The times I was interested in the content of Marcel Duchamp’s exhibition poster/catalogue/checklist for the Dada exhibition he organized at Sidney Janis’s gallery in 1953 never managed to coincide with the times I had one readily at hand to study it, or to the times when one turned up on the market that I wanted to drop a few thousand dollars for. [Duchamp encouraged visitors to crumple this 38×24-inch poster into a ball and throw it in the trash when they entered the exhibit, so even fewer survive than you’d hope.]
And every time I tried to research it online—the show was a landmark, and influenced people like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg tremendously, so that happened a lot around here–I was surprised that A) no giant images of it existed online, and B) none of the text in this all-text document for this historic show seems to have ever been published. [After transcribing the entire thing, I now see that is not the case; at least one of these essays was published in the collected writings of its author, but I can’t remember which. And it won’t matter now.]
So right as the pandemic closures loomed, I jammed down to the Hirshhorn Museum, where a Dada exhibition poster hung peacefully among the Duchampiana promised by the Levines, and I photographed the whole thing. When I was stuck or exhausted by other writing–or by lockdown life in general–I’d take a few minutes and just type the stuff in.
Now I am pleased to release this historic text for the first time. It is available both as an edition of Better Read, where a computer-generated voice reads texts by Sidney Janis, Tristan Tzara, Richard Huelsenbeck, Jean Arp, and Jacques Levesque, plus Duchamp’s own text contribution. The essays are also available as a pdf.
The 212-item checklist is currently available as a spreadsheet on my Google Drive. If this lockdown situation continues I may end up reading it myself. But having it read by a computer was such a mess, Zombie Tzara himself would have risen to smack the Dada right out my mouth.
One day later update: So I’m reading Kenneth Goldsmith’s new book, Duchamp Is My Lawyer, and suddenly I’m like, d’oh I bet Monoskop has this damn poster. And of course he does, but just as a giant (finally) legible jpg. So anyway. Dada.
“. . . in a matter which so closely concerns the wellbeing of the human race, no decision shall be made without all the knowledge which a little analysis and calculation can provide.”
—Daniel Bernoulli, 1760
According to the National Museum of American History, “Inspired by the allure of the space age, many Americans of the 1960s took great interest in mathematics and science.” Included among these was Crockett Johnson, a well-known cartoonist, book illustrator, and children’s author best remembered for his Harold and the Purple Crayon series.
From 1965 until his death in 1975, Johnson painted what he described as “a series of romantic tributes to the great geometric mathematicians from Pythagoras on up.” Initially, Johnson drew inspiration from figures he found in James R. Newman’s book The World of Mathematics (1956) and other mathematics books but later began to develop his own geometric constructions. He completed more than 100 of these distinctive paintings of layered, precise geometrical shapes during the last decade of his life.
Critics and art historians have noted that Johnson showed little interest in the technical details of painting. Eschewing convention, Johnson instead preferred to use house paints from a local hardware store and to paint on the rough side of small pieces of Masonite instead of canvas—though he did on occasion both use the smoother side and complete some larger works. Although other contemporary painters such as such as Piet Mondrian, Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Richard Anuszkiewicz, and Ad Reinhardt (who was a close friend) also used mathematical ideas and geometric shapes, Johnson differed from them in that he linked his geometric paintings with specific mathematicians and he delved into researching and understanding the mathematical ideas that he found inspiring.
Among the earliest of these paintings is this month’s cover art, Mystic Hexagon (Pascal), which Johnson based on a theorem devised by 16-year-old Blaise Pascal in 1640. In essence, Pascal had postulated that if the opposite sides of an irregular hexagon inscribed in a circle are extended, they meet in 3 points that lie on a straight line. In his depiction of Pascal’s work, Johnson positioned the circle and cream-colored hexagon near the center of the painting. Overlapping wedges of green, blue, and gray form the different pairs of lines. He did not paint the line that would serve to join the 3 intersections (now dubbed the Pascal Line), but the right edge of the painting fulfills that function.
Pascal, like Johnson, was intrigued by numbers, and he made notable contributions to mathematics and science. He is credited with laying the foundation for probability theory through a series of letters he exchanged with Pierre de Fermat. The pair pondered a problem related to expected outcomes in a dice game that vexed an acquaintance who gambled professionally. That correspondence is credited with developing a fundamental theory of probability—the branch of mathematics concerned with analyzing random, or seemingly random, phenomena—with its roots in Pascal’s “Treatise on the Arithmetical Triangle.”
