I am not sure why, but I just remembered that I once wanted John Cage’s table in a totally non-venerating way, or, barring that, that I wanted to make it, and had thus recorded the score [sic] for the table on a bar napkin at one point.
Previously: Scoring John Cage’s Table
I do not know how this slipped by me all this time, but Cucula is a Berlin organization that works refugees to make furniture. It started in 2013 by making Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione designs out of the wood from refugee shipwrecks on the Italian island Lampedusa.
Lampedusa, of course, became synonymous with the first widely publicized tragedies of massive refugee deaths in perilous transit. Cucula, a West African word meaning, basically, colabo, was started by designers Corinna Sy and Sebastian Daeschle, first to help Nigerian and Malian refugees fleeing war in Libya to stabilize their situation in Germany. Actually, their first idea was to help the refugees build furniture for their rooms; the refugees said they’d rather have jobs, danke.
The first products were Mari’s Sedia I, and were apparently called Lampedusa Stuehle. On the webshop now, though, they’re called the Ambassador. Whatever the nuance of the shift, it makes me think of how time, geographic shifts, and the exponentially worsened plight of refugees has kind of swamped the Lampedusa brand.
Actually, what it really does is make me uncomfortable by aestheticizing and productizing the deaths of so many people. I fully support the mission of Cucula. I will not be shaken in my support of efforts to help refugees, especially those who have been through so much and have traveled so far at such great danger. I am a longtime admirer of Enzo Mari, and applaud his support for Cucula’s use of his designs beyond their original, DIY-only context.
But the transformation of wrecked ships into premium, virtue-signaling, small batch designer furniture gets rightupthisclose to Ai Weiwei levels of disaster pornsploitation for me. The only thing that makes it work, imho, is that it’s actually refugees learning the skills, doing the work, and reaping the benefits. I hope. [Curbed reports that Mari’s license stipulates that only refugees can make the furniture, which in this case adds to the layers of complication, partly because the refugees cannot officially be classified as employees who earn wages.]
How many kinds of complicated are there again? Because it feels like a couple of designers stepping in to fulfill a moral obligation we all [should] feel, and doing it in an impossibly, obviously, unscalable way. And the rest of us, our role is to shop.
No. I don’t mean no, don’t shop. I mean, no, the rest of it. Why not take Cucula as an imperative, an example of the value of individual and collective care and involvement in building communities with and for refugees? If a designer can organize a workshop that supports a team of refugee craftsmen by building esoteric furniture, there is something you can do, too.
Meanwhile, maybe the Cucula solution is two-fold: first, get some stock-standard Autoprogettazione furniture made from regular pine. None of it is particularly expensive, considering, and the Bambinooo extended mini-chair with built-in storage bin is especially nice. Also go full Lampedusa-meets-Piet Hein Eek, and get a custom chair made entirely out of wreckwood. Then start inviting some refugees to dinner.
CUCULA [cucula.org, h/t monique]
Meet CUCULA, the Berlin Furniture Company Seeking to Empower Refugees [curbed]
Previously, related: Enzo Mari X Ikea Mashup, Chaper: The Last [or not, obv]
Top: screencap from “Putain d’epoque”, with people standing in mylar ponchos. Bottom: Ghost, 2007, molds of kneeling family members made of aluminum foil, installed at Saatchi in 2009. via
Kader Attia has filed a plagiarism lawsuit against French rappers Dosseh and Nekfeu over visual similarities between the music video for “Putain d’epoque” and Attia’s 2007 installation Ghost. I’m a non-expert in French intellectual property law, so I can’t say whether the visual echo legally outweighs the differences in material, execution, setting, content, and concept. [Attia discussed the genesis of Ghost in AiA in 2009.] But I know mylar when I see it, and when I don’t. The works are utterly different, even though there is a one-second dronecam shot in the video that shows the men kneeling face down, as if in prayer. Is that really what this is about? Because it does not feel like plagiarism. The effect is apparently that the just-released song is stripped from the video while it’s being litigated.
Attia’s complaint is based on artists’ rights, and the resistance to “non-consensual use” of artists’ work: “Everyone is plundering us, whether it’s advertising or the cultural industry.”
That quote comes from Kendell Geers, who wrote an open letter to Attia defending quoting and plagiarism and the freedom all artists rely on to use and interpret the world around them as they make their work.
