Ketchup messes and tantrums always reminded me of Paul McCarthy.
Here is a photo of a 2010 realization of Paul McCarthy’s 1970 sculpture, Ketchup Sandwich, acquired by the Moderna Museet in 2006. According to the accompanying sketches, also acquired, the 30 x 30 x 30 inch cube is comprised of 100 to 120 layers of alternating plate glass and ketchup, plus the empty glass bottles.
If I needed a DC or presidential reference, I’d come back with American Decay, a sculptural installation pre-murder Carl Andre created to protest the re-election of Richard Nixon, which was installed in Max Protech’s DC gallery during the inauguration. American Decay was a maxed out version of Nixon’s favorite salad: a 500 pound, 12 x 18 foot field of cottage cheese, topped with 10 gallons of ketchup, spread out on tar paper so Protech didn’t lose his deposit.
After today tho, I guess that’s all been thrown out the window. So to speak.
I was very sad to learn of the passing of DC legend Sam Gilliam Saturday. My condolences go to Annie and the rest of his family and friends. When he didn’t make the opening of his [COVID-delayed] show at the Hirshhorn last month, I was concerned for a minute, but Gilliam also had the temperament and tenacity that made you feel like he’d go on forever, and dare you to think otherwise.
Beyond the fascination of experiencing his work, I had the great thrill and honor to get to know Gilliam a bit, and to do a deep research dive into his career and practice a few years ago for a magazine article. As I said at the time, “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.”
Especially since 2012, the mainstream art world and its institutions have finally made it possible to see more of Gilliam’s work, and to see significant examples of it. His dedication to abstraction and experimentation, and his simultaneous fluency with painting and sculpture, are sure to continue growing in significance, even as we now face a difficult world made even harder by his absence.
Anne Truitt’s 1962 sculpture Catawba got its name from a street in North Carolina where she had appendicitis as a child. For Truitt color and form was connected to experience, to the evocation of a memory or a place.
For me, this absolute unit of an azalea bush I passed on a road I don’t take very often reminded me of Catawba.
Which got me thinking about Tennis Ball, the 1968 painting Thiebaud made at Wimbledon for Sports Illustrated. [Story goes, the art director who’d gotten Matisse to do a cutouts cover for LIFE Magazine had originally approached Thiebaud to make some hockey-related paintings for SI, thinking, ice is white, Thiebaud paints white, but the artist didn’t care about hockey and suggested they send him to Wimbledon instead.]
Tennis Ball is only 12 x 12 inches, a nearly perfect, little painting. Turns out it was sold at Sotheby’s, presumably by the family of the art director. The exhibition history and publication history are pretty thin for such a nice painting. And the reproduction, holy smokes. It took me a lot of scrolling and zooming to decide, based on the tiny white fleck of paint in the red border of the bottom edge of the ball’s shadow, that this is, in fact, the same painting. [Thiebaud had told Green that he’d only painted the one, which steeled my resolve.]
It’s low-key wild that the Sotheby’s website for this lot doesn’t even list the dimensions, or the date of the sale. Since Sotheby’s changed ownership, it feels like their sales results pages have been stripped down to tumblr levels of nothingness, and for what? At least if you click on the sale title (Contemporary Day Sale, NY, ofc), you can find out it was November 10, 2010.
Which is familiar. It was the catalogues for Sotheby’s November 2010 sales, Gerhard Richter’s squeegee painting on the cover, arrived on the table in Cy Twombly’s Lexington, VA studio while Tacita Dean was visiting–and filming.
In her work Edwin Parker (2011), released after Twombly’s death, Twombly and Nicola Del Roscio are seen chatting about works as they flipped through the catalogue that is out of the camera’s view.
“I don’t get– I mean, who would want to put that on the wall?” Twombly says about what must be lot 343, a big neon 99 Cent Dreams work by Doug Aitken. “I would put that!,” Nicola says. Twombly snorts. Nicola laughs, “I like that!” “That’s Richard Prince.” “How much is that?” “18, 12-18,” Twombly replies. “I like that,” Twombly says of the work on the next page. “You always like those, the dot paintings,” Del Roscio responds. [Lot 350? Damien Hirst.]
