Cowered In Place

Krzysztof Wodiczko’s projection in 2018, photo: Joshuah Jest

I have reservations about directing too much of today’s outrage at a museum or a curator, so I’ll try to keep some perspective, and I urge anyone reading this to do the same.

But I find myself literally shaking with anger at the decision to cancel Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, 1988–2000, in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Florida high school yesterday afternoon. The work is a 3-night slide projection of a hand holding a gun and a hand holding a candle, flanking a bank of microphones. The decision was made, an unattributed update to the project’s press release said, “Out of respect for those affected, and in sensitivity to our public.”

I stepped away from my computer for a few hours to deal, and they added yet another update, a quote from the artist:

“To me, the silence feels most respectful. In this case, not showing the projection shows respect and sensitivity to the people who suffer from this great tragedy,” Wodiczko said.

Seriously? We all suffer. And while the artist and the museum join the NRA in silence, the ones suffering the most, the students, are stepping the hell up to the microphone. If silence is best, then why show the piece at all?

The sudden embrace of silence-as-respect belies the Hirshhorn’s and, apparently, the artist’s, claims and positioning for the work up to and while it was projected, as planned, on Tuesday night.

The press release led with this pull quote from Wodiczko:

“…the 30-year-old projection appears to me today strangely familiar and at once unbearably relevant. More than ever before, the meaning of our monuments depends on our active role in turning them into sites of memory and critical evaluation of history as well as places of public discourse and action.”

I guess the relevance really was unbearable, and instead of memory, evaluation, or discourse, the only action was to pull the plug.

Director Melissa Chiu told WAMU:

“What his work did was suggest that art in the public sphere … could actually offer up ideas and commentary that was topical,” Chiu said. “It was about what’s going on today, but also ephemeral.”

Indeed it was about what’s going on today, which is why she disappeared it.

I would perhaps have let the whole thing go with a grimace except for the comments of Chief Curator Stéphane Aquin in a YouTube clip, positioning the work as a safely shocking spectacle from a lost, fascinating history:

In 1988, the artist made it very clear it had a pointed reference to the politics and issues at the forefront of the public debate. It was an election year in the States. The original context has waned, has dissolved in history. But those objects still speak to us with striking relevance, to all of us, in various ways.  And so it remains a very powerful image.

Wodiczko’s Hirshhorn projection in October 1988. Has anything changed but the Lichtenstein?

Which, just, no. What were the politics and original context? In a Washington Post article from the original staging, in late October 1988, just weeks before the presidential election–an article which the Hirshhorn linked to three weeks ago– Wodiczko explains:

“For me, it is what I think of politics in this election, resembling more and more a crime story. For example, [Republican presidential candidate] George Bush on one hand is for the death penalty and on another is antiabortion, on one hand he goes on about ‘a thousand points of light’ and on another defends guns and a strong militaristic policy.

“Media and microphones are also used as weapons.”

What has changed? What has waned? What has dissolved into history? There is another, very similar clip, where Aquin says, “thirty years after, we’ve lost and forgotten about the original context” for Wodiczko’s work. But damn it, we have not. It is all around us, even more.

So why does he say this? Why return to this piece which, contrary to his lofty claims for its significance, was neither groundbreaking (it was Wodiczko’s 32nd projection) nor impactful. (When I tried to argue that Wodiczko should get the credit Doug Aitken’s vapid music video was getting for being the first projected work on the Hirshhorn’s exterior, Aquin’s predecessor Kerry Brougher cackled that it was barely more than a one-night slideshow that no one saw or remembered.)

Museum regimes change, but the motivation is the same. There is a desire for attention through spectacle and controversy in order to accrue power and capital, both social and political, at the moment. And in this case, Aquin and Chiu either are completely blind to the reality they’re showing in–which I doubt–or they’re calculating and manipulating for their own optimization.

When its relevance and topicality spike, like they just did, what is the instinctive reaction? To hold a candlelight vigil? To turn the museum and the Mall into a site of mourning or debate? Does Wodiczko’s work pose an opportunity for the Hirshhorn, or an inconvenience? Or possibly an existential threat?  If necessary, would we rally to defend the Hirshhorn’s showing of this work? Is a museum that silences itself and artists it claims are of profound relevance, in mere anticipation of critique worth defending?