Since 1988 I have developed a body of work and a language around the very subject of plagiarism, taking my cue from Lautréamont, the French poet born in Uruguay, who said “Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It holds tight an author’s phrase, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, and replaces it with just the right idea.” His revolutionary text Poésies was the Holy Water that baptised the Surrealists, a text written between the lines of words plagiarised from other authors. I have always wondered if Paul Gauguin was inspired by Lautréamont when he said that “Art is either plagiarism or revolution,” but there can be no doubt who inspired Guy Debord when he wrote his revolutionary book the “Society of the Spectacle” in 1967. He said that “Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.”
Well played, Guy.
Geers calls for all artists and “every human being who believes in changing the present for a better future” to defend artists’ freedom to express themselves, and especially for artists with power and presence in the marketplace to defend those without. As Powhida tweeted about Geers’ statement, “It’s amazing. Collectively we have to stand up for individualism. This is the hardest thing in this star fucked market.”
As I always say, I replace melancholy by courage, doubt by certainty, despair by hope, malice by good, complaints by duty, scepticism by faith, sophisms by cool equanimity and pride by modesty.
Or maybe I should say it again this way: ‘Poetry is for everyone.’ Poetry is a place and it is free to all cut up Rimbaud and you are in Rimbaud’s place.
Un clip de Dosseh et Nekfeu accusé de plagiat par l’artiste Kader Attia [lemonde.fr]
Putain d’époque ! Lettre ouverte de Kendell Geers à Kader Attia à propos de son action en justice pour plagiat contre Dosseh et Nekfeu [lemonde.fr via @frieze]
Has Questlove read this aloud himself? I don’t think so. I wish he would, because if I cry this much when the robot reads it…
Download: Better_Read_010_Questlove_Im_Still_Human_20160920.mp3 [11:27, 16.5mb mp3 via dropbox greg.org]
Read: Questlove: Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit [nymag via @jamilahlemieux]
Questlove discussing racial profiling and his reaction to the Trayvon Martin verdict with Amy Goodman in Aug. 2013 [youtube]
I love dada, I support it entirely. But dadaists themselves seem kind of tiresome to be around. Dead founding dadaists, on the other hand, we could hang out all day.
If I understand the history correctly, Francis Picabia painted this signboard which André Breton wore at the Festival Dada held on 27 March, 1920 at the Theatre de l’oeuvre. The quote comes from Picabia’s Manifeste Cannibale, which Breton read that night in the dark: “For you to love something, you must have seen and heard it for a long time, you idiots.”
Ernest T. Bande d’Idiots, apres Picabia, 1985, acrylic on cardboard, collection FRAC Limousin
agnès b. says that Picabia took the photo, though the succession André Breton is not so sure. b. has reissued a 2004 t-shirt with the photo printed on it. b. also owns one of three replicas of the sign painted in 1985 by Ernest T., a 73-yo pseudonymous French artist whose dada appropriationist practice inspired the title of this post. Another is in the collection of the FRAC Limousin, which gave Ernest T. a retrospective in 2001. [pdf checklist].
That leaves one unaccounted for, but maybe I’ll just make it myself. Ernest doesn’t seem to have tried to guess the colors Picabia used anyway. That creme & greige palette does not strike me as very Festival Dada.
While running SFMOMA’s cafe, Blue Bottle Coffee pastry chef Caitlin Williams Freeman designed a whole bunch of artwork-inspired desserts, including a cookie platter that could be assembled into various Richard Serra Prop sculptures-which the artist did not like, not. one. bit.
Tell me everything, the world said, and so Freeman published a book, Modern Art Desserts.
And now they’re doing her act.
When SFMOMA closed for their Snohetta renovation, they required Blue Bottle to rebid for the cafe contract, and then they awarded it to McCalls, who ran the ground floor cafe, instead.
Now the SF Chronicle reports that on her first visit to the new museum, Freeman found McCalls serving knockoff versions of the art desserts, in her old space, with no credit at all. And the McCalls guy punted the paper’s queries to the Museum. Which makes me think SFMOMA figured because it owns the artworks, it owns the dessert interpretations, too.
If SFMOMA wants to serve art-inspired desserts, fine. But give credit where it’s due. I bought Freeman’s book, and tried her recipes. Those things are hard. It’s not just throwing grey frosting on a cupcake and calling it a Lead Splatter.