Dean does not include any reactions to lot 355, a 2008 Damien Hirst titled Bill with Shark. This painting of Bill Gates looking at a Hirst sculpture was based on a photo by Jean Pigozzi, and was originally sold in The Charity Element, the five of 223 works in the artist’s one-man sale at Sotheby’s in 2008 whose proceeds were marked for charities. The half million dollars this painting brought went, pointlessly, to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose mission was memorialized in the Sotheby’s press release as “aim[ing] to help reduce inequities in the United States and around the world.” Resold for $278,000, it probably netted the original buyer $200,000, which cost them $300,000 for the privilege of donating to one of the richest men in the world. None of this makes sense, but it does remind me that Melinda Gates divorced her husband last year because she found his explanations of his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein unbelievable and unacceptable. 👀
The sale also included Ellsworth Kelly’s Light Green Panel (1982), from the awesome series of editions he produced with Gemini GEL. Who ever knows how big a Kelly is without standing in front of it, but these Gemini panels are all adorable-size, like posters that float an inch and a half off the wall. At 42 x 32 in., Light Green Panel are the biggest. Kelly produced them in eleven colors on aluminum panels in five differently sized polygons (only one size per color, though.] In addition to the prototypes, there are 15 or so of each of these panels out there. I would love to have them all, and to see them together again, like at the National Gallery.
Or maybe slightly differently.
Which of course reminded me of Kelly’s 2011 aluminum panel edition, Green Panel (Ground Zero), the shape of which he derived from the NY Times’ aerial photo of the World Trade Center site. The 2003 collage he made and sent to Herbert Muschamp, is now at the Whitney, proposed the World Trade Center site be left as an open field of grass.
I did not want us to need Vermeer Facsimile Objects, but here we are, at least through December 12. [DECEMBER 12 UPDATE: Staatliche Kunstammlungen Dresden has extended the closure of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, and thus the Vermeer exhibition, through the 9th of January. But the Vermeer show has a hard stop on Jan. 2nd, and so will not reopen? I realized this only in the course of writing this update. Vermeer Facsimile Objects will be available only through tonight, 12/12. Sorry you can’t see the show in Germany, but thank you all for your engagement.]
This artnet investigation by Zachary Small into attempts by his dealers to uncancel Chuck Close ends up highlighting the failures of the art world to deal with sexual harassment, especially when there’s money to be made. Or male power to be preserved. Small notes how Close’s gallerists at Pace protected him, thwarted attempts by those accusing him of coercion to seek accountability, and sought to reboot his presence and market–and who themselves turned out to be perpetrators of workplace abuse, for which they’ve suffered no professional consequences.
Rob Storr also turns out to be spineless when the artist whose MoMA retrospective he curated sexually harassed a student at the art school he’d invited him to, Yale.
Small’s article reminds me that though Close’s work is now not on view in many museums, his 2006 portrait of another sexual predator whose legacy remains unresolved, Bill Clinton, continues to hang at the National Portrait Gallery, with a two-sentence acknowledgement of Close’s accusers. [The new portrait of Donald Trump nearby contains no such disclaimer.]
But then, this is an art world where Carl Andre could keep showing with his dealer Paula Cooper, and could eventually get a five-museum international retrospective, after killing his wife. So it’s not like Arne Glimcher’s got no reason to hope.
Maybe the solution is for museums to lean into it, and present Close’s work as what it turns out to be: the product of a sexual harrasser in a system set up to coddle them. How does Close’s intense, close-up portraiture of his friends and the powerful reflect the male-dominated structures and networks that made his fortune? Museums should be free from worrying about what impact actual, critical curating might have on the market value of their Closes, right? Though it might be tough to get lenders.
