‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’

I was absolutely floored by this tiny quote from Zora Neale Hurston’s 1928 field interview with Cudjoe Lewis, who was one of the last known survivors of the last slave-ship to come to the United States. He arrived in the US from what is now Benin in 1859 or 1860, smuggled in on the Clotilde at the age of 19. His given name was Kossula.

“I want to know who you are and how you came to be a slave; and to what part of Africa do you belong, and how you fared as a slave, and how you have managed as a free man?”

His head was bowed for a time. Then he lifted his wet face: “Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go in de Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody dere say, ‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’ ”

Hurston spent three months interviewing Kossula, and even longer trying to get his history published. Because of her training an anthropologist she refused publishers’ demands that she rewrite Kossula’s vernacular testimony. 87 years later, it is being released for the first time, and I just bought it.

The Last Slave [vulture]
Barracoon: The Last Black Cargo, by Zora Neale Hurston, drops May 8 [amazon]

[This is where I originally expected this quick post to stop.]

Kossula was a leader of the community of Clotilde survivors who after attempting to return to Africa, created a settlement outside Mobile, Alabama called Africatown. In a 1914 book called Historic Sketches of the South, Emma Roche Langdon recounted the stories of the Clotilde’s voyage, the survivors, and their descendants. She spelled his name Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis.

Bronze bust of Cudjoe Lewis after Charles Rhodes’ carved wood original, some time before 2002, image via WKRG

In 1959, on the 100th anniversary of the Clotilde‘s arrival, the Progressive League of Plateau erected a memorial to Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis in front of the Union Baptist Church. The monument was created by Henry Williams, “a welder and history buff”, which is what they call someone who also saved and preserved the Africatown cemetery. On a pyramid of bricks made by Clotilde survivors sat a lengthy bust of Lewis by Charles Rhodes, a “young understudy” of Williams.

AP photo of the brick base of Cudjoe Lewis memorial in front of Union Baptist Church, Jan. 2002. image via Gadsden Times

The original was carved in wood, to be cast in bronze. When the bronze bust was ripped off the base and stolen in 2002, the pastor said it had been in front of the church for “about three decades.” Was he off by 15 years, or had it taken until the 1970s to make the cast of Rhodes’ sculpture?

unveiling of a new bust of Cudjo Lewis, 2008, at the Union Baptist Church, Africatown USA, AL, image via WKRG

In 2008 a new, similarly shaped sculpture was unveiled, though this picture from a local newscast shows it next to a wall, not on the brick pyramid, because it was installed at the Africatown Welcome Center alongside a bust of John Smith, a mayor of the nearby town of Prichard. The sculptures were donated by two filmmakers from Africa, Thomas Akodjinou from Benin and Felix Yao Amenyo Eklu from Togo, in 2007.

On his blog Akodjinou honored John Smith for his involvement in the Alabama Benin Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, which saw Africatown as an historic symbol of reconciliation between the two interconnected cultures.

Vandalized busts of John Smith (front) and Cudjo Lewis, and Robert Battles, executive director of the Africatown Welcome Center, Mar 2011, image via al.com

In March 2011, both sculptures were vandalized, with their heads ripped off. The sculptures were originally described as marble, but from the look of this painted and chipped base, I am doubtful.

John Smith & Cudjo Lewis busts as photographed in 2016 by Maarten Vanden Eynde, image: deltaworkers.org

The headless busts were still visible in 2016 when Belgian artist Maarten Vanden Eynde visited Africatown. His account is disheartening, if not downright harrowing. Besides the historic cemetery, which is sinking, many of the structures and homes are run down or abandoned, and the area is threatened by surrounding industrial redevelopment. [Tho tbh, it looks kind of typical on GSV from 2011-2017.]

In 2016 sculptor April Livingston launched a GoFundMe to make a new bust, just the head this time, to be cast out of iron. It was bolted to the base in February 2017, when she promised the local news that she could cast a million more. Me, I’m most interested in the history of the previous three.

