In conjunction with the third volume of his memoirs, Years of Renewal, covering his post-Watergate tenure as both Secretary of State and National Security Adviser in the Nixon and Ford administrations, which was published in 1999, Henry Kissinger created little thank you gifts for his influential friends.
Sterling silver milk pitchers 4.5 inches high, with a machine turned collar and reeded handle were engraved with the book’s title on one side and
THANK YOU LOVE, HENRY
on the other. Their stamp identifies them as the c. 1995 work of smith J.A. Campbell, whose assortment of sterling silver gifts, including engravable silver lids for marmite or Heinz Ketchup, but not these little milk pitchers, are (at present) sold online at The Silver Company.
The Rockefellers’ jug sold for $5,265.
Another example from what is now an edition has appeared in public, in the sale, ending tomorrow, of the personal collection of Mrs. Jayne Wrightsman, the socialite and French furniture and bookbinding connoisseur who was an extremely influential trustee of the Metropolitan Museum, as well as being in Nancy Reagan’s cabinet.
With less than 18 hours to go, Mrs. Wrightsman’s jug is currently at $1,100. [update: it sold for $4,000.]
This edition will trace the strategic social relationships Kissinger cultivated in the New-York-socialite-meets-consultant-elder-statesman-who-eschews-travel-to-certain-Geneva-Convention-signatory-countries phase of his career. Or it might just map to the acknowledgements in his book, which could be the same thing. Either way, just as with the reflections of the lightboxes in the photos of the respective jugs, the circumstances of this work’s making will gradually come into clearer focus.
While we’re on the subject of writing quickly on matters of significant art that happened in the part about which I had absolutely no idea, please direct your attention to the Boot Boyz Biz, an anonymous bootlegging collective which has, since 2015, been publishing major art and design content, primarily in the medium of deeply researched and highly synthesized, extremely limited edition t-shirts. Which is the only reason, besides my willful neglect of the instagram platform, that I can come up with for my sleeping so hard and so long on them.
Anyway, the t-shirt drops are somehow surpassed only by the non-t-shirt drops, two of which I will highlight here:
One: last summer the Boot Boyz made a Tilted Arc Defense Fund tufted wool rug. I might say it’s more of a mat, but what matters is, it exists at all, unlike the Richard Serra sculpture it evokes, obv. It captures the view from the haters’ offices down to the plaza below, in tufted wool, tastefully tinted to evoke the fundraising poster that Serra and Friends put out.
For the 7 billion-plus of us who did not cop the rug, the sidebar of historical and theoretical research will have to suffice.
Before Sears scion Lessing Rosenwald donated the copper plate engraved on both sides by Paul Revere to the National Gallery of Art, he had around 24 copies of this Masonic certificate made. One sold in 2004 for a couple of hundred dollars.
But this print was made from the plate in 1954, the year after the National Gallery acquired it. And it came from the Rosenwald Collection, but not until 1980. So I guess Rosenwald wanted one more copy on the way out the door. When you’re a founding benefactor donating 22,000 objects, they let you do it.
Anyway, I want to make some, too. But for the moment, I’d settle for seeing the plate. The drawings are wonky, but the script is absolutely gorgeous.
Richard Serra makes a lot of prints, and a lot of them are published as polit..ical fundraisers. They are collected here, mostly from Serra’s Gemini GEL page, where a lot of them are still available, even long after their specific election has passed.
The most recent, published in October 2018, is the most atypical. Fake President commemorates Norman Lear’s 95th birthday, and was one of several works created to raise money for the People For the American Way, which Lear founded. The reflection in the Getty Images pic from the drop party–just two weeks before the election, so riding the wave, not making it, I guess–looks like a bronze plaque, or at least metallic foil, which would be weird and awesome. The force behind these prints, often part of portfolios, is Gemini G.E.L., which I assume means Sidney Felsen.
I’ve been tracking the trouble #painting has been getting itself into for a while now. I’ve always imagined sitting down and sorting them out some day, when there weren’t pandemics or multinational criminal enterprises masquerading as governments running amok. Of course, #painting didn’t want to wait.