Director Barry Jenkins said one of the inspirations for The Gaze was a painting by Kerry James Marshall. In The Gaze, shot on the set of The Underground Railroad, actors embody ancestors, people who lived and died without much or any visual record of their existence. Marshall created a similar series of paintings depicting Black people of history for whom no visual record survives, and Jenkins called outScipio Moorhead portrait of himself, 1776, a 2007 painting (above) which he saw at the Met Breuer in 2016. I think Jenkins is quoting a text from the Met:
“In this painting Marshall created an imagined self-portrait of a real African American artist, Scipio Moorhead, who was active in the 1770s. Few if any images of Moorhead exist in the historical record. Everything we know of his legacy is based on Phillis Wheatley’s first book of poetry, published in 1773 while she was a slave [sic] in Boston. The book’s title page illustration is an engraving of the writer, reportedly modeled on a painting by Moorhead. The engraving remains the only visual proof, however tenuous, of Moorhead’s existence.”
From what I can find, no images of or by Moorhead survive, only some mentions of him in correspondence; marginalia identifying him as the subject of one of Wheatley’s poems; and the etching that is supposed to be based on his portrait of Wheatley.
Somehow the Met has a print that was not bound into one of the 300 copies the book Wheatley first got published in England. It was soon published in Boston after her return as a free woman, in 1773.
The preface to Wheatley’s book includes a statement signed by 18 prominent Bostonians who examined her and her manuscript and pronounced them genuine, despite her background as “an uncultivated Barbarian” who labors “under the Disadavantage” of being enslaved by the Wheatleys. Which, one must imagine, is an extraordinary thing to have experienced.
Wheatley married, wrote poems criticizing slavery and praising the American revolution, then died young, at 31. A new book by poet and professor Honoré Fanonne Jeffers includes previously unpublished letters showing her husband’s attempts to publish a second book of poetry after her death. Except for Wheatley’s book and a couple of other mentions, Scipio Moorhead’s fuller story remains unknown.
Marshall’s depiction of Moorhead is notable for the size of the historical void it occupies. The greatest sculptors of ancient Greece are only recognized as such because of later Roman copies of their work. Having no known work survive certainly hasn’t hurt the legacies of Phidias, or Polykleitos, who are foundational for European art’s history of itself. What would our culture be like if Moorhead’s Phyllis Wheatley were as influential as Myron’s Discobolus?
This is really not how I like to find out about multiple Richard Serra sculptures shoved into an alley in SE Washington DC, but here we are. @johnpowersus just tagged me on this instagram photo by Kevin Buist @porcupineschool. And I have to admit, except for the plinth; the siting shoved up against the garden wall; the dumpsters;
Samuel F. B. Morse expected his 1822 epic, 9×12 foot painting of the chamber of The House of Representatives in the just-repaired US Capitol would tour the country to paying crowds, and then be triumphantly acquired by the politicians he made famous. That did not happen. The tour was a flop; the painting he’d spent months creating in a makeshift studio next to the House chamber was sold in Europe, and eventually ended up at the Corcoran. It was only with the dissolution of that museum in 2014, almost 200 years later, that Morse’s painting came into the collection of the nation, at the National Gallery.
Morse chose not paint the chaos and occasional violence that typified the House’s deliberations over such controversies as the Missouri Compromise or the displacement of Indian populations. Instead, perhaps aspirationally, he depicts a calm moment where hardworking servants of the people were preparing for a night session.
Eighty recognizable politicians, journalists, and others are depicted–Morse sold a pamphlet diagram for viewers to identify them all-but the dramatic focus of the painting is an unidentified lamplighter. The figure stands on a ladder, against the giant chandelier, which has been lowered for his reach. [My first favorite thing about this painting was the thin, black line extending from the top of the painting to the chandelier, His back to the picture plane, but his profile reveals him to be a Black man. Was he enslaved? It’s not clear; the US government did not as a practice own slaves at the time, but slavers regularly leased the enslaved for government work–like rebuilding the Capitol after the British burned it in 1812. Morse was a supporter of slavery (also an opponent of immigration), which may explain why the central figure of his painting goes unnamed.