If they’re going to stiff-arm Blue Bottle entirely, though, then pick new artworks to base desserts on. Aren’t there a couple hundred new Kellys and Richters to copy now? Why not make a frosted cookie printed with Richard Prince’s joke painting? The fact that they don’t own it seems even more on point right now.
The Richard Serra Cookie Incident
I have not touched on my Hamilton amazement here yet. I figured I’d save it for the review, which would follow soon after getting tickets. [insert gif of endless horizon retreating from me.]
But I have to write about one place in the score that tears me up, when Chris Jackson sings George Washington’s final address over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, who reads it aloud:
…Like the scripture says:
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.”
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made
I want to sit under my own vine and fig tree
A moment alone in the shade
At home in this nation we’ve made
One last time
I anticipate with pleasing expectation
that retreat in which I promise myself
to realize the sweet enjoyment of partaking,
in the midst of my fellow-citizens,
the benign influence of good laws
Under a free government,
the ever-favorite object of my heart,
and the happy reward, as I trust,
Of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers.
Emphasis added for the lines that just do me in every time, even as I type about them now, as I think about the millions of people who don’t feel safe in this nation we’ve made, or who find suffering, injustice, or even death, under the far-from-benign influence of our laws and government.
image: from the final page of the final manuscript of George Washington’s Farewell Address, via gwpapers.virginia.edu
This was literally the kicker of Washington’s parting address, his wrap-up, his mic drop. And to look around at this mess we’ve made, the Founding Fathers’d be like smdh.
One Last Time, from Hamilton [youtube, lyrics via genius]
Buy Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)(Explicit)(2CD or MP3) [amazon]
[note: fwiw, when I bought the album, I ended up swapping out the explicit tracks with the broadcast-safe versions I ripped from NPR. You know, for kids.]
On Kawara’s One Million Years readings have always had a profound effect on me. From the first time I saw it at the Dia, to the resonance of One Million Years in Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11 in 2002; to an installation at David Zwirner, to the reopening Stedelijk. It was Brian Sholis’s moving account of reading with his then-fiancee Julia Ault at Zwirner that cemented my determination to read one day, too.
That day was April 5th, Easter Sunday. I had booked my wife and myself to read in the first shift, just as the Guggenheim opened. I’d already seen the museum’s On Kawara retrospective, but on a day when there was no reading. These are some recollections and thoughts of the experience with the piece.
One Million Years and an unannounced roaming exhibition of one week’s worth of date paintings in kindergarten classes are the two projects Kawara authorized to continue after his death last summer at age 29,771 days. Mary, who was coordinating production of One Million Years and prepping volunteers, took our picture when we sat down on the dais. She said the artist used to listen to recordings of One Million Years as he worked in his studio, and that the liked to have photos of the readers.
I had not anticipated such a thing, but now the entire project felt extremely personal. It was not just a performance, but a communication, a communion, with the artist himself. But not anymore, not for us. It turns out the Guggenheim was recording the reading, but only for exhibition documentation. Posthumous recordings like ours would not end up contributing to a “complete” recording. That aspect of the work, too, ended with the artist’s death.
Still, as I’d expected, reading itself was a wonderful experience. I found it somehow meditative and exciting at the same time. I found myself thinking of the dates we were reading, long before modern humans, and their history, existed. Yet narrative was there; the numbers became their own narrative. There was suspense as we counted down to an even hundred. Symmetrical numbers, or pairs or trios of digits, or chains of multi-syllabics, felt momentous, like a winning poker hand. These numbers, these years, with literally no significance of their own had significance thrust upon them, at least for a few seconds, by being read aloud. It turns out long numbers are not usually read aloud.
The greatest thrill was the echo of the Guggenheim’s rotunda. We sat on the ground floor, backs to the window, with loudspeakers flanking us, and our numbers seemed to ring out through the show. We took it slow and serious. We intoned, and I imagined how we must affect the reception of the rest of Kawara’s works up the ramp. We contributed our small part to everyone else’s enlightenment.
After we ended, we went through the show. We stopped on the way out to watch our replacements. Mary had said it’s easy to tell when the readers are a couple. Inversely, it was immediately obvious that the two jokers after us were either breaking up, or didn’t know each other and could not be bothered. Even on the rare numbers they didn’t mumble away into nothing, you could barely hear them standing right in front of the dais.
But how was this really any different from our experience? In fact the sound from One Million Years never left the ground floor, and sometimes it hardly left the little stage. In the hard-surfaced cacophony of the rotunda, One Million Years was essentially lost. I felt very acutely the gap between our rewarding personal experience of performing and the empty opacity the being in the audience. Or of not even noticing the piece existed.