Unfortunately for those who thought art was the message, the message is cowardice. Museums in this town have died from such self-inflicted wounds. That’s history that should not be lost or forgotten.

[yet another update: by last night, Melissa Chiu was saying the work would be rescheduled, not simply brought inside to a video monitor. A sensitive announcement to that effect at the beginning would have averted much criticism, but it also seems clear that criticism was the catalyst for the change. Which only underscores the absence of critical thought and understanding that went into this entire presentation.]

[Two weeks later update: the Museum has announced that the projection will now happen on March 7-9.]

On The Unveiling Of The Obama Portraits

The portraits of the Obamas by Kehinde Wiley (L) and Amy Sherald (R) before they are unveiled, NPG

I went to the unveiling of the official portraits of Pres & Mrs Obama yesterday at the National Portrait Gallery, and I wrote about it for ARTNews.

You’ve seen the portraits by now, so I included a photo of them veiled, like fancied up David Hammonses. Which is a hot take I’d love to see.

I discovered that the Obamas created a playlist for the unveiling on Spotify, which I don’t use. But if someone wants to look it up, (“2/12 Obama Event Playlist,” if you can search for that kind of thing), lmk. (Update: it’s apparently not visible.) Meanwhile, here’s a partial track list so far:

Rise Up, Andra Day
When The Day Comes, Nico & Vinz
Matter of Time, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Black Gold, Esperanza Spalding (feat. Algebra Bresett)
Sign of the Times, Harry Styles
And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, Jennifer Hudson
Mi Gente, J. Balvin, Willy William (feat. Beyoncé)
Bang Bang, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande
Boredom, Tyler The Creator (?)
Space Boots, Miley Cyrus
Book Of Your Heart, U2

Unveiling Portraits of Barack & Michelle Obama at the NPG [artnews]

Untitled (Painted Wall), 2018

greg.org, untitled (painted wall), 2018, installation view
Untitled (Painted Wall), 2018, enamel paint and rubber on limestone, diptych, est. 48 x 144 in., installation view, Jan. 16, 2018, Arlington, Virginia

Once again I am able to take comfort, of a sort, in at least knowing how I am different from Jasper Johns, who, when he once caught a glimpse out the window of a car of a wall painted red and black, did not pull over immediately, and photograph it. We stand on the shoulders of giants in the middle of the street.

previously, related: Untitled (Unpainted Wall), 2017

Rothko & Parsons At The National Gallery, Curated By Bunny Mellon

betty_parsons_mellon_rothko_nga_white.jpg
Here are photos of Betty Parsons’ sculptures on the dining tables at the opening dinner for the National Gallery of Art’s first exhibition of modern art, held in 1973. On the walls are many Rothkos.
betty_parsons_mellon_rothko_nga_yellow.jpg
The exhibition, American Art Art Mid-Century, curated by visiting MoMA alum Bill Seitz, was made up entirely of loans from private collections, because the NGA had basically no modern works, and had only barely begun to even accept works by still-living artists. [That Gorky, Kline, Newman, Pollock, Rothko, and David Smith were all dead by 1973 hadn’t helped them get into the collection.]
betty_parsons_mellon_rothko_nga_red.jpg
When J. Carter Brown became the NGA’s director he made the controversial decision to hold VIP dinners in the museum itself. NGA president Paul Mellon’s wife Bunny, renowned for her gardening and interior design acumen, took upon herself the role of planning flowers and decor for many of these special events.
I have yet to track down the checklist, but the show’s press release [pdf] says there were 26 works by 23 artists installed in the temporary exhibition galleries on the main level. Yet these photos show at least eight Rothkos, in a room which I believe is on the far west end of the ground level.
According to Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend, by noted centenarian socialite biographer Meryl Gordon, Mrs. Mellon asked Parsons to provide some of her painted found wood sculptures-a letter in the Archives of American Art [p.23] says “10 or so,” but Gordon says 14, and I count like 28-to “adorn [the] tables” at the dinner. Parsons’ datebook [p.132] shows she attended.
betty_parsons_mellon_rothko_nga_blue.jpg
Mrs. Mellon was a frequent customer and friend of Parsons. Parsons exhibited her own sculptures and paintings in Washington DC’s Studio Gallery beginning in 1972, and would later show Bunny’s daughter’s artworks in New York. There is an invoice [p.16] in the Archives of American Art for printing table cards for the NGA dinner. I think they’re the gilt-edged ones in the bottom of the picture above.
betty_parsons_mellon_rothko_nga_orange.jpg
It struck me that as a dealer, Parsons had been instrumental in the careers of many of the artists in the show. Yet her own artwork was being relegated to decoration. But Gordon notes that Bunny also loaned the Rothkos. Which might mean Bunny’s concept for the dinner was a two-artist show. Notice above, the table under the Rothko which has nothing but Parsons sculptures on it. Also, wow, every place setting has its own ashtray and embossed matches.
Quoting Lee Hall’s 1991 illustrated biography of the gallerist, Gordon wrote that Parsons worried the partygoers “will hate my work.” She also wrote that all “her table sculptures for the National Gallery sold out.” Wait, what?
These photos, from the National Gallery of Art, are in the gloriously digitized Betty Parsons Gallery papers at the Archives of American Art. [aaa.si.edu]
Meryl Gordon spoke about her biography of Bunny Mellon at the NGA on October 15, 2017 [nga.gov]
The press release for American Art at Mid-Century says the show is the first of two, but I haven’t found the second [nga.gov, pdf]
Buy Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend via Amazon [amazon]