Sculptor April Livingston with her newly unveiled bust of Cudjoe Lewis, image: Gary Hadaway via UA

Historic Sketches of the South (1914), by Emma Roche Langdon [archive.org]
On her 1928 trip Hurston filmed Cudjo Lewis and other AfricaTown residents. [youtube]
New Cudjoe Lewis bust dedicated (the 3rd or 4th, depending) [wkrg]
A few months ago, a reporter [thought he] found the wreckage of the Clotilde [al, thanks wb]

May 2018 UPDATE: WNYC’s On The Media devoted an entire show to Africatown and the importance of preserving and telling its founders’ stories. [wnycstudios.org]

I See Dead People

Alice Neel, Dead Father, 1946
Dana Schutz, Emmett Till, 2016, image of painting installed at the 2017 Whitney Biennial via Washington Post

A reader, Jon Auman, who is amused by my sense of art mystery, recently sent along a pairing of paintings. He saw Alice Neel’s 1946 Dead Father (above) in the catalogue of a Thomas Amman show in Zurich, and it reminded him of Dana Schutz’s Emmett Till.

For all but a few days after the Whitney Biennial opened, it has been beside The Point, if not impossible, to consider Schutz’s painting as a painting, not as a cultural flashpoint. But Auman’s noticed what I think is a real reference for Schutz, and it’s one that has not been raised or discussed publicly, afaik.

The immediately received and problematic genesis of Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till is the photograph of Till’s murdered body in an open casket that his mother Mamie Till caused to be published to protest his unjust killing. The most widely circulated of those photos was just young Emmett’s face, and it’s reasonable to accept that Schutz’s gashed painted surface was inspired by that picture. But other photos of the funeral reveal that Till’s body, his casket, and his surroundings, do not resemble Schutz’s depiction at all. Her painting is not a documentation; it is her construction. Which, of course it is.

And Neel’s painting of her own father’s funeral is pretty clearly a reference. Unlike her more famous portraits, Neel painted Dead Father from memory, a deliberate remove from experience and observation. Looking for a clean image of it brought up another Neel painting I’d forgotten, which feels even more relevant.

Alice Neel, Death of Mother Bloor, 1951

In 1951 Alice Neel painted Death of Mother Bloor, which shows the public funeral in Harlem of Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor, the revered American Communist organizer and suffragist, who died in the midst of McCarthy’s witch hunts. Like Schutz, Neel cast a sympathetic eye on the historic funeral of a politically controversial figure, and constructed a painting unconstrained by photography’s documentary assertions.

Ella Reeve Bloor funeral, August 1951, photographed for LIFE by Bernard Hoffman

In 2012, Dana Schutz talked with Jarrett Earnest at length about her painterly influences, or artists she admires. A lot of what she sees is construction. She doesn’t mention Neel, but I think it’s worth asking.

Untitled (A Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017

Untitled (One Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017, cornflower blue and green wall paint, landscape painting (framed), charcoal, dimensions variable, installation view

I am pleased to announce that a work I thought was gone has perhaps come back on view in Washington, D.C. The title, obviously, is derived from Gerhard Richter’s 1971 work, Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo (below). But its creation, including all the vagaries involved, are inspired directly by Palermo’s work and practice.

Gerhard Richter, Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo, 1971, plaster & wood, painted, in ochre room, image:gerhard-richter.com

Talking about his late student in a 1984 interview with Laszlo Glozer, Joseph Beuys said:

I believe that one of the most important things for art–and he knew it too–is the behavior of people in general. The way people live, the way they live in their space. The way people live was very important for him. The way they inhabit, the way they live, what chairs they sit on, or what they have around them, what they stuff into themselves.

Untitled (One Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017, cornflower blue and green wall paint, landscape painting (framed), charcoal, dimensions variable, installation view

I’d seen the painting first (what they have around them), but it was that charcoal (the way they live) and the horizontal blue passage on the upper left that made the work come into being (the way they inhabit). But that was last year.