In Volume 5 of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s bipartisan report released today [pp. 373-78], paintings turn up at the center of the secret meetings between the Trump family and campaign and Russian intelligence agents during the 2016 presidential election. In June 2016, the day after Emin and Aras Agaralov, a pop singer and his real estate oligarch father, respectively, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower, they gave a giant painting to Trump as a birthday present, with a handwritten note attached. Four days later, on Trump’s birthday, the Washington Post reported that the DNC servers had been hacked; Guccifer 2.0, the Russian operative working with Roger Stone to release the stolen DNC files, dropped Hillary Clinton’s opposition research on Trump the next day. Two days after that, Trump sent the Agalarovs a note thanking them for the gift, and the best birthday ever.
When I went back to the National Gallery the other week, I didn’t just see some little paintings. I visited the empty medieval galleries to see the one thing that has been considered a literal treasure for longer than anything else in the museum: the chalice of Abbot Suger of Saint Denis.
During Power and Pathos, the epic 2016 exhibition of Hellenic bronzes, Getty curator Kenneth Lapatin talked about these rarest of all antiquities in their contemporary context. Turns out, even when bronze sculptures were made of heroes by the most celebrated sculptures of the day, they were not considered valuable, or even necessarily important; such bronze sculptures literally lined the streets and crowded the grounds of every temple in town. And of course, when their metal was needed for spears, or helmets, or the next big wrestling star, they were readily melted down. They’re rare today precisely because they weren’t valued as more than scrap.
Lapatin looked at what the rarest, most precious objects of the Hellenic Age were? What did they spend their biggest money on? What contributed the greatest social status? What were the most completely extraneous and frivolous and conspicuous luxury purchases that influenced the political and social forces of the day? What, in other words, was their Art?
It was blingy dishware, but not just gold, which was also quickly reduced to its metallurgical value. The pinnacle was carved hardstone in exotic patterns from far away or unknown sources. Records show cups of porphyry that sold for more than a villa. The delicately fluted and translucent sardonyx cup in the chalice is one such cup, made 2100 years ago in Alexandria, and then transformed 900 years ago for the sacramental use of the kings of France.
In whose private chapel it remained until the revolution, when it was nationalized, then–lol wow ok–stolen in 1804 and smuggled to England via Holland inside a plaster cast of the Laocoön, whence it circulated in the market until it was bought in 1922 by Joseph Widener, who ended up donating it to the National Gallery. Sounds like its roughest time was the last 200 years. But then, Abbot Suger never said where it came from or how he got it, so who knows.
I was in the back seat or maybe the jump seat of a Tesla, going to the pool. A public radio host was driving, but he didn’t look or sound like Scott Simon; I can’t figure out who it was, maybe 40? dark hair? My mom was in the passenger seat; he was doing and saying things to impress her. We drove through a subdivision under construction. A couple of houses had unfinished sculptures of OSB in the center of their circular driveways. Angled, wedgy, like a thick version of the lightning bolt emoji, Pikachu’s tail, or that knot of brushed steel powerpoint arrows in the traffic island in Rosslyn. Or maby they were more like riffs on the In ‘n Out sign.
Turning the corner, another house’s sculpture was in the process of being covered with gold-colored bronze sheet, hammered and nailed like a vintage-look trunk, but the kind you see in Restoration Hardware, or maybe World Bazaar. Actually it looked more like that spec house being built on Old Chain Bridge Road, which has had gold-finish panels uncovered for months. I keep waiting to find out they’re the protective coating of something else. I’ll get a picture one of these days.
Anyway NPR guy turns into a parking garage, and I’m like, are we taking a short cut through the parking garage? He takes the ticket; day care center-style rooms are seen on the same level, like the garage is now the lobby. MVRDV did that one bldg for VPRO where everything was a ramp, like they’d adapted a parking deck, but this wasn’t like that. He turned, and started heading down the giant statement staircase, babbling something. I hopped out, like I’d been in a rumble seat, but really like I was a first-person video game character, even though I don’t play video games. The car went bounding down the stairs like a Mini in The Italian Job, except that it bounced so high it flipped over, at which point I startled awake.
I am not a dream rememberer, much less a dream journaler, but after deciding I didn’t have any anxiety about my mom’s safety, I felt like documenting the unommonly vivid sculpture visuals. Even though, as I type them out and reflect on them, they really do sound bad and perhaps better forgotten.
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.
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.
Speaking of black squares and racism, I was surprised to not see anyone try to sneak Malevich’s Black Square into their #BlackoutTuesday posts. But then, I was offline and only did catch up to it all after the fact. Which is good, because it probably would’ve been me; I’m a sucker for a monochrome.