Our Guernica Cycle – EB-5, 05.06.2017

guernica_cycle_eb-5_1400px.jpg
Our Guernica Cycle – EB-5, 05.06.2017, in the style of George W. Bush, 2017, oil on canvas, 50x80cm (20×28 in.)
On May 6, 2017, The New York Times reported, Jared Kushner’s sister met with potential investors in Beijing, trying to raise $150 million for the family’s Jersey City real estate project. She was promoting the EB-5 visa program, which essentially sells US green cards for making a $500,000 investment. Her PowerPoint slide showed photos of “EB-5 Visa Key Decision Makers,” including Senators Grassley and Leahy; DHS Secretaries Jeh Johnson (ex-, obv.) and Gen. John Kelly (now ex-, too, obv., and White House chief of staff); -and her brother’s father-in-law (and boss) Donald Trump.
Jared Kushner still owned major stakes in his family’s business at the time, having transferred only some of his holdings to his other family members when he became a White House employee. He would subsequently revise and refile his financial disclosure forms repeatedly to include previously undisclosed conflicts, contacts, and investments.
Kushner had tried mightily during the transition to secure Chinese investment in his company’s overleveraged flagship property, 666 Fifth Avenue. His efforts failed, and his partner, Vornado, has since declared that their ambitious plan to redevelop the office building into a multi-use megatower-and refinance it at a much higher valuation-was no longer feasible. The property is on track to go bankrupt as early as 2018, putting the Kushner’s equity at risk.
Our Guernica Cycle – EB-5, 05.06.2017 is the second painting in an ongoing series. I now see the Our Guernica Cycle as proceeding in roughly chronological order. It is November, and the outrageous Guernica moments since May are obviously piling up like leaves in the gutter. But the pace of disaster puts us all at risk of forgetting or acquiescing to the obvious wrongs of just a couple of months ago. If painting can do anything at all, it should be able to recalibrate our narrative clocks a bit.
So here is a painting, and a pyramid of prints, of the US president’s family hyping his political power to sell visas in exchange for investing in their private real estate company.
While it is similarly painted in China, in the attempted style of our still-most-relevant painter,
George W. Bush, EB-5, 05.06.2017 obviously differs from the Ivanka / Merkel 03.17.2017 work in several ways. For one thing, it’s done before you decide to buy it. I honestly cannot imagine how this helps. But then, given what we all knew going into it, I could not imagine why anyone, including me, would want to have an awful painting of Ivanka & Merkel in my life, either. Even more than before, this is a case of urgency, of feeling the need for an image of a moment of a crisis to be produced, disseminated, and preserved, even while the crisis continues. To bear witness, to #neverforget.
This work is further complicated by having the actual picture of Trump in it. Could it be any tougher of a sell? On the bright side [sic], the execution of the image is, I believe, more skillfully Bushian than ever. So at least it’s a good bad painting of a corrupt cabal. Right? And anyway, the gradient is probably the best part.
The Modified Kinkade Pyramid is in effect, and all prints will be available in the identical sizes and editions as the first work. However, blighting the image by hand will only take place upon request. So please make a note if you want more blight. The print was made available first to original Kickstarter backers, and now it is available generally, for a limited time. It is discounted 10% because y’all are all VIPs to me, but also to take into account a better sense of actual production and shipping costs. As before, any surplus will be turned back into producing the next images in the Cycle.
Literally no one has asked, but it is possible that the first print, Ivanka / Merkel 03.17.2017 could be made available as well.
Thank you again for your engagement during this ongoing disaster.