The only other non-white person in the painting, however, was well-known in Washington. Petalesharo was a Pawnee chief who traveled to DC as part of a Great Plains delegation to negotiate the fate of his and other tribes. He is shown seated in the House spectator’s gallery, with an impassive expression that resembles the portrait Charles Bird King made at the same time for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Petalesharo had become famous through the promotion of missionaries, who’d reported that the chief had stopped his tribe from killing a young Comanche girl, either as part of human sacrifice or in revenge for a theft. This show of civilized mercy was probably appealing to the man to Petalesharo’s right, Jedidiah Morse, the Calvinist minister and geographer, who was also the artist’s father. Jedidiah had come to Congress to share a massive report he’d written on the US relationship with the Indian tribes. After traveling for several years and meeting with Indian leaders and communities, Morse argued for white coexistence with the Indians, along with a heavy dose of assimilation and missionary-led Christianization. His recommendations were ignored in favor of abrogating treaties and exterminating Indian populations who would not remove themselves from newly claimed lands. Next to Papa Morse is Benjamin Silliman, Samuel Morse’s chemistry professor at Yale. Years later, after Morse would develop the telegraph and Morse Code, Silliman became the first person to distill petroleum.
While viewing Morse’s painting the other day at the freshly reopened National Gallery, I got up close to study these standout figures; their unusual compositions, one obscured at the center and the other pushed and fenced off at the margins; one with a glowing chandelier and the other amidst brushy abstractions of the grand chamber’s marble columns; and to contemplate their significance, long unsung, to the history of this scene and this nation. Which prompted my gallerygoing companion to say, “Uh-oh, here come the Facsimile Objects.” [Reader, I married her.]
As another experiment on cropping my way to Facsimile Objects, I envision this as a diptych extracted from the painting, each realized at full scale, and installed where Morse put them in the original painting. Seeing these definitely reminded me of Titus Kaphar’s 2016 painting Enough About You, in which he isolates and frames the face of an unidentified enslaved boy in a portrait of Elihu Yale. But I’m still figuring out how these compositions read apart from the larger painting, and in relation to each other. Unlike Kaphar’s work, an awful lot is missing here.
The first proofs just arrived, and while they’re great images, they’re a little low-res; even a big jpg of a 12-foot painting is not really big enough to work with, so I’m going to shoot the details myself. Which feels a little extra, but also necessary here. brb.
The Museum of Contemporary Art owns Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1988 work, Forbidden Colors [not shown]. The work consists of four panels painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag. The title refers to an Israeli ban, ended in 1993, on any display of these colors in combination within the Palestinian occupied territories.
Forbidden Colors was first shown at The New Museum, then at White Columns. But after MOCA acquired it, they have only exhibited it a couple of times and loaned it once. [It has been shown twice since I first wrote about it in 2013, including at Noah Davis’s Underground Museum in 2018.]
So far, no one at MOCA from Klaus on down has mentioned this important work in relation to the violence and oppression Palestinians are currently suffering at the hands of Israel, its military, police, and the settlers, who are executing a system of apartheid within Israel, Gaza and the Occupied West Bank.
Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors (May 2021) is a repetition of Gonzalez-Torres’ work, which I am making available for exhibition to any gallery, or museum, or other institution who wishes to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and support for their rights.
It is meant to stand in for the artwork it repeats whenever or wherever that work is needed, but is unavailable. If you want to exhaust your efforts to borrow the work from MOCA, that’s fine, but it’s not a prerequisite for getting this one. I’ll provide as many as necessary, at cost, around $400 for materials and labor and (US) shipping. Or pay someone local make one for you; there are surely artists or painters among your staff who could do it. It took me about six hours to make one, but maybe your art handler already knows all the monochrome protips. Send a photo and credit info if you’d like it recorded. As Rauschenberg once wrote of other monochrome paintings, “It is completely irrelevant that I am making them–TODAY is their creator.”
