
Though we have emailed several times over the years that I’ve researched her and her first husband’s work, I finally met Susan Weil a couple of weeks ago, and it was awesome. The occasion was the first US show in nearly 40 years of sculpture by her late (second) husband, Bernard Kirschenbaum, which is currently at Postmasters Gallery. Weil discussed Kirschenbaum’s work, and their life together, and her work, and it was great. Our conversation was just published on ARTNews, so go check it out:
[W]e’re used to the idea of calling what he did as sculptural now, because we’ve come through Minimalism, and the artist’s mark, and having things fabricated, but at the time, that was still largely unheard of: that you could order a sculpture. That you could have something fabricated in a shop, and it would be a sculpture. Did he think about that much, or was it not a concern for him?
Well, it wasn’t that way with him, because he wanted to be a part of every step of it. He didn’t order something and then it came. He worked in all the materials, in the actual welding, and finishing, and this, that, and the other. He had to know everything about how things were made. No, he had a beautiful vision.
I somehow had not seen or noticed this 1962 Cy Twombly painting, The Vengeance of Achilles, in the Kunstmuseum Zürich. And I did not see it–or anything, tbh–at the Pompidou’s Twombly retrospective a couple of years ago. But its mountain-like, or volcano-like, form is amazing. Also it’s huge, three meters tall. Most of those marks are within an arm’s reach, but some of them look like they required Twombly’s full wingspan.
Then while looking up more information about it, I realized that one of the equally huge paintings in Fifty Days at Iliam, which Twombly painted 16 years later, and which are at the Philadelphia Museum, is also titled Vengeance of Achilles. Aaaannd I guess that is not a mountain.
[10 minutes later update: Wait, what? I go Googling for some vintage Nine Discourses of Commodus reviews, only to find a Twombly biography that quotes the same Menil Collection conservation interview and the same Nicola del Roscio T Magazine profile I’ve had open in my browser tabs for three years? How did I not know this? Because it is brand new, and dropping in a couple of weeks.]
It is not clear if it is indeed the artist behind the account, but @cadynoland‘s posts are clearly from the Noland Instagrammic Universe. Of 120 photos so far/at the moment, there are currently only three that contain comments by the artist accountholder. If or as more are added, and or if or as more information becomes known, this post will be updated.
I am a bigger fan of Wolfgang Tillmans than of the British royal family, but this is a truly excellent image, and I would definitely like to see it IRL, preferably pinned on my wall. It’ll be sold at Christie’s during Frieze Week.
As a 1/1 acquired directly from the artist, and with no exhibition history, I’d imagine this print has an interesting story of its own.
If I don’t scare up an extraneous GBP 50,000 by next month, perhaps a Shanzhai Tillmans series is in order. Of course, unlike a Shanzhai Gursky, I’m not sure what the difference between a Tillmans and a Shanzhai Tillmans would even be.
I’ve always supposed that artists were allowed to paint however-whatever they pleased and to do whatever they please with their work–to or not to give, sell, lend, allow reproduction, rework, destroy, repair, or exhibit it…
He is direct about his work, an area of his life which he jealously guards. Once, at a dinner, a wealthy collector who owned several important Johns paintings announced over coffee that he had an idea for a print that Johns should do. He said that Johns should make a print, in color, of an American map. The collector argued his case cogently. He pointed out that Johns had done other prints in color based on paintings from that period; he alluded to the significance of such a print to the whole body of Johns’ work; he mentioned the opportunities for the sort of image transformation which Johns’ other color prints had explored; and he pointed out the peculiar arbitrariness that had led Johns do to map prints several times in black-and-white, but never in color.
A hush fell over the table. There was a good deal of tension. On the one hand, one doesn’t tell an artist what to do, but on the other hand, the suggestion was not uninformed, and it did not come from a source the artist could casually alienate.
Johns listened patiently. “Well,” he said finally, “that’s all very well, but I”m not going to do it.”
“Why not?” asked the collector, a little offended.
This is the first view of the log cabin formerly known as Log Cabin [actually, we learn, it was called Log Cabin Facade], a 1990 sculpture by Cady Noland, which the collector, Wilhelm Schürmann, left out in the mud for ten years, where it rotted, and then he had the whole thing refabricated without the artist’s consent or consultation, and then he flipped it, and the new buyer factchecked it, and found out the artist was very much not into it, and so he returned it, and had to sue for a refund, but got it. And during that whole process, no images of the remade sculpture [sic] ever surfaced.
