Thanks to apexart’s expansive invitation, the show helped me recognize a significant connection between the two main visual and photographic subjects: the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey, the first and last photograph of the visible universe before the space age; and Project Echo, the 100-foot diameter mirrored satelloon that was the first manmade object in space visible to the naked eye.
So yesterday’s Artle quiz at the National Gallery started with the top painting, which was a *copy* of a section of a van Dyck, above, that’s at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
“It is possible that the owners of Van Dyck’s original group portrait commissioned the copy for a family member or close relative,” explains the NGA.
Well, we do know from the DIA site, that some of the owners liked to have things painted: “Inscribed, upper left: Family of Oliver St. John | Earl of Bolingbroke [added later; now thought to be a portrait group of a Flemish family] Inscribed, upper right: Vandyke/pinxit [added later].”
As Peter Huestis notes, the paintings match closely enough that the copy must have been made in the presence of the original. But who, when, and where?
Of the 18,000+ watercolors in the American Index of Design, some of the most amazing are of textiles and, in this case, embroidery. Index artist Elizabeth Moutal painted stitches and the tacked and fraying hem of what looks like it used to be the upholstered cushion of a little stool or something. Or maybe it’s just where it was pinned down in the making. Beautiful.
With his deadpan, mechanically produced, offset printed, unsigned artist book, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Ed Ruscha upended the art of photography. More recently he upended the art of photographing art. Museums are out there trying every way to depict the 7 inch-by-25-foot accordion-style book accurately on their little websites.
MoMA shows just the cover, blank with the words The Sunset Strip at the top. The Getty shows the title page, plus a single, 14-inch spread, very manageable. The Harvard Art Museums treats it like a rare book, publishing images of the whole thing, in a gallery of 22 3-fold spreads. The Met, which never met a copyright it didn’t maximize, gives absolutely nothing, just the text description.
Last year, the Getty, which holds Ruscha’s archives, went several extra miles by digitizing 60,000 of the over half million photos the artist and his collaborators have taken of the Sunset Strip since 1965. Turns out the book we know was just the first of at least 12 Sunsets spanning fifty years (so far), all of which are available online, for virtual driving.
The National Gallery of Art acquired Every Building on the Sunset Strip in 2015, when it subsumed the Corcoran. Every institution’s online collection presentation is shaped as much by its choices of software as by its information design and priorities, and the NGA’s even more so. The URL for the image above indicates it is generated to fit within a frame of a certain dimension, in this case 600 x 600 pixels.
Clicking on the image doesn’t just zoom, it ZOOMS, taking the visitor to what may be the largest image of Every Building ever made, a near infinite scroll of more than 5,000 256px square jpeg tiles. Each tile is about 1/2 square inch of the original book, close in enough to see the halftone dot matrix used to render Ruscha’s photos on the offset lithographed page.
I am now trying to figure out how to extract these tiles, which are now the second-to-5000th best images of Every Building on the Sunset Strip ever made. Who knows, I might try to put them in a book.
A few months ago the editors at Art in America asked if I’d like to write about Mormon architecture for a religion-themed issue. I was like, “Do you want the spectacular space-age temples; the scrappy DIY pioneer rusticity; the mass-produced, suburban Mormcore cringe; or the unprecedented grappling with historical preservation?” And they said, “Yes, absolutely.”
The article is now online. “Building Mormonism: The Fascinating History of LDS Architecture.” Honestly, it feels like it could be three articles, and three more would come out of it. The more I dug and looked, the more interesting and revelatory stuff I found about the way the Church has approached its physical spaces and structures over its almost 200-year history. There’s probably a dissertation to be written on the early 20th century mandate to include a basketball court in every new meetinghouse. Or on the building missionary program that tried to optimize expertise and volunteer labor when demand for churches outstripped the local members’ construction skills. Or the impact on the built sacred environment of having a trans woman lead one of the most ambitious architectural eras in the Church’s history. [I think she’s already writing that last one herself.]