Select Print/Edition Size

[via paypal]
Previously: UPDATED: Our Guernica Cycle – Ivanka / Merkel 03.17.2017

Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery), 2017?

mnuchin_money_cingraham.jpg
Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery), 2017, printer’s proof. ink on rag, 27×31.5 in., $860., limit one per collector, image: ap/jacquelyn martin via @_cingraham
Art and the Mnuchins can never get too far apart from each other. Today Steven Mnuchin was photographed by the Associated Press holding the printer’s proof for a new print edition, Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery). It is issued in a signed and stamped edition of 10, plus 4 artist proofs.
Half of the edition is a #monochrome painting on an uncut 50-subject sheet of $1 bills signed by Steven T. Mnuchin. If you asked me this second the only possible color would be black, insta goth dom leather glove black, into the conscienceless pits of hell black, fund passthrough tax cuts by raising taxes on everyone else and gutting health care soul black, but that might change.
rauschenberg_paper_painting_1953.jpg
Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (paper painting), 1953, 18x14x4 in., shoe box tissue paper, glass, wood base. lost or destroyed.
The other half is 50 $1 bills signed by Steven T. Mnuchin, shredded by hand, in an appropriately scaled perspex display case inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s lost Untitled (Paper Painting) of 1953. All examples are accompanied by an engraved, signed and stamped certificate of authenticity.
As moneyfactory.gov [srsly] has only begun producing Mnuchin notes today, and moneyfactorystore.gov only offers uncut notes from 2013, with former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s signature on them, the actual release date for this edition is still to be determined. You may add your name to the waitlist.
Previously: Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery), 2017, pdf
Related: Untitled (Crystal Bridges), 2015
2011: ArtCash by Warhol, Rauschenberg, et al for E.A.T., including bills featuring the ur-print-your-own-money traitor Jefferson Davis

UPDATE: Our Guernica Cycle – Ivanka / Merkel 03.17.2017

our_guernica_cycle_ivanka_merkel_gregorg.jpg
Our Guernica Cycle – Ivanka / Merkel 03.17.2017, 2017, 50x80cm, oil on canvas and associated print editions, greg.org
Happy apparent Birthday, Ivanka!
I’ve been staring at her distorted portrait for so long, it took the shock of the news yesterday to make me realize I have not actually, officially, gone public with the results of the first picture I Kickstarted. “Our Guernica, by Our Picasso,” an historic painting to mark the moment last March when Ivanka Trump turned up in a White House meeting with the leader of the free world, Angela Merkel, executed in the style of George W. Bush.
In the course of production of the pyramidful of print editions, plus some canvases, the project became Our Guernica Cycle, and Ivanka/Merkel 03.17.2017 became the first image, unfortunately, and not the last. I’ve now lived with these images for almost six months. All but two of the project backers have received their merch [the last two canvases are staring at me right now, set to be shipped before the opioid crisis is solved.]
And a new image is complete. It is a moment for reflection. Also a moment to celebrate getting these things out of the house. And I’m still asking the question I started with: what is art supposed to do? What is a painting for? The image I ended up with is terrible. In the process of applying the Kinkade-ian custom “highlights,” I realized they could only and ever make things worse. I started calling them “highblights,” or just “blight.” I gave backers the choice between “more blight!” and “it’s bad enough!” and they split almost evenly. With the last works going out the door, I am still undecided.
What does it mean, too, for an artwork to be experienced only [or largely] privately, by its purchasers? It is the antithesis of a Guernica; it’s My Own Private Guernica. Our Guernica.
The greatest outcome from this project has to be the show of support, the collective, shared outrage combined with an open-eyed engagement with art, even knowing it will not solve the horrible problems looming all around us. 59 people bought prints that didn’t exist of an image that hadn’t been created yet, in order to see it happen. And that is amazing, and I am very grateful. Maybe the real Our Guernica is the friends we make along the way.
Six months later, though, we’re obviously not through this. The world has not ended [I’m writing this at 11:39 on Monday night. Oh, I’m just about to publish it at 1PM on Tuesday.] The world has not ended, but our town square is still being strafed by Nazis. So Our Guernica is Our Guernica Cycle. What does that mean?
Chapman_Insult-to-Injury_Great-deeds-against-the-dead-2003.jpg
In the spirit of #thisisnotnormal, I’ve been working my way through images and possibilities, with the goal of accurately witnessing and capturing the political horrors and threats that surround us. Even more than Guernica, I’ve been thinking of Goya, whose Disasters of War series, 80+ prints whose creation occupied decades, and which Goya did not anticipate publishing in full in his own atrocity-rattled lifetime. I’ve especially come to appreciate the Chapman brothers’ Insult to Injury project, [above] where their clownish embellishments of a Goya Disasters of War portfolio condemned the folly of Bush & Blair’s Iraq War. [Called it, obv.]
So I expect this series will go on a while. After the backers were taken care of, I used the rest of the Kickstarter project funds to commission the next painting. It, too, has arrived. I think I will invite the original backers to order one first, but it should be available soon. It, too, was created with instructions to look like George Bush had painted it. The Chinese painters I’m working with seem to have gotten a little better at this bad style. Perhaps that will be when we know the Cycle is complete: when the #ChinesePaintMill system designed to industrialize Gerhard Richter’s paint-from-photo tactics can successfully reproduce the clumsy expressionist facture of the man who is still, alas, America’s most relevant painter. So stay tuned.
Our Guernica, After Our Picasso [kickstarter]
Previously, related: On Coming Around on Insult to Injury