But since then, Noland herself has filed suit claiming copyright infringement in both the US and Germany, and a violation of her moral rights under VARA, by the collector and dealers involved in destroying the original, and making and publishing and selling an unauthorized replica. And that lawsuit is where these images come from, from an exhibit in Noland’s attorney’s most recent memorandum [filing no. 79] arguing for the continuation of the case and against the defendants’ motion to dismiss it.
I’m reminded of this today because KOW, the gallery in Berlin where Log Cabin [sic] was unveiled in 2011, has a sleek, new website, with extensive documentation of the show–except for one, giant, contested thing.
The memo in the court case includes some other notable information, not least of which is a five-page affidavit by none other than Cady Noland herself. A sworn artist statement, if you will. It should go in the canon, so I have uploaded it here [pdf].
Noland talks of conceiving, designing, and realizing the artwork, Log Cabin Facade, in New York City “in or around 1990,” and traveling to Germany “to examine and approve the Work” as installed at Max Hetzler gallery. She “was not aware of the sale to Defendant, Wilhelm Schürmann, until August 1991,” she affirmed.
“Sometime around the mid-1990s…Schürmann sought permission to display the work outdoors…I agreed…At the same time Schürmann agreed with me the Work should be stained a dark color for ‘aesthetic reasons.'”
“At my request Schürmann had the work stained a dark shade of brown, I color I specifically selected and mandated. The stain [was]…basically a pigment, not a wood preservative,” the artist attests.
Noland continues to explain her expectations about Schürmann’s care for the work, which is the basis for her position about its damage, his its purported conservation, and refabrication. But these particular issues of timing and staining are important in new ways. They appear to this non-lawyer to be crucial to Noland’s invocation of VARA rights, which only apply to work made on or after the date the 1990 law went into effect, or which was made before the law went into effect, but which was only sold afterward. That date is June 1, 1991.
“Oh, the timeline sounds complicated and possibly contestable!” you say. It is not. Or rather, it is not important, because Log Cabin Facade is not Log Cabin Facade, but Log Cabin Facade (2). In the memo, Noland’s attorney explains that, “When the original natural wood color of Log Cabin was stained dark, Noland created a derivative version of the work,” which is “fully protected under [VARA].”
So Schürmann bought Log Cabin, which became Log Cabin Dark Shade Of Brown For Aesthetic Reasons, which he left outside to rot, and then threw into the wood chipper after replacing it with a brand new log cabin facade made in the (unpigmented) style of the original Log Cabin, which copyright and VARA he and his dealer friends viol–no, it was the original work’s copyright but the derivative work’s VARA. (Doesn’t the derivative get its own copyright?) What happened to Log Cabin [below] when Noland had it stained into Log Cabin DSOBFAR? Was it destroyed? Are we now bereft of twoLog Cabins, with only the current log cabin, which is either a “refabrication,” a “reproduction,” or “a copy [that] was not authorized by Noland,” aka, “a forgery,” to remind us of our loss(es, which we didn’t know we’d lost until now?)
But no, this is not about you or me, but about the artist, whose work suffered neglect and destruction at the hands of those entrusted with its care, and whose wishes and intentions no one seemed interested in finding out until someone’s $1.4 million was on the line. The artist who now has “a gap in her artistic legacy” because “the original Work is no longer a part of [her] artistic body of work.” To which I would add, sadly, neither is the derivative.
And while there are many possible artistic strategies for authorizing, reauthorizing, declaring, or reconceiving the Work and preserving or increasing the Value in ways that many people, with much experience and insight, would be all to happy to elaborate upon, the simple fact remains that it the artist’s call, not theirs.
“I said the provenance for the sculpture must now include the name of the conservator because the work was not mine alone,” said the artist in her affidavit. Also, “I feel very strongly that the unauthorized copy of Log Cabin robs my Work of a quarter century of history and denigrates my honor and reputation. The Log Cabin that I created does not exist.”