Similar to Pascal’s geometrical extrapolations as depicted in Johnson’s painting, mathematical extrapolations of data have long provided essential information to aid public health officials with decision making. An early example is that of Daniel Bernoulli, who in 1766 used the then relatively new method of calculus to estimate that smallpox elimination via routine vaccination would reduce the risk of death by age 25 years from ≈57% to 50%. Ronald Ross’s model on malaria transmission, first introduced in 2 reports published in 1908 and 1911, is a particularly important example of such modeling for public health decision making. Versions of that model are still used today to inform critical public health decision making regarding malaria control.
Today, mathematical models have become essential tools for public health officials, providing estimates of disease burden, potential impact of interventions, and duration of disease outbreaks. They are particularly useful in situations for which little or no data exist, such as estimates of number of cases of disease in the future, or potential impact (benefit) of a yet-to-be-licensed vaccine. In such situations, mathematical modelers typically use data from different sources, along with assumptions about the underlying transmission, to build (or extrapolate) models to provide estimates for the current problem. Such mathematical models have, with the advent of more powerful and cheap computing capabilities, become ever more diverse in methods and degrees of complexity. Mathematical models of infectious disease can now range from the simple, such as the two-dimensional representation found in Johnson’s painting, to large multidimensional models that simulate the daily contacts between individuals within a community and the resultant risk for onward transmission of infectious disease.
He’s been a fellow blogger, an editor, and a hero to me for more than a decade, but I’m always glad when Andrew Russeth writes. And that goes double for this moment when it feels like we as a people are on a precipice.
Andrew looks around, backwards, and forwards, and sees the importance of maintenance, unsung labor, the often invisible work that is so necessary for making everything go:
In language that startles today, [Mierle Laderman] Ukeles argues that “avant-garde art, which claims utter development, is infected by strains of maintenance ideas, maintenance activities, and maintenance materials.” (Emphasis mine.) She chides Process art in particular for obscuring that fact, but maintenance is in operation everywhere in contemporary art, once you start looking. It is the hidden force that makes so much—in art, and in the world—possible.
And it’s the kind of work–art and labor–we’ll need to get through this.
The current pandemic also makes me think of the AIDS epidemic, and the lessons it holds for us now. There are people who did not survive the malice and indifference and inaction of governments–and there are people who did, and who made a difference in peoples’ lives and in the entire world. We should seek them out and learn from them.
The title alone makes me think of David France’s 2012 documentary about the AIDS activist movement, How To Survive A Plague. A good place to start
In the late 1800s, artists like William Harnett and John Frederick Peto manifest the nostalgia for the Civil War and its dying veterans through trompe l’oeil paintings of war artifacts or pinup photos of Abraham Lincoln.
This is not that.
An eight-foot square painting of the Gettysburg Address is installed in the stairwell of an 18th century townhouse in Georgetown. The manuscript appears gigantic, filling a trompe l’oeil wall above carved wainscotting, flanked by stylized heraldic shields of the Union and the Confederacy. A well worn pair of riding boots on the Southern side seems almost as big as the cannon on the Northern side. A flying eagle sits atop the whole thing. It is surrounded by a frame (or painted band?) of alternating light and dark grey squares, which lends the whole thing a 1990s vibe. I have not asked if the painting conveys when the house is sold, but maybe it’s there to up the appeal to someone from the administration.
Late last October I saw an exhibition of George W. Bush’s paintings of veterans at the Reach, the new Kennedy Center annex designed by Stephen Holl. With all due respect to Verrocchio, it was the most significant painting exhibition in town last fall.
And now those copies don’t travel, either. And there are other copies, but they’re non-conforme, I guess. So when the Hirshhorn Museum wanted to show the Large Glass in the context of related works from a large promised gift from Barbara and Aaron Levine, they faced a challenge.
Which was solved by an exhibition designer, who suggested printing a photo of the work at scale, and suspending it in the gallery. Acetate didn’t work. A free-floating polyester scrim didn’t work. But a scrim held taut with discrete cables and clamps worked just great. Evelyn Hankins, who curated the show, as well as the Hirshhorn’s recent Bob Irwin retrospective, which sent a giant, site-specific, taut scrim wall through the gallery, could only laugh.
I love it, so much that I want it. Unfortunately, the Association Marcel Duchamp does not want me to have it. Or anyone, for that matter. The Association, run by Duchamp’s (step-)grandchildren approved the Hirshhorn’s production of a banner (not a replica, and not, it turns out, full-size, but a couple of inches smaller) from the Philadelphia Museum’s (two-part, not entirely aligned) photodocumentation of the work, if they get it when the show’s over. The Hirshhorn, which will soon house one of the world’s major collections of minor Duchamps, prefers to be on good terms with the Duchamp estate rather than let me run out of the museum with the banner under my coat. Go figure.