In its title Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors pays homage to Sturtevant’s repetitions of Gonzalez-Torres’ light string and go-go dancing platform works.
In its execution and offering up as a stand-in at a moment of institutional timidity, it is related to an earlier work, Untitled (300×404), which I created in 2009 when MoMA and/or Gagosian wouldn’t permit the use of a Richard Prince Cowboy photo in a Slate review of an exhibition.
When Felix Gonzalez-Torres presented Forbidden Colors he described it as “a solitary act of consciousness here in SoHo.” Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors (May 2021) is a shared act of consciousness with people all over the world.
News from the Facsimile Objects front: barring any exceptional developments, the National Gallery in London will reopen on Monday (5/17), and so the Dürer there, the heavenly phenomenon on the back of the St. Jerome, will be visitable again. At that point, of course, the corresponding Facsimile Object (D1), will no longer be needed, and so will become unavailable. Get one while you can, I guess. The Karlsruhe agate-like painting on the back of Dürer’s Sad Jesus will, sadly, still be available, while Germany’s COVID numbers remain so high.
Recently I made a couple of Facsimile Objects related to works in the National Gallery in Washington, DC, which has been closed for several months. They will not be issued in any numbers, partly because the NGA just reopened. In fact, we were there yesterday, the first day back, when the shipment of test FOs arrived in the mail.
As you can see from the installation photo above, though, they look nice. Other than their uselessness, I’m pleased with how they turned out.
Without access to museums or galleries, I notice I have been looking at far more art via auction sites than is typical. I am OK with this.
Especially when it surfaces objects like this, a piece of square paper creased into sixteen smaller squares, by Sol LeWitt. It is signed and dated March 1971 on the front, 1972 on the Max Protetch label on the back, where it is called “Fold Piece” instead of “Folded Paper Piece,” an insignificant difference magnified in our Google-based world.
Benin bronzes have been in the news lately, and finally for a good reason: museums are finally starting to acknowledge their culpability in holding the thousands of Benin bronze sculptures and other royal artifacts that all made their way out of Africa the same way: via the British imperial troops’ so-called “punitive expedition” that destroyed the capital of the Kingdom of Benin, in present day Nigeria, in 1897.
The British Museum and the Metropolitan each have hundreds of objects frankly labeled as the spoils of this massacre. Very unusually, and for absolutely no reason that I can find, the National Gallery of Art has exactly one: this c. 18th century Benin bronze rooster. Every couple of months for the last couple of years I’ve tried to uncover how this object got to the National Gallery, and why an African object would even be accepted, never mind kept, by a museum with no African art–and with almost no art beyond the European and American tradition. All I can figure is that this Benin bronze sculpture doesn’t belong at the National Gallery of Art, even if it weren’t stolen.
It feels like a good time to be looking for lost Jacob Lawrence paintings. The publicity around the Metropolitan Museum’s show of his 1942-43 series The American Struggle has so far helped surface two of the original 30 works. Three more remain unlocated, and one of those is known only by its title.
Untitled (Trump Plaza Black) Nos. 4 & 5, 2016, paint on panel, each in two parts, collection: Trump Entertainment Resorts/Carl Icahn, installation photo via Press of Atlantic City
which were hastily installed during the 2016 campaign over the dingy palimpsest of Trump’s name on the facade of the abandoned and bankrupt casino in Atlantic City.
And it reminded me that it very much mattered to the works that they were in the collections of the NYPD Order Control Unit and Trump Entertainment Resorts & Carl Icahn, respectively.
So when this piece went up on the facade of the Fox News studio facing the US Capitol building, in between the white supremacist insurrectionists’ attack on vote certification slash barely thwarted massacre of politicians, and the hastily militarized inauguration, where troops are literally–I hope–protecting the elected president and vice president from the paramilitary mobs of the current/outgoing president, it feels very important to point out that Fox News absolutely owns this.