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.
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.