In glass half-full mode I considered this divergence alongside the rest of Kawara’s practice, where dates and times and lists barely hint at the complexities of the artist’s daily experience.
Did I say half-full? This comparison, along with some of Kawara’s lesser known series [60s word diagrams, the coded letters, and of course, all the newspaper clippings in all the Today series boxes] made me wonder what there actually is to know? Frankly, I’ve begun to fear that under it all lurks an actual Message, hidden by Kawara, just waiting to be cracked. And that the profundity, the interpretation, the significance, will turn out to be all in our heads.
We’ll talk about this in the morning.
Chris Burden, Modified Moon Piece, 2010 image: manpodcast
MORNING UPDATE A WEEK LATER, BECAUSE APPARENTLY IT TAKES LONGER THAN ONE NIGHT TO PROCESS THIS
November 2011: This was sitting right there in the first episode of Modern Art Notes Podcast, waiting. And even though he wouldn’t tell me who the guest was, Tyler had been goading me before the launch, that I better listen, there is a surprise. Because he knew about the satelloons.
And I did not know about Chris Burden’s unrealized 1986 proposal for The Moon Piece, which is basically to launch the biggest possible spherical inflatable mylar balloon satellite into orbit.
Which was basically the same idea I’d had four years earlier. Or nineteen years later, depending on who’s counting.
Or was it? Maybe it’s fine? Maybe it’s different? Relationship status: it’s complicated. Green teed the question about Burden wanting to build something like the Eiffel Tower. And in discussing The Moon Piece Burden said it could be a giant spherical balloon or an even more “giant parabolic mirror you could control.” Which, if you made it about “the size of Lake Havasu,” [78 km2, btw. -ed.], you could use to “light [all of] New York from above.”
So maybe it’s not a satelloon at all, then. And he’s talking about something permanent, and big enough to light cities from space. This sounds like the Russian thing. Except it can’t be, at least not originally. Green cited a 1988 interview with Paul Schimmel as the source for this proposal. And solar mirrors didn’t really show up until the 90s. Russia ran a proof-of-concept solar mirror program called Znamya from 1992-99 which, it was hoped, would boost solar power production and bring light to darkest Siberia. But it only had one success: a 20-meter-diameter mirror launched in 1992 which produced a 5km-wide beam as bright as the full moon. Later, scientists at Livermore Lab proposed massive solar mirrors as one extreme technological approach to geo-engineering humanity’s way out of the climate change crisis. So this solar mirror aspect is different, maybe an adaptation, an addition, and it shows the artist was keeping tabs on things. But Burden’s original The Moon Piece idea is/was a satelloon.
It turns out Burden first pitched The Moon Piece in a letter to Edward Fry, who was co-curating Documenta 8 (1987) The letter was [first?] published in the appendix of the amazing 2005 monograph, Chris Burden. [Which I bought in 2008, but didn’t read all the way, even after getting more into his work in 2009.]:
[The satellite’s] “only function and purpose would be to reflect light back to earth. This special satellite would function much in the same manner that our present moon reflects sunlight. I foresee that this huge satellite could be manufactured out of fairly inexpensive, highly reflective Mylar film and be carried into outer space in a deflated state (like an uninflated balloon).
The Moon Piece will be highly visible to the naked eye and appear, in relation to the pin points of starlight, as a bright automobile headlamp moving rapidly across the night sky, one-fifth to one-tenth the size of the moon. The most sophisticated and the most primitive of cultures will be aware that something has changed in the heavens.
This is not simply a conceptual project. This project is technically feasible and to function as a work of art it must be actualized.
Obviously more research and information needs to be done on the specifics of the Mylar balloon such as size, thickness of Mylar, weight, etc., but I believe that The Moon Piece is physically and financially feasible given enough energy. If this idea, of putting into orbit a highly reflective satellite that would light up the heavens, could come to fruition I believe it would well be worth the effort.
On the one hand, it’s nice to feel like you’re on the same wavelength with someone whose work and career you admire. On the other hand, damn.
But some things stood out. Like Burden “foreseeing” the possibility of the satellite’s existence, and not knowing any of “the specifics.” Is it possible that Burden really did not know that these exact objects had already been created and deployed in the 1960s, when he was a teenager? I can’t believe it. Was it not important to his concept, or his pitch, to reference their historical sources, or their current non-art uses? Apparently.