Beuys again:

Well, if I could, I would say one should perceive his works like a breath. They have something of a breath about them, a breath that vanishes…One ought to see his paintings more like breath that comes and goes, it has something porous, and it can easily vanish again. It is also highly vulnerable. Vulnerable, say, like a cornflower: when you out it into light, it fades very quickly. So one has to perceive that breathlike being as an aesthetic concept and not as a solid structure…

I still don’t know whether to post these matters, or whether it differs from filing it away, or from seeing it, or thinking it. I mean, it’s posted now because the house where this was installed last year came back on the market, with the same listing photos, and I saw them again. But what changes? Is the work still there? Would it matter if it is or isn’t? Does it matter what that crappy little painting even is?

Which seems as good a time as any to mention another work from last year, which I intentionally didn’t post, to see what it was like.  Does it change now? Now that situation has been moved out and gut renovated for sure? Now that I can search for it in a different dialogue box? Now that someone else can, too?

Untitled (Macomb Wall Painting), 2017, eggshell finish paint, painting hook, est. 36×40 in., installation view

For me the value lies in the wonder, the fleeting marvel, the tiny layers of history, of how some people lived overlaid with how other people staged. So I’m good.

Previously, related: http://greg.org/archive/2016/01/29/untitled-border-2016.html
http://greg.org/archive/2016/05/27/monochrome-house.html

Talking Walter Hopps, Ferus, & LA with Anne Doran & Deborah Treisman, 10/29 @Alden Projects

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I’m stoked to be speaking this coming Sunday, Oct. 29, with Anne Doran and Deborah Treisman, about their new book, The Dream Colony: A Life in Art by Walter Hopps. The discussion and book signing will take place at Alden Projects™ on the LES, starting at 6pm.
Todd Alden has an incredible-sounding show up right now which provides a nearly perfect backdrop and context for a discussion of Hopps and the emergence of the post-war LA art world: a collection of 66 exhibition posters for Ferus Gallery, which Hopps founded with Ed Kienholz, which was then taken over by Irving Blum.
I imagine the talk will draw heavily on Doran & Treisman’s book, which they created from over 100 hours of interviews with Hopps; and on the posters themselves, which Hopps, and later Blum, often created in collaboration with the budding artists themselves, including Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol.
It should be a great talk about a great read in a great show, so do try and come.
You could buy The Dream Colony now via Amazon, but why not get a copy from the authors on Sunday night? [amazon]
Ferus Gallery: Between The Folds runs through Nov., 19, 2017, at Alden Projects™ [aldenprojects.com]

The Daily Practice Of Refusing

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I’ve recently enjoyed and been enlightened by Martin Herbert’s new collection of essays, Tell Them I Said No published by Sternberg Press. Herbert considers ten artists who have left the “art world” and how. I put that in scare quotes because some artists stop making work, while others stop showing it, and others refuse to perform as public figures discussing or representing their work.
It’s a very thoughtful group of essays about a fascinating and challenging group of artists who, it turns out, are engaging with art and artistic practice entirely on their own terms. The artists are Agnes Martin, Albert York, Charlotte Posenenske, Stanley Brouwn, David Hammons, Lutz Bacher, Christopher D’Arcangelo, Laurie Parsons, Cady Noland, and Trisha Donnelly.
A couple of excerpts from Herbert’s introduction:

As performed today, [self-detachment] pushes against the current in an epoch of celebrity worship and its related feedback loop, increasingly universal visibility and access. A big part of the artist’s role now, in a massively professionalized art world, is showing up to self-market, being present. On all channels, ideally: see how, aside from all the photo opportunities, far-from-digital-native figures take to social media or splash themselves when possible across magazines (which grander galleries now produce themselves) or collaborate with fashion designers, all gates open.

In such a context of hectic short-termism and multiple types of oversharing, some kind of voluntary retreat, some respect for the Joycean triumvirate of silence, exile, and cunning, might constitute a vanguard, if a difficult and apparently suicidal one to countenance today since it seemingly requires earning the right to leave.

