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.
Getting the colors of that Melvin Edwards X Blinky Palermo joint in my head was like learning a new word: you start hearing it everywhere. Like in Dana Chandler’s 1975 painting, Fred Hampton’s Door 2, which is in Soul of the Nation at the Brooklyn Museum. Greg Cook has a great post on Wonderland about Chandler, a prominent Black Power acivist and artist from Boston, who painted at least two versions of Fred Hampton’s Door, complete with [bullet] holes, to memorialize the young Black Panther leader and to protest his murder at the hand of Chicago police.
Chandler’s painting in Soul of a Nation was made in 1975, after his original 1970 painting was stolen from Expo ’74 in Spokane, Washington. The original was a framed painting of a section of Hampton’s door; the second version was actually a door. Both had holes that are meant to be read as bullet holes. The original had one big white star that read (to me, anyway) as an armed forces service star; the second one has a cluster of four stars, arranged like an admiral’s insignia. But the dominant colors are Pan-African red and green.
This is the only photo I’ve seen of the original painting; it ran as a full page in Time Magazine in April 1970, illustrating an article on Angry Black Artists [sic].
This weird practice I’ve been exploring leaves me very aware of how I discuss it, and of how works are explained. I try to be accurate about what I actually do, or what a work has to do with me. A lot of times, the work exists, and I announce it. Or I’m stoked to announce it. It’s on view. It is available. Sometimes it is conceptualized. Rarely is it conceived; that doesn’t feel like how it works. It’s not really found, though that is obviously part of the process. Same with declaring it, though I bridle at the ostensible ease, which can make me doubt myself as a Duchampian poseur, or an armchair usurper of someone else’s creative exertions.
But sometimes, rarely, exquisitely, there is a right word to describe the flow from which a perfect product emerges. In this case the word is realized. I realized this work in a hot-tweeted instant about an hour ago. This work was realized at the Hirshhorn Museum.
It is also interesting to me how immediately and completely realizing a work transforms the context and history around it. Something I hated with disgust I now love-hate. This huge, overbearing, aggressively dumb sculpture once seemed to me a monument to its own pomposity and that of the institution(al leadership) that brought it to town, then set it smack in the unavoidable center of things, then promptly discovered it was too big and unwieldy and expensive to get rid of, and that it wasn’t even clear the site’s hollow foundation could support the apparatus needed to remove it, or survive the attempt unscathed.
So yeah, amazing how that’s all changed now. And you can see it during the shutdown. What you can’t do, though, is ever unsee it.
In Bruce Hainley’s new essay on Cady Noland [Artforum Jan ’19, too short at 12 pages] I learned that the artist’s mom, Cornelia Langer Noland Reis, was the co-owner with Maria O’Leary of a world-focused jewelry and fashion boutique in Old Town, Alexandria known as Nuevo Mundo.
The image, with caption, at top, is from a 2015 remembrance of O’Leary, who was a life/style icon to the moms and daughters of Old Town. The image above was screencapped from a checklist of Robert Gober’s 2014 MoMA retrospective. It included a re-staging of his 1999 group show for which Cady Noland made Stand-In for a Stand-In, a cardboard version of a stock.
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.
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.
“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)
I’ll be honest, when I first heard that the ICE immigrant family detention centers full of Central American refugee kids and moms had animal-themed cell blocks like red bird and blue butterfly, I imagined they were using Eric Carle drawings, and I got a dark, blogging thrill.
But no. The South Texas Residential Center in Dilley, the largest family detention center in the world, run by the for-profit prison contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, was too cheap to license Carle’s work, and just used random clip art instead.
Also, the government’s punitive detention of these people is shameful, and it can’t end soon enough. Most of these families are fleeing war, violence, and abuse in their home countries and have already qualified for refugee hearings the US, but remain in these remote prisons, guarded by actual prison guards, temping in khakis and polo shirts, as a feeble deterrent to other refugees.
I resisted comparing ICE’s outsourced prisons to the desert detention centers Japanese-American families were forced into during WWII, even when I saw Bob Owen’s photo in the San Antonio Express News, which is a damningly straight-up evocation of Dorothea Lange’s photos of the War Relocation Authority’s internment camp at Manzanar, California.
Ansel Adams also took photos at Manzanar, which he published in a book, Born Free And Equal, alongside a text that reads today as disturbingly upbeat in its praise of the gumption and loyalty of American citizens forced into desert prisons. I’ve always viewed Adams’ project as a protest, a condemnation of the injustice visited upon Americans because of the racist fears of their neighbors and political leaders. But that is over-optimistic hindsight. Re-reading Adams’ text now is pretty depressing. To think that it’s all the Constitution and fundamental principle that wartime white America could handle at the time.
At least it helps make sense for how this country could get so cross-wise with its own professed ideals today; we really have not changed that much at all. And when I tried to put some evolved distance between the ironies of Adams’ treacly government-reviewed-and-approved fluffing and this account from inside Dilley, I couldn’t. So here it is:
While children wait for their mothers to talk to lawyers and legal aids, they are usually watching kids’ movies dubbed in Spanish, namely Rio or Frozen. The children of Dilley, like children everywhere, have taken to singing Frozen’s iconic song “Let It Go.”The Spanish-language refrain to the song “Libre soy! Libre soy!” translates to “I am free! I am free!” It’s an irony that makes the adults of Dilley uneasy. Mehta recalls one mother responding to her singing child under her breath: “Pero no lo somos” (But we aren’t).