Untitled (Presidential Seal), 2017

seal_of_the_president_of_the_united_states.png

The Seal of the President of The United States is the official coat of arms of the U.S. Presidency, and is based on the Great Seal of the United States [below], which is used by the federal government to verify the authenticity of certain official documents. The basics of the current design go back to 1877. After a formal redesign was initiated by Franklin Roosevelt, it was taken up and finalized by Harry Truman in 1945.

great_seal_counter-die.jpg
Counter-die for the Great Seal of the United States

In that redesign, based on a painting provided by US Naval Commodore Byron McCandless, the eagle was switched from facing to the left-in the forward direction when used on a mounted flag-to facing right, dexter, the standard direction in heraldry. A press release of October 25, 1945 says the eagle faces “right-the direction of honor-but also toward the olive branches of peace” it holds in its right talon.

The Seal design has been unchanged since 1960, when the 50th star was added to its border recognizing the inclusion of Hawai’i in the United States.
The Seal is used on the lectern for presidential press conferences. It appears on the side of Air Force One, Marine One, and presidential limousines. It is affixed to the balcony of the White House for state arrival ceremonies. The Secret Service is authorized to use the Seal of the President on merchandise it sells for charitable fundraising in its White House Online Gift Shop.

The law governing the use of the Presidential Seal is contained in Title 18 U.S. Code § 713. It is primarily concerned with using the Seal to falsely imply endorsement or support for commercial activities by the Government or the President, and with the wrongful exploitation of the Seal for commercial gain:

(a) Whoever knowingly displays any printed or other likeness of the great seal of the United States, or of the seals of the President or the Vice President of the United States, or the seal of the United States Senate, or the seal of the United States House of Representatives, or the seal of the United States Congress, or any facsimile thereof, in, or in connection with, any advertisement, poster, circular, book, pamphlet, or other publication, public meeting, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production, or on any building, monument, or stationery, for the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
(b) Whoever, except as authorized under regulations promulgated by the President and published in the Federal Register, knowingly manufactures, reproduces, sells, or purchases for resale, either separately or appended to any article manufactured or sold, any likeness of the seals of the President or Vice President, or any substantial part thereof, except for manufacture or sale of the article for the official use of the Government of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

In 1972 Richard Nixon promulgated regulations about authorized uses of the Presidential Seal by issuing Executive Order 11649. The Seal, it states, may be used by the President. It may be reproduced for “Use by way of photographic or electronic visual reproduction in pictures, moving pictures, or telecasts of bona fide news content.” It is permitted “in libraries, museums, or educational facilities incident to descriptions or exhibits relating to seals, coats of arms, heraldry, or the Presidency.”