None of this, meanwhile, has transpired in a steady-state art world. Rather, the urge to pull back, where felt, echoes changing conditions over decades, from the swing toward dematerialization and its intersection with critique, to art’s transmogrification into a backcloth for the power plays of the prosperous.

Each case Herbert examines is particular; he does not try to force artists’ experiences and choices into an over-arching historical analysis. But as I found myself nodding along in recognition and admiration for these artists, I came to feel a case being made against the structures of the market- and celebrity-centered art world we’re soaking in.
This multi-faceted questioning reminded me of another paradigmatic challenge, posed by Helen Molesworth in the Dec. 2016 issue of Artforum. Molesworth asks why shock, countering shock with shock, and a strategy of épater le bourgeoisie persists as the dominant mode of modernism and the avant-garde:

Must meaning be predicated on shock? Why was a cut or a break always required for something to be historically serious or significant? Why couldn’t continuity or gentleness, even, be imagined as a hermeneutic of radicality? As someone with a nascent interest in domesticity and the quotidian, I felt that shock didn’t help me understand much of anything.

Molesworth goes on to discuss powerful examples of engagement, listening, connection and self-reflection as alternatives to the received models of attention-grabbing spectacle and an ever-intensifying cycle of shock and desensitization. In a similar way, while the artists Herbert discusses don’t show a singular path out of the current hall of mirrors, they remind us of the overlooked potential of engaging art with questioning, silence, and refusal.
Who could refuse to buy Tell Them I Said No at Amazon for like $24? [amazon]

The Thousand Year Box

How quickly can turn the winds of history.
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screencap: artspace
In August Artspace published an interview celebrating self-styled “art architect” Peter Marino. The “Dark Prince of Luxury,” who has become the architecture dom to the world’s wealthiest people and brands, told Andrew Goldstein the secrets of his success and career ascent in the New York of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Warhol’s Factory.

[AG:] It would seem trauma is an excellent crucible for talent.
[PM:] It really is. If you just lead your normal, banal life you don’t get enough fried brain cells to be an artist. [Laughs]

And of fortuitous meetings with future clients like the refugees Marella and Gianni Agnelli:

Everyone from Europe was coming to New York to see the art scene. And it was a double whammy. The kids today don’t remember the violence of the Red Brigades in Italy, but the communists were this close to overrunning the whole country. So all the cultured, wealthy, sophisticated people came to New York. It was a very frightening moment.
And they all needed a place to stay.
And they all needed places to stay in New York.
Enter Peter Marino.
Right place, right time.

Part 2 of the interview ended with his wishes for his legacy:

I’d like to think that my architecture really expressed the times in which we lived, or helped define the time in which we lived. Because, for me, that’s one of the definitions of great art…So, I try so hard in the stores I do, in the homes I do, to make it so that if you took this compendium of my work, it would express the time in which we live.

In this, alas, I have no doubt that Marino has succeeded. Whether it’s nine-figure flagships for Chanel or similarly costly New York collector townhouse renos, and estates for “rogue Mexican bond traders,” Marino’s work embodies the defining spirit of our age: immense wealth expended on limitless craft and luxury for the pleasure of a tiny few.

Continue reading “The Thousand Year Box”

Actual Size

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Michael Heizer, Munich Rotary, 1970, transparencies and projectors, installed here at LACMA in 2012, but on view at the Whitney through Apr. 10, 2016
Michael Heizer talked about Munich Depression (1969) and Munich Rotary (1970) with Heiner Friedrich and the Whitney folks, and Interview Magazine is ON it.