And he adapted The Moon Piece, which began with the assumption that after 20 years, an inflatable satellite could be bigger, and after 30 years it could be bigger still. Or it could use future-state-of-the-art technology and be a mirror as big as a lake. Burden’s constants were big, reflective, and in space. But other than that, the 2010-11 version didn’t sound any further along than 1986’s.
A few months later (in 2012) I was working on making and showing a satelloon at apexart in New York, and I uncovered aspects of satelloons and their history that mattered. The concept had originated with none other than Wernher von Braun, who proposed, not a new moon, but a new, “American Star” which would awe the lesser nations into supporting the US in the Korean War. Von Braun wrote that in a widely published Time | Life book on space travel. Burden’s language about “primitive cultures” knowing “something has changed in the heavens is straight from von Braun’s pitch. The NASA engineer who had claimed the most credit for Project Echo came up with the idea at von Braun’s V-2 rocket conference. It was OK’d after Sputnik because US military leaders wanted a visible satellite would normalize people to the presence of spy satellites and surveillance.
This is context I only pieced together after five years of researching. Burden missed or omitted not just this, but the very existence of Project Echo, when he proposed Moon Piece for Documenta1. Would it have turned up in Kassel? How would that’ve gone over? I can’t even imagine.
Except that I did, and I still do. My apexart experience has made me very wary of satelloons, which are seductive, but also politically problematic. Their beauty and surface make them impossible to ignore, which makes it worse. I’ve also found that where I once felt daunted and insecure about having the same idea as a major artist I admired, I am OK with it. Partly because I realized my project is better.
And that, plus a $25,000 Marquis Jet card, can get you to Basel. Burden nailed it the first time: this is not a conceptual project, destined merely for Hans Ulrich’s files. It must be actualized. And so it’s especially unfortunate that Burden, whose genius was superlative physicality, can’t see The Moon Piece in the sky himself.
After hearing about The Moon Piece, Green’s follow-up question was whether Burden would be OK with people “mining his files” to produce his unrealized projects “after you’re no longer with us.” It’s a conversation that obviously sounds very different now than it did in 2011, which is just one reason it’s taken me more than a week to write this blog post. “if somebody wanted to do that after I’m not around, that’d be fantastic,” Burden said. “I think that’s why people become artists, you know. To have a life beyond them. I mean, it’s a way to become immortal.”
The Project Echo satellites stayed in orbit for five and eight years before gravity pulled them into the earth’s atmosphere. It’s not quite immortality, but it’s a start.
Related, devastatingly: Chris Burden dies at 69 [latimes]
2007: If I were a sculptor, but then again
2013: Exhibition Space [apexart.org]
Listen to the entire discussion between Chris Burden and Tyler Green on Episode 1 of MANPodcast [manpodcast]
Or listen to the 3:00 MANPodcast excerpt where Burden & Green talk about The Moon Piece [
dropbox greg.org, 4.6Mb mp3]
 What did Burden end up showing in Documenta 8, anyway? I have found him listed in the participating artists on Documenta’s own site, as showing “audio”. Of Burden’s four pre-1987 audio works, only The Atomic Alphabet and Send Me Your Money, both 1979, seem likely. For his part, the artist’s official CV only mentions Documenta 6, in 1977. Fry was the American co-curator on both.
Teachers: stop preparing artists for the real world; help them to make a better one.
— Nayland Blake (@naylandblake) March 3, 2015
This tweet from artist Nayland Blake, who heads ICP-Bard’s advanced photography MFA program, has been sticking with me all day. Blake’s participating in a symposium Friday at Pratt with some other folks I know and respect a lot, on the nature and challenges of art school.
At first Blake’s panel topic, “What is the role of art school in a market driven art world?” sounds like appropriate self-flagellation, and since William Powhida’s also participating, I could imagine who’s wielding the whip. But Bill’s not just an iconoclast, and Blake’s tweet gives hope for a constructive panel, if not quite yet hope for a better world.
Davdi Ross is in the morning, and BHQFU is in the afternoon, so it sounds like a full day. I hope it’s streaming.
Situation: Art School symposium at Pratt, March 6, 2015 [pratt.edu]
@TheRealHennessy Tweet Painting, DILF, 2014, 14×11 in., acrylic and screenprint on canvas
Monochromatic with a sharply contrasting silk-screened text, @TheRealHennessy Tweet Painting, DILF belongs to one of greg.org’s most iconic series–the @TheRealHennessy Tweet Paintings.