In 1976 Gerald Ford amended EO 11649 by issuing EO 11916, further authorizing “Use in encyclopedias, dictionaries, books, journals, pamphlets, periodicals or magazines incident to a description or history of seals, coats of arms, heraldry, or the Presidency.”

Section 2 of EO 11649 goes on to echo 18 U.S. Code § 713 (b) in constraining commercial exploitation of the Seal:

The manufacture, reproduction, sale, or purchase for resale, either separately or appended to any article manufactured or sold, of the Seals of the President or Vice President, or any likeness or substantial part thereof, except as provided in this Order or as otherwise provided by law, is prohibited.

gregorg_untitled_presidential_seal_scr.jpg
greg.org, Untitled (Presidential Seal), 2017, digital print on bond in acrylic message holder.
Sheet: 14 x 8.5 in. Folded: 6 x 8.5 in., ed. 25 + 5 AP

An adaptation of this blog post incident to the description or history of seals, coats of arms, heraldry, or the Presidency is now published as a books, journals, pamphlets, periodicals or magazines, in a signed, stamped, limited edition of 25, with 5 artist proofs, three of which have been placed in or reserved for in libraries, museums, or educational facilities, with absolutely and unequivocally no impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof.

Digitally printed in color on 14 x 8.5 inch white bond, it is folded by hand and stored in a decommissioned EZ-GO message holder in clear acrylic, so you can hang it on your fucking golf cart.

trump_bedminster_cart_ig.jpg

 

Untitled (Presidential Seal) is $20, shipped. [via PayPal]

ARTIST PROOF UPDATE: It works.

untitled_presidential_seal_proof.jpg

Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery), 2017

mnuchin_gallery_OTA_title_page.jpg
Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery), title page, 2017, 34-page pdf
Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery) is a 2017 work comprising a 2012 technical paper by four economists in the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Analysis. The paper explained a revision to the Treasury’s methodology for analyzing the impact of corporate income taxes on companies, owners, and workers. It did this by examining the type of income (capital or labor/wage) and the distribution of those income sources across the entire taxpayer population. It was found, for example, that the top 1% of households accounted for 49.8% of total capital income, but only 11.5% of labor income.
The purpose of the study was to understand the impacts of tax-related policies and forecasts more accurately, and in greater detail, in the hope that more accurate data will lead to better-crafted policy and legislation.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has spent several months making claims about lowering corporate income tax rates that are directly contradicted by the findings of the study, and the calculations of Treasury Department’s career economists. So he had the study removed from the US Treasury website, and a spokesman has disavowed the methodology as “the dated staff analysis of the previous administration.” No alternate methodology or analysis has been offered.
Steven Mnuchin, like his father Robert Mnuchin, was a partner at Goldman Sachs. Like is father, he collects modern and contemporary art. One Mnuchin is in the business of conferring relevance on objects by exhibiting them, the other by suppressing and disappearing them. This work is a family reunion of those two tactics.
Untitled_Mnuchin_Gallery.pdf [34pg, pdf, via wsj]

Better Read #015: A Pair Of Texts By Kara Walker

kara_walker_better_read_015_usa_idiom_sjco.jpg
Kara Walker, Detail of U.S.A. Idioms, 2017, image via sikkema jenkins & co
It feels unusual to feature a current text on Better Read, but then, these are unusual times.
It strikes me that Kara Walker’s artist’s statement for her current show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. has not been considered in an expanded context. An artist’s statement, in a press release, is already fighting with two critical hands behind its back. Yet the press release is actually the artist’s title for her show. The impetus for writing any of this is presumably well understood, but here, the specific circumstances of Walker’s work, her practice, and the shitshow of a world we’re living in right now should, I believe, upend our complacent expectations.
I myself found it too easy to make quick judgments about these texts and their implications when I saw the ad for Walker’s show in Artforum, which contained the show’s title, which I’d previously ignored, because I’d taken it for a glib press release. I let the order of reception, my own subjectivity, influence my judgment, in ways that I might not have noticed without further, in-depth consideration. And yet Walker had anticipated it all.
Download Better_Read_015_Kara_Walker_20170914.mp3 [6:57, 3.3mb, via greg.org]
Kara Walker exhibition page [sikkemajenkinsco.com]
Sikkema Jenkins’ press release with Kara Walker’s texts [pdf, sikkemajenkinsco.com]