HEIZER: I have a genius friend named Maris Ambats, whom I talked to about making a projector to project an image at the actual size. The deal was to let the camera be a translator between reality and a replicated reality, which means making the photograph as big as the thing itself. So here it is. It gets squeezed down through the camera, and then it’s blown back up to the same size.
…MANCUSI-UNGARO: And the first time you showed Munich Rotary was in 1971 in Detroit…
HEIZER: Sam Wagstaff [who was then the curator of contemporary art at the Detroit Institute of Arts] introduced photography to the modern-art market. He liked photography so much he wanted to show it in the grand hall in this classical museum. It’s a big, big classical building–it’s like the Louvre inside with huge rooms. He put my piece in this huge 200-foot room. It was really good, and it was intended to be a photographic offering, a photographic artwork. Wagstaff had the nerve to do that. The trustees wanted him to remove that sculpture of mine he exhibited, too, and he resigned because of it. But he had the nerve, and he believed in it. He was right. It’s become so insidious. Photography is everywhere now. Back then, it wasn’t an art-world technique. But, the thing is, you can’t separate the film derivation from the real thing. Munich Depression and Munich Rotary are different works of art, but they come from the real thing. So you can’t escape it.
DE SALVO: You can’t uncouple them.
HEIZER: No point in trying to.

This hits a lot of buttons for me, first because of what’s not really discussed: the full-scale photomurals of boulders Heizer showed alongside Munich Rotary at LACMA in 2012, in a show called “Actual Size.” [Actually, Munich Rotary is or has been called Actual Size: Munich Rotary, too.] This felt like a photo representational rebuke of MOCA’s 2012 Land Art show, which Heizer refused to participate in.
But it really all makes me rethink how photography operated in this era as both a mode of art production, and as a means of circulation. The difference between the image and what it depicts, photography’s built-in distortions of “the scale of the world,” as Sontag put it.
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Destroyed Richter Painting No. 013, 2016, installation shot
The double distortion by photography and the market is what drove me to make the Destroyed Richter Paintings. I want to experience the difference (or the similarities) between a photo of a painting (or a jpg of a 4×5 slide) and an actual size reproduction of that (image of that) painting. Some have size info attached, but at first all the Destroyed Richter Paintings dimensions were extrapolated from the painting in them, and the studio space they inhabited. While figuring this out, I definitely considered conceptualist folks like Joseph Kosuth or Mel Bochner when I looked back at these issues, but Heizer and his photos were unknown to me. I sure look at them now, though.
And apparently I need to look at Audubon, too, who insisted on illustrating his birds life-size, and letting the printing people just deal. William S. Smith discusses Audubon and Actual Size in Art in America, and looks at scale and representation as analogs for control:

Heizer’s actual-size photographs of Munich Depression establish control over the context in which they are viewed–a control he could never assert over the site on which it was made. Photographs of variable scale can be reprinted, republished, circulated and annotated in popular magazines. But the actual-size works have to be seen in person in a setting where the placement of the projectors can be tightly controlled. They are photographic oddities, resistant to reproduction and circulation. This resistance, too, comes at a cost, because it makes the work, conceived supposedly in innocence of “commercial and utilitarian concerns,” entirely dependent on institutions with the resources and space that Heizer requires.

heizer_actual_size_lacma_x-traonline.jpg
Huh, this installation view of Michael Heizer’s “Actual Size” show at LACMA in 2012 is really about the museum. Broad wins again. via x-traonline.org
This is not to just hitch my wagon to whatever 60s star is riding through town. I am actually in the middle of sending out photos of the Destroyed Richters, and unless it’s a flagrant installation shot, the works keep ending up looking like the photos. I find myself stuck in this same representational gap, in a hole, I have dug for myself. But at least I am not alone. While looking around for photos of Heizer’s “Actual Size” show, I realized they are really all about LACMA, and their giant pavilion. And though all those megaliths are presumably still where Heizer photographed them 46 years ago, the work that’s inextricably coupled with Munich Rotary, Munich Depression, created on an active suburban building site, was destroyed within months of its completion.
michael_heizer_munich_depression_perlach.jpg
Michael Heizer’s Munich Depression, May 1969, Perlach, Munich, Germany
Michael Heizer by Heiner Friedrich [interviewmagazine]
One to One [artinamericamagazine]

On Listening To Phyllida Barlow

Now that I’m on the other side of it, I’m kind of amazed at how much the ideas that led me to Chop Shop resonated with the discussion Phyllida Barlow had at the Nasher Sculpture Center with Tyler Green. The live conversation was on MANPodcast in July 2015.
phyllida_barlow_nasher_2015.jpg
Phyllida Barlow, tryst, 2015, installation at Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas [image: manpodcast.com]
I was listening to it again tonight on the way home and pulled some highlights: like this idea of fragments:

It always seems to me extraordinary that our lineage of Western art is dependent on broken fragments of things for which we have no proper-I mean, we look at torsos that don’t have limbs, that come from Hellenic times…and they’re iconic. ‘This is great.’ and Western art runs out of that greatness. And there doesn’t seem to be an issue that the arms are missing, or the legs are missing.
So the fragment and the half-finished has for everybody-it does for me-a certain beauty. it’s sublime. [9m00s]

This notion of the fate of art:

Really a question that emerged very early on, which is, ‘Where does art end up?’…Do you, as in my case, enjoy it, or as I was doing in the 80s and 90s and just putting it on the roof of our car, and taking it somewhere and just putting it on the street corner? And abandoning these things, and finally, after a few years of doing that, one night at 3 o’clock in the morning, I took them all to Blackfriars Bridge and chucked them in the Thames. [Laughing] Such is the way of artists, you know. It was one of the most liberating things I’d done. [13m15s]

Barlow talks about touch, and how the anticipation of touch is more powerful than touch itself:

I think this issue of touch is, for me, problematic. I think touch is a language, a non-verbal language, and how you imagine touching something seems to me to be more important than actually reaching out and touching it, where the minute you’ve touched it, the mystery, or the imaginative process, gets solved. You know, that’s closure on it.
I think there are…numerous art objects where there is a longing to touch, or an interest in what this thing is. But I think that it’s up to us to work out, what we then imagine what this might be? Is it hot or cold? There are artists who very much play that; Pierre Huyghe made a sculpture that is very much hot when you touch it. I think that’s a sort of fascinating game. I found that work, for me, you know, the minute you’d done that action, I didn’t know quite what else there was to discover about it. [51m00]

Just now I listened to this and the action I thought of was cutting the Barnett Newman painting and the Gursky Rhine. The thought of cutting, and the process of composition, the decisionmaking, the weighing, these all feel vital, and different from the actual chops.
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Chop Shop Newman Painting No. 1 [destroyed] and No. 2, both 2016
That experience is reserved for whoever buys it; by design it is not the same experience as the regular viewer. Taking Barlow’s perspective on touch would mean that considering the potential is more interesting. But I think what actually happens is that the decision to cut, crop, compose and define shifts a collector away from just seeing and toward creating. From the audience to the artist.

Indifference, Fence-Sitting, Keeping Quiet, & Despair

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A Gerhard Richter squeegee painting is coming up for auction in February. It is CR:725-4 fourth in a series of five large paintings [225×200 cm] made in 1990, a very busy squeegee year. From The Art Newspaper:

“The years 1989 and 1990 are the most sought-after in Richter’s works,” says Isabelle Paagman, Sotheby’s senior specialist, contemporary art. “During this time he really embraces the squeegee technique in his abstract paintings. More than half of Richter’s works from that period are in museums.”
Paagman says his use of grey in Abstraktes Bild also makes it highly sought after. Grey is of particular importance for Richter; in a 2004 interview he described it as “the ideal colour for indifference, fence-sitting, keeping quiet, despair”.

I’ve been looking at these late 80s and early 90s squeegee paintings a lot lately and am intrigued by this kind of financial sifting. Equally interesting is the use of indifference, fence-sitting, keeping quiet, and despair as record-breaking selling points. I hope it sells for £100 million.
Abstraktes Bild CR:725-4, 1990, 225x200cm [gerhard-richter.com]
Gerhard Richter painting being auctioned by Malekis could topple record [theartnewspaper.com]
A 2004 interview with Jan Thorn-Prikker that doesn’t include this quote was published in the NYT. [nyt]