In 2013-16, Camille and Bill Cosby paid $700,000 to have their art collection, including Alma Thomas’s superlative 1970 painting A Fantastic Sunset, exhibited at the Smithsonian. The museum and its Cosby-funded director bravely left the show up amidst a swirling storm of criticism as reports of decades of sexual assault and lawsuits piled up and criminal charges loomed. Cosby went to jail last year, and he and Camille put up two Thomas Hart Benton paintings for sale, and as collateral for a loan.
Around the same time, or at least at some point between the close of the Smithsonian show and this week, title for A Fantastic Sunset was transferred to “A Distinguished Collector of American Art” in St. Louis. A collection that will soon be distinguished by the large, Alma Thomas-shaped hole in the middle of it. And, hopefully, by a large, fresh, untainted pile of money.
My initial impression of the Kennedy Center’s The Reach is obliqueness. It is in a triangle of land carved by a parkway and on-ramps and a bridge, from which it is hard to see. I finally made a visit this morning after multiple failed, drive-by attempts to photograph this new installation of Untitled (Trudeau Trump Brushstroke). This perfectly framed and backdropped view is the only one, and it is in the intersection of a The Reach sidewalk and a commuter bike path.
Boeing also sponsored the exhibition of George W. Bush’s paintings of Iraq War veterans, the billboard for which is not easily visible from the nearby roads. Maybe if you’re stuck in traffic. I did see the show, and will write about it separately.
Other thoughts of The Reach: I felt some spatial echoes with Holl’s ICA at VCU, especially in some peekaboo vistas and the dramatic staircase.
Perhaps this awning rainspout is designed to arc perfectly into the pond and not splash onto the ledge instead?
One rainy evening during rush hour, on day Christine Blasey Ford testified about being sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, a large oak tree fell in a ravine near our house. The trunk struck a bridge, and the branches struck two cars. There were no injuries. By morning, the road and sidewalk were clear. The bare trunk rested in the gap it had made in the massive limestone block. The scene was festooned with emergency tape.
Most of the tape was gone by February 2019.
In April, six months to the day of its toppling, the tree was removed.
The fragments of limestone remained.
In September, the smaller fragment of the limestone block was thrown from the bridge to the ground below.
A year later, the larger fragment remains where the tree put it. The peak seems to be the point of impact.
I have considered this situation as I walk, ride or drive by it nearly every day, for a year. What it is. How it comes to be. What or who acts upon it, or doesn’t. The materials, the form, the composition. The engagement with it in passing, in stillness, from above and from below. The energy embodied, the inertia. The natural, the manmade. The institutional and community and political implications. The difference between thinking and looking and acting (though I’d intended to do it for months, I only got photos from under the bridge at the last possible moment, when I happened to pass by just as the crane rolled up.)
I thought of Giuseppe Penone and Barry Le Va; Richard Serra in Pasadena; Chris Burden; of Christopher Wool and Robert Gober; of Charles Raying that tree or Vija Celminsing those blocks. Obviously, I thought of declaring it a work, but when? And for what? (I think about that one a lot, obv.)
I’ve been thinking of sudden disasters and emergency responses, then marveling and acclimation, assumptions and deadlines and invisible machinations, and mobilization, and indifference and vandalism and normalization and acquiescence and prioritization, and weathering and patination and aestheticization and rationalization.
And it is only as I have pulled this together, and thinking through and articulating what has (and has not) happened that I determined the medium of this work is time.
I’ve been wanting to see Rirkrit Tiravanija’s film Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbors since it came out in 2011. I’ve been sleeping on it/booked up with other stuff almost the whole time it’s been on view at the Hirshhorn, along side his curry and protest drawing piece, newly acquired, Who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green? Instead of mosaicing snippets from various visits, I wanted to see the whole thing in one sitting. Yesterday was the second to last day of the show, so I jammed downtown first thing.
Rirkrit and his dealer’s brother shot 16mm a week at a time, here and there, for two years, following the Chiang Mai farmer/laborer on his daily routine. He compared it to portraiture rather than narrative, and so I expected 2.5 hours of fly-on-the-wall footage, minus the walls.
It’s an extremely quiet, unassuming film, especially for a gallery setting. It does not grip or demand attention. So when I sat down on the Hirshhorn’s Miesian daybed in what turned out to be the middle of the film, I expected a bit of endurance and, frankly, escapism. Even a couple of weeks ago, Rirkrit had talked about Lung Neaw as a guy who’d helped build his studio, and who could be seen walking through the forest, foraging for wild eggplants. I imagined a shaman at one with nature who could free (or distract) me from the daily shitshow of the world we’ve created. It did not turn out that way. Continue reading “Escape And Curry Service”
There is a new show by Jacob Kassay at von ammon co in Georgetown.