Noland is actively pursuing a lawsuit that makes an affirmative argument about her work and her artistic decisions that confronts cultural, market, and legal presumptions of what art is and what an artist does. And here at the end of this post, I’m deciding maybe it’s more interesting to consider the implications of Noland’s actions as they stand rather than to game out scenarios for her like an armchair lawyer–or an armchair artist.
I’ve been low-key fascinated with people in the art world who stopped making art, particularly dealers like Gavin Brown, who didn’t really get much traction with his art practice, and Michael Jenkins, who did.
Like contemporary and collaborator Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Jenkins created minimalist- and conceptualist-inflected works imbued with emotional and psychological power. During the escalating AIDS crisis the works referenced gay love and loss, fraught youth and unabashed romance, and quarantine, disease, and death. I’ve only ever seen a couple of his pieces in person, but they really do feel like fellow travelers with Felix’s work, at least for a time.
Anyway, That Sinking Feeling I (1988) and II (1989) are basically human-scale (5′ 8.5″ feels specific) shadowboxes with a sailor hat and shoes on wool blanket material. A third, related work, Gob Box (1989), is a hat centered in a square shadowbox. Seen from their tops, the circular hats really do show off what Jenkins calls their “graphic nature.” The shoes, meanwhile, feel more totemic; the absence they reference is more pronounced.
Jenkins and Arning talk a lot about this symbolism, the erotic image, even the caricature of the sailor, as well as the real sorrow of separation. I’m not sure it holds up, frankly; the conversation feels sort of slight, in retrospect. But that could literally just be me. Or Jenkins. There’s a subjectivity at play, evocations of specific memories or associations, in a specific time and context. Arning credits Jenkins’ emergence in the 80s with helping “point a way out of the dismal cycle of self-referential criticality and ironic distance then in place.” And if we’ve come a long way, baby, it’s still worth remembering how we got here, and where we were.
After not selling a few months ago in Atlanta, Jenkins’ three works are estimated now at $1,500-3,000. Bring a truck.
“One night I could not have dreamed that I painted a large American flag, but the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that the artist mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection.
By draining most of the color from the flag but leaving subtle gradations in tone, the artist shifts our attention from the familiarity of the image to the way in which it is made. “White Flag” is painted on three separate panels: the stars, the seven upper stripes to the right of the stars, and the longer stripes below. The artist worked on each panel separately.
After applying a ground of unbleached beeswax, the artist built up the stars, the negative areas around them, and the stripes with applications of collage — cut or torn pieces of newsprint, other papers, and bits of fabric. The artist dipped these into molten beeswax and adhered them to the surface. The artist then joined the three panels and overpainted them with more beeswax mixed with pigments, adding touches of white oil.
cf. Study for White Flag, 2018, Crayola washable marker on coloring page, 8 1/2 x 11 in. (21.6 x 28 cm)
The stairwell in the entrance to the University of Oregon library contains a large mural, Mission of a University, painted in 1937 by art professor Nowland Brittin Zane, of a quote by another faculty member, Frederick George Young. A social science professor and dean in the 1920s, Young saw the divine mission of a university aligned with the founding principle of Oregon itself: to elevate and preserve the white race.
Last night @videodante tweeted out photos he’d received of a fresh painting intervention on Zane’s mural: a slash of red paint crossing out “racial heritage.” As interesting, though, is the handwritten label for the new work, left on the wall [below].
The materials, “Found Art, FOUND courage” are almost as awesome as the title, “WHICH ART DO YOU CHOOSE TO CONSERVE NOW?” Is it the title, or an epic challenge to the institution’s perennial decision of which facts, which history, which brushstroke, and whose heritage are their actions perpetuating? This quote has been recognized as racist and offensive–and has been the subject of critical and activist efforts to remove it–for years. There are at least three spots in the bottom corner of Zane’s painting where conservators chose to erase someone’s addition. So this is one more choice to be made in an ongoing dispute, and the artist knows what is at stake.
The author of this new work, though, offers another solution in a “fine print” addendum, apparently added on the spot, as the text curls up the side of the label. If the library is troubled by impending conservatorial complicity in reasserting white supremacism, the “artist gives permission to replace this placard with a more permanent one.”
Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the increased protests of confederate memorial statues, I’ve come to see painting as crucial, even central. After decades of inertia, monuments are suddenly painted or pulled down. Then they’re quickly covered with tarps or boxes or removed. Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.