Do you know the chorus of “Let it Go” in Spanish? I did not, but it is one helluva song for kids to be singing in a corporate prison in 2015:
Libre soy, libre soy
No puedo ocultarlo más
Libre soy, libre soy
Libertad sin vuelta atrás
Y firme así me quedo aquí
Libre soy, libre soy
El frío es parte también de mí
I am free, I am free
I can’t hide it anymore
I am free, I am free
Freedom without turning back
And I’m staying here, firm like this
I am free, I am free
The cold is also a part of me
Dave Masaharu Tatsuno ran the dry goods store at Topaz Mountain, where Japanese Americans from the Bay Area were imprisoned during WWII. And he took a bunch of 8mm home movies, using color film which he’d pick up on buying trips back east. And then he edited the movies together into Topaz Memories [or Topaz, which is how it was listed when it was accepted onto the National Film Registry], a film/presentation which he gave at organizations around the country after the war.
Or maybe beginnin the 1990s, I haven’t watched the end of the local PBS documentary on Tatsuno, produced after his death in 2006, to figure it all out yet. I was so amped up by these detainee-made sleds at 20:05, I had to post them right away. That’s Bill Fujita, Tatsuno’s brother-in-law, pulling David Fujita and Tatsuno’s oldest son Sheldon in 1943.
The Tatsunos were expelled from their home when Dave’s wife Alice was nine months pregnant, and their second son Rod was born at the Bay Area assembly/processing center at Tanforan race track. Their daughter Arlene was born at Topaz.
You’d think that as a parent, I’d be less surprised by now at the constant discoveries of the extent of my own ignorance.
Last night, while surfing through the archive of the War Relocation Authority’s nearly 7,000 photos of WWII Japanese American internment camps for “furniture,” [right, I know.] I was confused by the number of search results that included George Nakashima and his daughter Mira.
The internment camps only imprisoned Japanese Americans on the west coast; Nakashima, modernist woodworking master, lived in New Hope, Pennsylvania, so he should’ve been totally unaffected.
And it’s only then that I looked at Nakashima’s bio, and sure enough, the architect, his wife Marion, and his newborn daughter were expelled from Seattle and detained at Minidoka, Idaho in the Spring of 1942. It was only through the protracted petitions of Antonin Raymond, an architect and former employer, that the Nakashimas were able to leave the camp for Raymond’s farm in New Hope.
The picture above, by WRA photographer Francis Stewart, shows George Nakashima at Minidoka in the Fall of 1942, “Constructing and decorating model apartment to show possibilities using scrap materials.” Which, just. Wallpaper made from bookpages and blueprints and a proto-Conoid table made from prison scraps. This room should be in the Smithsonian.
The irony, if that’s the right word, is that it was at Minidoka that Nakashima met Gentaro Hikogawa, an issei hotel manager three years older than he, who’d immigrated from Shikoku to Tacoma. Hikogawa was also a master carpenter, who taught Nakashima Japanese joinery and rural handtool techniques that formed the foundation for Nakashima’s philosophy and later innovations.
Speaking of which, here are two photos of 3-yo Mira Nakashima posing next to two beds her father made, one for her, and one for her doll, in her bedroom in New Hope.
The photo blog on The Atlantic has been running extended looks back at images from World War II. Today’s theme: Japanese-Americans forcibly removed from their homes and businesses and shipped to internment camps in the middle of the freakin’ deserts.
The caption on #39 just bummed me out: “Nursery school children play with a scale model of their barracks at the Tule Lake Relocation Center, Newell, California, on September 11, 1942.” Their barracks.
On the bright side, check out the sweet little pine plank nursery chairs they’re standing on. How many civil right’s a brother gotta give up to score a few of those, I wonder?
America’s imprisonment of its own citizens because of racial bigotry during World War II has been of great interest to me since discovering Born Free and Equal, Ansel Adams’ self-published photobook of Japanese Americans detained at Manzanar, in the early 1990s. It always felt like important history that must be faced and not forgotten. Now, of course, it is a crime being surpassed and magnified, with families being torn apart and children fleeing for their lives being subject to state-sponsored terror at a scale this country hasn’t seen in almost a century, and all for the accumulation of Mautocratic political power.
It is not a sufficient response by any measure, but I am republishing a series of blog posts here which I made over the years at Daddy Types, the weblog for new dads, which I ran from 2004 until my CMS broke late last year. On DT I often wrote about the overlooked or forgotten histories and objects of parenting, with a focus on modernism, design, DIY, and dad-related projects. That included frequent posts on the material lives of Japanese American children imprisoned in detention camps during WWII, including the attempts to provide kids an approximation of a normal environment through schools, playgrounds, and domestic spaces built out of scrap lumber.