Distilling his canvases in a humorous simplicity, he has disassembled the process of artistic representation and its interpretive demands. Placing his control over the viewer, we read the tweet, laughing or groaning in response. Echoing the uncluttered monochromes of an esteemed range of artists form Kazimir Malevich to Yves Klein and Ad Reinhardt to Brice Marden, @TheRealHennessy Tweet Painting, DILF has the emphatic simplicity of Minimalism. And yet, deliberately puncturing the seriousness of art history’s great monochromes, he has printed a classic pick up line at its center. Recalling the zips of Barnett Newman’s paintings, greg.org’s selection of a deliberately unobtrusive font places the canvases serious and authoritative appearance in strange tension with the flippant content. “The subject comes first. Then the medium I guess,” he has explained. “Like the tweets. They needed a traditional medium. Stretchers, canvas, paint. The most traditional. Nothing fancy or clever or loud. The subject was already that. So the medium had to cut into the craziness. Make it more normal. Normalize the subject. Normality as the next special effect” (greg.org, quoted in R. Rian, ‘Interview’, pp. 6-24, in R. Brooks, J. Rian & L. Sante, London, greg.org, 2003, p. 20)
Minimal in composition and lacking the painterly presence of the artist’s hand, greg.org’s @TheRealHennessy Tweet Paintings parallel the “rephotography” that he became so well known for in his photographic works. Surreptitiously borrowing, appropriating, or as he refers to it, “stealing” is a trademark of his work. Even the location from which he draws his content has become a staple to his oeuvre. “Tweets are part of any mainstream magazine,” he explains. “Especially magazines like the New Yorker or Playboy. They’re right up there with the editorial and advertisements and table of contents and letters to the editors. They’re part of the layout, part of the ‘sights’ and ‘gags.’ Sometimes they’re political, sometimes they just make fun of everyday life. Once in a while they drive people to protest and storm foreign embassies and kill people.” (greg.org quoted in B. Ruf (ed.) Tweets, n.p.)
Previously: @TheRealHennessy Tweet Paintings
@TheRealHennessy Tweet Paintings, Cont’d.
Flags, 1968, image metmuseum.org
In 1968 Jasper Johns produced an edition, Flags, with ULAE featuring two American flags and an optical phenomenon. After staring at the inverted spectrum flag, green, black and orange, on the top, a viewer would then switch to the bottom flag, which would momentarily appear red, white and blue.
American Flag in Negative Colors of the Spectrum, 1968, image: juddfoundation.org
This was more than a visual trick. It carried symbolic and political meaning. Or at least such things could be ascribed to an inverted flag. In 1968 Donald Judd had American Flag in Negative Colors of the Spectrum made. It was included in “The Public Life,” a 2011 show at the Judd Foundation about the artist’s civic and political engagement. I have not been able to find out much background for this object or its creation.
Flag (Moratorium), 1969
In 1969, Johns again used the inverted flag, for Flag (Moratorium), a fundraising/protest poster for the Committee Against The War In Vietnam. The small white focal point in the center facilitates the same optical phenomenon as the ULAE edition, in which the viewer is called to action to envision, produce, and correct the flag in her own mind.
African American Flag, 1990, image: moma.org
David Hammons’ 1990 African American Flag is different. It’s red, black and green colors derive from the Pan-African or Black Liberation Flag designed by Marcus Garvey in the 1920s. Miami collector Craig Robins has a Hammons flag; Rirkrit installed it for Design Miami Basel in 2011. It is also in MoMA’s collection, and one flies over the Studio Museum in Harlem.
After seeing these epic FOIA monochromes from the Dept. of Homeland Security a few years ago, I’ve been collecting the best examples of redacted documents. I’ve never quite figured out what to do with them. Maybe a book.
I know Jenny Holzer’s been working on it for a while now. But I found her first batch of giant silkscreen on linen Redaction Paintings a little too slick. The Dust Paintings and Constructivist-inspired redaction paintings she showed this fall, though, are pretty great. Score one for the hand.
But then I just noticed this rather incredible, mysterious, and seemingly modest object in an upcoming Rago Arts auction. It’s a large (35×27 in) work titled Enhanced Techniques 3, and it’s described as a signed sheet of handmade paper. So the redaction is molded right in! I think Holzer has a winner here. But what? Where? And why is this thing only estimated to sell for $1000-1500?