I’ll add links to resources I found especially useful, and images of the buildings mentioned in the piece, so check back. In the mean time, I would have been lost without two blogs and one book: Historic LDS Architecture, where Bridger Talbot has been posting original research, photography, and travelogues since 2014 ldsarchitecture.wordpress.com went dormant in 2012, but is still full of photos and accounts of visits to architecturally notable church buildings. Places of Worship: 150 Years of Latter-day Saint Architecture is Richard W. Jackson’s 2003 historical survey of all the worship places of the LDS Church, and an institutional history of the Church’s Architecture Department, where he worked for many years. scottcsorensen.templephotos on Instagram provided a steady drip of inspo, and also a sense of perspective, that there was someone else spending even more time thinking about Church architecture than I was. And of course, whether that is comforting or Content Warning @TexturesofMormonism is the go-to source for recognition of the Church’s 70s and 80s homogeneous aesthetic.
Not that this is a masterpiece, ofc. Obviously, it’s a bit of a mess, with some moments of greatness. And some meaningful echoes of Manet, who Morisot met in 1868. Morisot’s family became close to Manet’s, and she modeled and sat for him. And let him rework her paintings. And married his brother.
So Morisot would have known the peonies Manet liked to grow–and paint. Some of the half dozen paintings of peonies Manet made around 1864 had been shown repeatedly by the time the Morisots came to call.
What’s more amazing about this Morisot, though, is that it was unknown until 1980, when it was discovered underneath another painting, Un percher des blanchisseuses, from 1875. The title translates as a perch of laundresses, but the apparent English title is Hanging The Laundry Out To Dry. The combination of picturesque rural life and factory smokestacks encroaching on the horizon make the likely site of this painting Gennevilliers, a village outside Paris where the Manets owned property.
Morisot included the laundry scene in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1875, where it was one of at least four works by the artist purchased by Dr. Georges De Bellio. It passed through various heirs and dealers until Paul Mellon bought it in 1950. Given that timeline, it seems the most likely explanation is Morisot stretched a new canvas over the existing painting.
As a work from a historically important show, blanchisseuses was exhibited often over the years, and obviously included in the Wildensteins’ 1961 Morisot catalogue raisonné. But it was only thirty years later, when the Mellons were getting ready to donate it to the National Gallery that the peonies painting was discovered underneath it.
The Mellons ended up donating Morisot’s Hanging out the laundry in 1985. But they kept Peonies until 1994, which, wouldn’t you? For all this, I’d expected more study of this double painting, and how it came to be. Despite decades of Morisot and Impressionist popularity, Peonies has never been exhibited outside the National Gallery.
I see at least five other paintings from the period, mostly around 1875, of the same dimensions, including two other Gennevilliers landscapes. Were these pre-stretched canvasses from the art supply store? It’s now been 40 years; has anyone checked under them?
I think I understand most of the issues around the Restitution Study Group’s unsuccessful attempts to get an emergency restraining order to stop the official transfer of the Smithsonian’s Benin Bronzes to the Nigerian government–everything except the timing. Why is this storydropping now, almost two months after a judge denied the motion? The RSG is insisting reporters note that its lawsuit is still active, even though the judge’s refusal of the ERO seems to find every argument in the Smithsonian’s favor. Going public now is somehow part of a strategy to amend their complaint and add new theories to the public debate over what to do with Benin Bronzes. Or more interestingly, to add a new constituency to that public and new voices to that debate.
I went for the watercolors, but I could look at John Singer Sargent’s paintings of other artworks all day long. The first gallery of the Sargent and Spain show at the National Gallery is almost entirely copies of paintings Sargent made in the Prado, mostly Velásquez and El Greco.
I can’t believe we’ll have to some day go to George Lucas’s museum to see Sargent’s copy of Las Meninas. But at least that day is not yet.
The show was crowded, and I mistakenly figured I could look up everything I needed to know afterward, but I guess they’re saving it all for the book. From the room full of Sargent’s studies of Spanish religious painting, sculpture, and architecture, I wrongly assumed that the watercolor above of an altarpiece was related to the Gardner Museum’s study of the Caananite goddess Astarte/Ishtar for the Boston Public Library, which was hanging next to it. But the altarpiece dates from 1895, after that section of the library murals were completed. [Revisit update: it definitely informed Sargent’s depiction of the Virgin at the other end of the library, though, including the arrangement of candles in front of it.]