Untitled (Koch Block), 2014 –

kochblock_sailingfanblues_2014-09-20.jpg
Close, but not quite: Study for Untitled (Koch Block), image by @sailingfanblues
First conceived in September 2014 in response to a tweet by Zachary Kaplan, Untitled (Koch Block) is a collaborative public artwork situated permanently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
It comprises an endless succession of volunteers who sit on the edges of the fountains in front of the museum in a manner that obscures the engraved name of the museum trustee, David Koch. The work includes the engravings on both fountains, and so is ideally performed by two or more individuals at any time. While a sitter’s personal items such as a stroller, wheelchair, shopping cart, or backpack might be placed in front of the engraving for extra-wide impact, no permanent alteration, damage, or obscuring of any kind should take place, and certainly not as part of this artwork.
Any one individual or group should feel free to sit and block public view of the name for as long as they wish, but all should be mindful of others who might also wish to participate. The Artist Is Present-style marathons are discouraged. Instead, try taking turns, coordinating, and/or making arrangements onsite to continue the work. Formalized schedules or shifts should also be avoided, even if this means the work is not persistently instantiated.
It’s true that awareness of the work could be facilitated by people posting photos on social media using a hashtag like #KochBlock. My concern, though, is that viral messaging might run counter to the essential nature of the work, which is to deplete the mindshare and social capital that typically accrue from such purportedly eleemosynary naming opportunities. Still, such efforts are obviously beyond my control, and if the 7 million visitors to the Met each year decide they all have to post #KochBlock selfies, well, we’ll re-evaluate.
The ideal state of the work is for the names to be permanently blocked from view through uncoordinated but widespread acculturation. At any moment in which a sitter finishes blocking and rises from her spot, another individual naturally and un-self-consciously takes her place. Some folks will undoubtedly make a point of visiting the fountains to participate. Some might make it a routine. People might come to recognize the faces of other regulars. Eventually, Koch blocking should become an ingrained behavior common to sharing civil, public space, as obvious and natural as dodging slow-moving tourists or jaywalking. [s/o @man for reminding me this needed to be formally auraticized.]
UPDATE: Just realized this is my third piece at the Met. Thanks for the support!

The Richard Serras Of Friendship Heights

serra_poster_jcrew.jpg
If you’re wondering who the one person was who went to the mall in Chevy Chase, to the J. Crew store Monday, it was me. And I was only picking up a catalogue order.
And marveling at the giant [signed!] Richard Serra Torqued Spirals exhibition poster from Gagosian, c. 2003, one of two constellations of highly curated posters and prints lining the staircase.
I contemplated the state of the brick&mortar retail industry, making a note to watch the liquidation auctions for a deluge of contemporary art ephemera when the reaper comes for J. Crew. And figuring if the swag doesn’t turn up, we’ll know the store designers who fantasy-shopped it all together have absconded with it in lieu of severance.
Just as I was thinking, this poster was my most unexpected Serra sighting ever, I stepped outside, and found this, in the garden of the condos across the street.
serra_fountain_friendship_hgts.jpg
I approached to take a photo, and the carefully calculated elevations of the lawn revealed the bottom quarter of the Cor-Ten slab. If only he’d added a water feature, I bet Tilted Arc would still be standing.

Untitled (I Can See Russia From My House), 2017

gregorg_see_russia_01.jpg
Installation shot: Untitled (I Can See Russia From My House), 2017, 15′ x 10′ x 6′, dye sublimation printed carpet, bolts, washers, lumber.
I’m psyched to announce the public installation of a new work, Untitled (I Can See Russia From My House), in Warrenton, Virginia. It is a dye sublimation print on carpet, mounted on a wood support.
gregorg_see_russia_02.jpg
I suppose it could also be installed indoors, but it would lose a lot of the impact; it really is a piece that is best come upon in the course of daily life.
gregorg_see_russia_detail_01.jpg
Untitled (I Can See Russia From My House), 2017, washer and bolt installation detail
The carpet is affixed to the support using bolts and washers [above]. Longtime Kremlin watchers will note that the image, of the south facade of St. Basil’s Cathedral, is here reversed.
see_russia_dec2016_gsv.jpg
Although an installation shot from December 2016 shows unrelated works installed nearby. It is the artist’s intention that this piece be viewed and appreciated on its own. Despite what you might assume, it is currently not for sale.