A search for Holzer and handmade paper turn up other, similar pieces in the flotsam-filled auction reporting sites and secondary market print dealers. Try as they might, MutualArt couldn’t hide the fact that Rago had sold a handmade paper piece called Top Secret 24 last Spring. Rago certainly doesn’t want to hide it. I’d never thought of redaction in the same context of watermarking before.
On Caviar20 Top Secret 24 is pitched as Holzer’s “return to painting.” Hmm. At least they finally have pictures showing where this damn thing comes from. It’s ironic that people selling artworks about redaction leave out so much basic information.
griffelkunst director Dirk Dobke sitting in front of Jenny Holzer’s Top Secret portfolio. image: abendblatt.de
Anyway, the answer is griffelkunst, a 90-year-old print association in Hamburg with 4,500 subscribers and a closed 5-year-waitlist. Members pay €132/year for four contemporary artworks, which the association, currently led by curator Dirk Dobke, commissions and produces.
I don’t quite understand how that maps to Holzer’s Top Secret project, which was a suite of six handmade paper redaction editions, available to members only for €150 apiece, or €900 for the set. I guess they made as many as people ordered?
The labor-intensive process sounds like it syncs nicely with the subject: the white pulp on the redacted areas was scooped out by hand and filled in with black as each sheet was being made. And all of this sounds like fascinating context and backstory for the work. But no one’s using it to sell these things; just the opposite, they’re keeping it quiet. Whether it’s because griffelkunst frowns on flipping, or because it’s hard to explain a 10-20x markup, I can’t say.
Holding back information is power, and the occlusion of information comes as no surprise. Strategic vagueness and decontextualization is as likely an art-selling technique as transparency and information overload. That same Rago auction also has an atypical-looking Ad Reinhardt. Well, it might look typical, but the small black monochrome square is actually an edition, silkscreened on plexiglass. It was “from NY International, 1966,” which turns out to be the title of a 10-artist Tanglewood Press print/multiples portfolio organized by Henry Geldzahler. Portfolios like these get broken up, and the slightly more marketable pieces parted out, all the time. But so many dealers and auctioneers redact the reason and context for which the artist created the work as part of their enhanced sales techniques.
News came today of On Kawara’s death, and I’m finding it difficult to articulate much of my own reaction. It’s a sense of profound loss, coupled with naturalness, a frustrating mix of the inevitable and the unexpected.
The kids and I just painted new Today series paintings yesterday, to update the ones they painted for me in 2012 as preparation for RO/LU’s Today series project at the Walker Art Center. So we’ve had On on our minds.
And of course, the Guggenheim just announced that the artist was collaborating with curator Jeffrey Weiss on a full-scale retrospective set to open in February. And I fired off some exuberant tweets about getting my turn in the booth to read for the One Million Years project.
And my recent foray onto tumblr had reminded me that I have to reinstall fromnowon.us, the project we announced during RO/LU’s Walker residency, of commissioning Chinese Paint Mill to continue the Today series, first to fill in the days when Kawara himself didn’t complete a painting, and then to open the project up to everyone when eventually, some day, far in the future…
This idea had struck me during Kawara’s huge 2012 show at Zwirner’s, which had Today paintings from four decades and dozens of cities. The newest painting was Jan. 3, 2012, just three days before the opening. And other paintings appeared during the show’s run, though the artist himself, of course, did not. But Lei Yamabe wrote in the catalogue that on those days when Kawara did not complete a painting, he was like Schrodinger’s Cat, “shut in the closed room of time, simultaneously alive and dead.” And, most alarmingly, and unexpectedly, at least for me, that “the series will be complete when Kawara’s body ceases to exist.”
Damien Hirst had just floated the possibility that his spot paintings could continue into infinity, and frankly, the idea that Hirst would persist and Kawara would not felt devastatingly wrong. Thus, fromnowon.us. But I think the project only gelled because I really didn’t imagine Kawara not continuing himself. Yet now here we are, and now here he is not.
On Kawara's 2012 Zwirner show was the only exhibition I've ever had to walk out of due to overwhelming existential dread.