What if we recognize these gestures as generative, not destructive? What if we leave them? Keep them? Look at them? Study them? And when the time comes, conserve them?
I’ve written about “Dislocations” before. It’s one of the contemporary shows at MoMA that left a deep impression on me when I first moved to New York. It was in 1991-2 when Rob Storr curated huge, room-dominating sculptures by Chris Burden and Louise Bourgeois, and installations [!?] by Bruce Nauman, Adrian Piper, the Kabakovs, and David Hammons.
I just found this 5yo photo of Hammons’ Public Enemy, which I guess I had looked up because I was deep into photomurals at the time, and really wanted to find (or make) Hammons’ big photocube of the piece’s namesake, Teddy Roosevelt and his Grateful Savages [sic, obv].
In the intervening years MoMA has upped their archival game significantly, by putting a ton of exhibition material online, including the press release, checklist, brochure, installation photos, and a pdf of Storr’s catalogue. [Oh wow, Sophie Calle was in that show? Guess her intervention–removing paintings from the Modern’s galleries–was so subtle, I forgot.]
This was the first work of Hammons’ I’d ever seen, probably the first time I’d heard of him. Which seems crazy now, but reading the show’s time capsule of a catalogue, maybe I wasn’t so far behind. Storr waxes and marvels at what is now known about Hammons’ practice:
Hammons has preferred the city as a workplace and its citizens as his audience and sometime co-workers. Street flotsam and jetsam are his materials. What he brings to the gallery is all and sundry that it traditionally excludes. What he extracts from those materials and brings to the objects and installations that he has created outside the museums are the marvels and mysteries that lie already and everywhere to hand along heavily trafficked thoroughfares, in public parks, and in the so-called vacant lots littered with the evidence of their constant nomadic occupation and use…
“I like doing stuff better on the street, because art becomes just one of the objects that’s in the path of your everyday existence. It’s what you move through, and it doesn’t have superiority over anything else.” [he said in an otherwise unpublished interview which I now think we should unearth. -ed.]
Storr goes on about Hammons’ improvisatory process, “like jazz,” in which, despite a year of lead time, “all options remained open and the result wholly unforeseen” until the artist arrived to install the work. Which must have given MoMA an institutional heart attack.
And which, really? Because you can’t just pick up four huge photomurals or a substrate for them. And those sandbags seem very manufactured and ordered from somewhere. True, if you just work fast enough, those NYPD barriers were all over town, free for the taking. [Do they still have those? For throwback protests?]
What I thought about yesterday was whether Public Enemy still existed, or could be recreated. What I wonder about today, though, is what it’ll take for Uncle Teddy to get the Silent Sam treatment.
In the 80s Hubert de Givenchy and his partner Philippe Venet commissioned Diego Giacometti to make furniture and stuff for a house they bought in BF France, 2 hours southeast of Paris. Last year they sold a bunch of it at auction, 21 lots, including three of the bronze tables above, which have carytids sticking up from all the legs. Together the three tables sold for EUR 11 million, almost a third of the total sale, which is sort of bonkers. But that’s not important now.
[PHILIPPE] VENET: Hubert asked, “Why don’t we have some Giacometti?” We had just sold our chalet in Megève—I was a very good skier and served in a mountain patrol during my military service—so I said, “Why not?” When Christie’s auctioned our Giacomettis [in 2017], we had a ferronnier make us a copy of the octagonal table. There are many homemades at Le Jonchet: a “La Fresnaye,” a “Picasso” that Hubert drew. After selling the big Joan Miró in his atelier to the Pompidou, I told him, “We must make a Léger.” So we did a collage together.
[MOMA TRUSTEE MERCEDES] BASS: It’s very hard to tell the difference between their works and the real things, though they never copied; they made renditions. Most were wonderful collages: Hubert and Philippe would prepare the backgrounds, then cut the paper and create a collage of a painting.
I love this have your cake and eat it, too, sell your tables and paintings and make them again–and still have people describing it in these equivocating terms about copies and renditions. Givenchy studied at the Beaux Arts, and his obituary in The Guardian described his retirement from fashion with, “He had long since set up an alternative life as an ‘amateur d’art.'”
So if your question is, would you rather have a Giacometti table in your chateau, or a remoulade Giacomettian table in your chateau and EUR33 million, my question is, how close do you need to get to the table?