It did make me wonder whether Malevich has been canceled since 2015, when the State Tretyakov Museum announced they found a caption-like text on the face of the painting that reads, “Battle of the Negroes…” The gist of their announcement, and reporting at the time, was that Malevich had at some point–it was written in pencil on dry paint–titled his most important work after a French poet’s 18-year-old monochrome April Fools’ Day joke. Thus the foundational work of abstraction, Suprematism, and Modernism was actually racist satire, joke’s on the century of art snobs who fell for it.
Maybe we were all a little bit too trusting of the Russians in 2015, argued Aleksandra Shatskikh in e-flux journal 2017. Shatskikh, a leading expert on Suprematism, dismissed the Tretyakov’s definitive attribution of the text to Malevich, who would never tell such a lame joke:
[Tretyakov Malevich expert Irina] Vakar drew her information about the creation and existence of the work A Battle of Negroes in a Cave at Night from the internet, most probably from Wikipedia…When they declared the inscription on The Black Square to be “authorial,” neither Vakar nor the collective as a whole felt even a shadow of doubt that Malevich could have thought of his BlackSquare as a banal illustration and written a title explaining its subject in the white margin below the black “illustration.” This was precisely the approach taken by Paul Bilhaud [in 1882] and then Alphonse Allais: an “illustration” and its humorous title. Allais replicated Paul Bilhaud’s discovery, and the jokers at the Moscow Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture replicated the replication—permit me to note in passing that witticisms are only authentic when fresh; afterwards they become plagiarism and cliché.
Ouch. Shatskikh also criticized the museum’s analysis. Based on the amount of time needed for the paint substrate to dry, and the multiple (ignored) instances of Malevich’s controversial Suprematist works being vandalized, Shatskikh is sure the painting was scribbled on by an unoriginal realist with a terrible sense of humor.
[DG:] The fundamental issue, to me, is that someone like Allais could get away with making what he thought of as a little joke, about Negroes in a cave being black, because his audience consisted essentially of white Europeans like himself. But our expectations of more ‘serious’ modernists are higher, and their own imagined audience was larger. We demand them to be emancipators, to work on progress in thinking. After all, it is only another decade or so until the demands of Du Bois for a ‘Negro art’, when he called for culture to help humanity to transcend what he called the ‘color line’, but also, to gain ‘the right of black folk to love and enjoy’ art, if necessary, through propaganda. Like Du Bois, we expect Malevich to be both serious and on the right side of history.
This is why the discovery threatens to undermine the supposed sanctity of modernism itself. And yet, it is perhaps also an opportunity to develop a more critical understanding of many modernists’ own posturing in history.
Allais (or Bilhaud, or Malevich) is not less racist because he also made other monochrome jokes about pale girls in the snow or whatever. As Gusejnova points out, his world was basically European, white, and male. And it doesn’t really matter who wrote the text on Black Square; it successfully punctures the Suprematist myth that abstraction could exist apart from the real world of objects, people, ideologies, and racial conflict. 2015 was as good as year as any for everyone to get that message.
[UPDATED, SEE BELOW] Muriel Bowser’s newest work, BLACK LIVES MATTER (2020) is the best painting I’ve seen in months. It was realized Friday morning on 16th Street by the Department of Public Works in collaboration with some local muralists and passersby who volunteered to help paint.
It measures approximately 35 x 850 feet, the full width of a city street and most of the length of two blocks. It is made largely of DOT Highway Yellow paint (FedStd 13538) on asphalt and thermoplastic crosswalk and lane striping, with highlights and details in DC Gray (FedStd 16099) [see below.]
After the Washington Monument and two occupying troops were struck by lightning last night, Washington DC woke up to the biggest painting project in the country: BLACK LIVES MATTER being painted, from curb to curb, on 16th Street leading up to the White House. It starts at K Street, in front of the St. Regis Hotel, and I expect it will go right up to the fence around Lafayette Square. Prince of Petworth has photos and updates.
It will be big enough to view from military surveillance planes circling the District, and from Google Maps, but it is not visible from the bunker of the White House.
The last massive street painting the District government realized was a fake Gene Davis painting to celebrate the anniversary of the Washington Color Field movement in 2007. That painting, concocted by a former studio assistant, was a block long, and in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which holds Davis’s estate, and really should have known better.
UPDATE: The Artist is present, and tweeting her pano from the roof of the closed Hay Adams Hotel. When I made my rendering I did not anticipate it would include the DC flag. greg.org deeply regrets the error. Also she has officially named 16th street in front of the White House Black Lives Matter Plaza.