Ten OG silvered paintings from 2009 are mounted on the edge of columns in the gallery, facing the door, basically.
They reflect the daylight that comes in from the gallery’s north facing glass wall. The array of LED spots on the gallery’s black timber ceiling provides fill, but does not light the paintings individually. It’s more ambient, environmental.
The lights also snap on and off in relation to a candle in the corner. The candle is held by a bracket in front of a plug-in nightlight, which is connected in turn to a relay controlling the gallery’s lights. When the candle light wanes, the nightlight turns on–and the gallery lights turn off. When the candle is bright, the nightlight turns off, and the lights stay on.
In the absence of turbulence, the candle can burn brightly and steadily, and the lights stay on as expected. But the candle, like a Calder mobile, invites disturbance. When the candle’s doing its thing, the uncertain stroboscopic perturbations can be unnerving. To remain in the gallery thinking of art brings back visceral memories, not of Martin Creed, but of Bruce Nauman. Any prolonged exposure, meanwhile, might feel like shift work under a failing fluorescent light, with all the internalized bodily and psychic stresses that entails.
While the paintings remain as gorgeous and seductive as ever, with movement dancing across their reflective surfaces, Kassay’s candle-driven gallery also illuminates the intrinsic precarity of the art system in which they’re consumed.
I should have asked about the light situation, but the paintings are for sale.
I’m slow to realize I’ve only been hyping this on Twitter, but I’m psyched that my essay on Sam Gilliam and his decades-long investigations of abstraction is out now in Art in America magazine.
When the editors asked me all the way back in June, the assignment was to interview the artist in his studio, a regular feature of the magazine. Gilliam had just opened a retrospective in Basel, and was working on a show in LA in the fall. When that show got pushed back, the interview request process got drawn out, and finally, I ended up going to Gilliam’s studio to talk about interviewing him, but very purposefully not interviewing.
He was a gracious and fascinating guy in the middle of a great deal of activity, and we figured it would be best to talk more at length after the show got pinned down. And then the show preparations intensified, and my deadline loomed, and I ended up writing a full-on essay rather than interviewing Gilliam. Which was the culmination of a months-long journey through his work, his career, and his life, digging through archives and clippings files and hours of earlier interview recordings.
My takeaway is utter respect for Gilliam’s work and his practice, which evinces the kind of fierce independence required to sustain six-plus decades of experimentation, only some of which happened in the spotlight of the mainstream art world. I find myself rewriting the essay right now, so just go ahead and read it; I left it all on the page.
What stood out to me this time is so obvious I can’t believe I missed it, but also apparently so obvious, no one else has mentioned it either? [update after confirming my suspicions: No one except the artist and the curator Evelyn Hankins, at von Heyl’s talk at the museum, starting at 28:00].
Dub (2018) is in the second gallery, and P. (2008) is in the second to last gallery. It took me a couple of back&forths to figure out that the structure of these two paintings, separated by space and time, are not exact matches.
They make me think of two things. Several of von Heyl’s paintings reminded me of big-brushy, 1970s and 80s de Koonings, and now with the likelihood of her painting over a projection of an earlier work, we can add de Kooning’s last phase to the mix. Also, a pair of new paintings with a bowling pin motif are described as von Heyl’s first diptych, but that now seems only technically true.
UPDATE: no, she made it freehand, because it wasn’t clear whether the Guggenheim would loan P. for the show. Dub, von Heyl said, is what P. would be if she made it now, toxic, with a little “party hat.”
Again with the buffing, I am not a fan. But I’m also not going to pretend it doesn’t exist.
The 2e Légion des Volontaires Étrangers de Lauzun, comprised of foreign mercenaries led by the duc du Lauzun, was part of the Compte du Rochambeau’s expeditionary force to aid the colonists in the American Revolution. They marched from New England to Yorktown, Virginia, where they played a pivotal role in the American victory.
On their way, the Légion du Lauzun crossed the Potomac just east of Georgetown. Washington, DC did not, obviously, exist yet. In 2004, following its renovation, the P Street Bridge connecting Georgetown to Dupont Circle was renamed Lauzun’s Legion Bridge.
This nearly perfect square monochrome painting is installed on the east pier of the bridge, at traffic level for the Rock Creek Parkway. Except for fleeting views from passing cars, where its deep grey surface and uncommonly crisp geometric form positively pop off the stone support, it is best seen from the bike and jogging path on the west side.
I’m guessing. It was butt cold on top of this bridge today, and that is as far as I was gonna go.