A lot of these works were definitely not made to be shown. Sargent was making them for other reasons: For himself. Maybe like how Richter just wanted a Titian, Sargent just wanted a Velásquez. Or he was trying to figure something out. To capture a moment, a detail, a lighting effect, a space, an experience, a turkey.
I will have to go back to see if there is any explanation at all for why Sargent went approximately 100x harder in the paint on this photobombing turkey in a Spanish courtyard than on the courtyard itself. This may be my new favorite Sargent ever.
[Revisit update: there is zero mention of the Turkey in the weirdly sparse catalogue, even though Sargent returned to paint the same 16th century Granada courtyard 30+ years later, and included some donkeys.
Wait, is that a turkey standing exactly in the painting’s vanishing point?? Put there the same year he made the turkey bronze below? Please do not make me need to write a paper on Sargent’s turkeys. It’s Sargent; how has this scholarship not been done to death already?]
[Completely unrelated, I’m sure: Turkey, c. 1913, a nearly life-size [?!] bronze the Corcoran Gallery acquired out of Sargent’s estate sale in 1925.]
A couple of weeks ago the folks at ARTnews asked me to cover the hearing at the Supreme Court of the first major fair use case to reach that corrupted body in almost 30 years. The Warhol Foundation–which, as the sidebar notes, had once, in collaboration with Creative Time, given me an Art Writers Grant–had pre-emptively sued for fair use of a photo of Prince taken by Lynn Goldsmith.
Somewhat surprisingly, at least to the Warhol folks, Goldsmith won on appeal, and the case now could threaten the entire Warholian project. [Though frankly, since he actually sewed up the rights to the images he screenprinted after the Flowers settlement, Warhol’s project is probably pretty safe, it’s actually the entirety of the pre-existing content re-using creative world that’s at risk.]
The article is there, go read it, I was psyched and fascinated to go, even if this country hasn’t seen a Supreme Court this problematic since Dred Scott. [And it only got worse since the Warhol Foundation started its lawsuit.]
But the point is, I was there, in person, in the press box, sitting behind Nina Totenberg, when Clarence Thomas made a hypothetical about being a Prince fan in the 80s, which caused laughter to break the enforced silence of the gallery. And I was there when his seatmate, Justice Sotomayor, asked, “but no longer?” which brought more laughter. To which Thomas replied, after a beat, “Only on Thursday nights.” Which brought even more laughter. This is, I was informed by reporters on the SCOTUS beat, very much NOT how things normally go.
What to do? I have emailed the Supreme Court with this correction, but it is unexpectedly unsettling. I was 100% certain of my experience in that room, but I have begun to doubt myself. Sotomayor’s head was turned away from me towards Thomas, seated on her left, when she made the comment. Which she did, right? They had the interaction amidst the shocked laughter, not Kagan calling out from five seats away?
I did not include this portion of the questioning in my report, though I did reference the substance of Thomas’s rather bombastic challenge to the Warhol Foundation’s lawyer. Thomas is credibly accused of sexual harassment by multiple former co-workers, though only one was called to testify in his confirmation hearing. In a moment of journalistic folly, I actually emailed her to ask if she had any recollection of Thomas being a Prince fan, since her years working alongside Thomas at his government job coincided almost exactly with the release of 1999, and she had left before Purple Rain. I emailed a few minutes later apologizing and telling her to ignore my request.
Anyway, also, Thomas’s wife is documented as a leading organizer of a coordinated attempt to overturn a fair election and seize control of the government, and he is actively ruling on this crisis in which he is fully implicated to both further it and to shield her from any consequence. And he is facilitating an entire cascade of ideologically driven extremist rulings by an illegitimately seated court majority. He’s a clear and present danger to the republic who I did not feel inclined to normalize by highlighting his standup routine.
And here I sit, trying to correct the record of one of the least consequential moments of the hearing, and the Court. Except that it is also perfectly illustrative of the unaccountable comfort and ease Thomas feels as he goes about his business of seizing power.
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.