— Rachel Wetzler (@rwetzler) July 10, 2014
Rachel’s tweet shows, not everyone was as impervious as I, was but reading back a bit today, I see the shadows of non-existence throughout Kawara’s entire practice, which I either ignored or relegated to an abstraction before. In 1991 Henning Weidemann wrote that “the picture of a past date becomes a memorial,” and the very title “lead[s] us to suppose that for the spectator it will always be a question of a “Yesterday”-series.”
Even when using the speediest means of communication available to him in 1970, the telegram, Kawara’s I am still alive was fraught with contradiction:
In a certain sense the phrase “I am still alive” can never be sent as it cannot be received by the addressee instantaneously…It is only valid at the very instant that it is being written, and in the very next second it no longer is a certainty. If the addressee receives the telegram a few hours or days later and reads it, he merely knows that the sender was alive at the very instant the telegram was sent. But when he is reading the telegram, he is totally uncertain if the content of the text is still relevant or if it is still valid The difference, the small displacement between sending and receiving, is that particular unseizable glimpse of the presence of the artist. Likewise, it is a sentence of self-reassurance…”I am still alive.” The activity of telling oneself and the world “I am still alive.”
Now the uncertainty is removed, and that difference, that once-small displacement, will stretch into history. In fact, it’s already bigger than we first thought. I’ve heard from a couple of folks that know that Kawara actually passed away as far back as two weeks ago, after some period of difficulty, but that the artist’s family had requested his passing not be made public before now. [update: according to this calculation, Kawara’s 29,771th and last day was June 29, 2014.]
And so our paintings, my exuberance about the Guggenheim announcement, my continued procrastination, it all went down when I [we] only thought Kawara was still alive, when in fact, he was not.
For some as-yet unknown time, all but Kawara’s close friends and family thought he was still possibly/probably alive, shut in that closed room of time, but he was not. This specific moment, this window, this condition, of knowing something that turns out no longer to be true, feels significant in ways I cannot pin down right now. I’ll think about it every time I see my kids’ paintings, which are now not prescient memorials of Kawara’s own last full day, but which instead mark the last day of our thinking he was still alive.
But it also highlights an important distinction that’s so often lost, especially here, between the artist and his practice, the human being and his work. Just a couple of weeks ago I wondered if Kawara’s family or lover or the deli guy was included in I Met, or was it just his work contacts.
Kawara had a wife, and at least two children. He lived on a street in SoHo. He had neighbors. Kawara didn’t give interviews or talk about his work, but when Nick Paumgarten called about a young Leo Koenig crashing at the Kawaharas’ loft, On answered the phone and gave a quote. Kawara’s work marked one man’s passage through time, space and society, and the end of that project which has inspired me for so long makes me sad. But these were “the traces left on paper and canvas,” as Yamabe wrote, “the shadows that Kawara cast.” For others who shared Kawara’s life, he was a husband, a father, a friend. 謹んでお悔やみ、申し上げます。
2016 update: as time passed, I thought about this project more and decided not to pursue it. after a couple of years, I have taken the unusual (for me) step of letting the domain name expire. I still think about Kawara’s work often, and it is possible that a related project responding to it might arise in the future. But not right now.
Previous Kawara on greg.org:
On Kawara Data
Setting: Fredericianum, Documenta 11 | The voice of a woman reading from within a freestanding glass booth echoes
I’m really stoked to contribute a top ten list to UbuWeb this month.
When Kenny Goldsmith invited me to submit a list, I first tried to come up with some new, revealing, conceptual strategy for generating it. I thought of the top ten most viewed items, and then the ten least viewed. But then I learned that Ubu doesn’t keep logs. I thought of the ten largest files, but then figured it’d just be the longest movies, and big whoop. I thought of a top ten list of top ten lists. And when I worried that I would just be mirroring some taste or trend, I thought of identifying the ten items most frequently included in other peoples’ lists. Several more ideas were patiently disabused out of me, and I began running through my chance operations options.
Then I realized I’d already begun making my list, starting back in 2002, when I linked to ubu.com from my blog for the first time. Ubu at that point was still quite mysterious, and much smaller–mostly ancient and arcane concrete poetry reprints I frankly hadn’t heard of. But I kept coming back. A huge collection of video and audio appeared, Kenneth Goldsmith came out from behind the curtain, seeming much older and august in my mind than he turned out to be–I imagined he was a survivor of this lost underground scene, not an explorer.
Anyway, I assembled my list from twelve years links here at greg.org, highlights from my life with UbuWeb. They’re roughly chronological which has become an indispensable collaborator, not just a source of discovery and inspiration.