Robert Rauschenberg, Dad

I’ve been reading the transcript from Susan Weil’s interviews for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Oral History Project. It’s four sittings over several months, so stories are retold with slight variations depending on who’s there, more Thanksgiving chestnut than Rashomon, but still interesting.
One example, in her first interview session, Weil talked about the collapse of her marriage to Rauschenberg in the Summer of 1951, just as Christopher was being born, and of the aftermath, raising him as a single parent. [Bob was at Black Mountain College during the birth, then soon took up with Cy Twombly and headed to Europe for 17 months. By 1953-4, Rauschenberg was back in New York, way downtown, and in a relationship with Jasper Johns.]:

And was Bob able to see him from time to time?
WEIL: Yes. Particularly when he was in New York, that worked out. He would see him from time to time. But Christopher, he always–they’d try to do things together, and of course at that time, Bob was really into making his art life bigger and broader. So he’d often cancel meetings with Chris, because he would have a meeting with a museum person or something.
And so Bob was supposed to take Chris to the circus, and he said, “Well, Mom, he probably won’t be able to come, because he’ll have something more important.” And I felt so terrible. And of course he did come, but Christopher had it all in his head that he was not at the top of the list.

Ouch.
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The circus reminded me of this letter, which is collaged to the face of one of Rauschenberg’s earliest combines, Untitled (1954) [above], and which was mentioned in two essays in Paul Schimmel’s 2005 Combines exhibition catalogue:
“I hope that you still like me Bob cause I still love you. Please wright me back love LOVE Christopher.” And there’s a circus clown in the corner. Same circus? Who can say? What’s notable is not whether Rauschenberg was a good dad, but that he incorporated the letter in his artwork, and how.
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Untitled (1954-58), also called Untitled (Man with White Shoes) and Plymouth Rock, collection: MOCA, image: RRF
The letter is just below and to the left of an overexposed headshot of a toddler Christopher, but the handwriting is not that of a 3-year-old. Though it’s dated 1954, Rauschenberg clearly kept working on Untitled for several years. This photo of the artist’s studio shows that Christopher’s letter and photo were on there by 1958, though, the year of his (and Johns’) breakout shows at Castelli.
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Rauschenberg in his Front St. studio in 1958, with various combines behind him. photo: Kay Harris via RRF
In reviewing Schimmel’s show and catalogue, Yve Alain-Bois mocked the idea of seeking insights into Rauschenberg’s combines from close readings of their collaged elements, even as he pointed out the photo of Johns and the Twombly sketch on Untitled.
When I first connected Weil’s story with Christopher’s letter, it was tragic and infuriating. Rauschenberg wasn’t busy meeting any museum people between 1954-58, he was just not seeing his son. But in Weil’s later tellings, with her son sitting alongside her, a much more sanguine version emerges; as he got a little older Christopher recalled hanging out at his dad’s and helping him make work. He was a teenage studio assistant on screenprinting, rollerskated inside, and helped unleash the turtles at E.A.T.’s 9 Evenings. In short, it got better. And in retrospect, putting his son’s letter and photo on a sculpture meant he saw it every day; Rauschenberg used his combine as the studio equivalent of the refrigerator door, sitting right in that gap between art and life.
Robert Rauschenberg Oral History Project [rauschenbergfoundation.org]
Robert Rauschenberg: Combines, the catalogue from Paul Schimmel’s 2005 exhibition, is great [amazon]
Previously: The Orgies of Art History

Just Compensation Image

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I’m slow to take a closer look at the conservation project to restore the coloration to Mark Rothko’s badly faded Harvard Murals (1963) using computer-calibrated light projections. The project has been going for several years, but the last winter the lit paintings went on view for the first time in decades, and remain up until July 24th. Which was the trigger for the roundtable discussion in Artforum that piqued my interest. It’s fascinating all around, but I really liked that it included artists Rebecca Quaytman, David Reed, and Ken Okiishi, who ended discussing the fate of paintings and the use of projection on painting as a creative medium in itself.
rothko_harvard_murals_on.jpg copyright maximalism ars please just
Even before the conservator Carol Mancusi-Ungaro explained that the projection was tuned pixel by pixel to approximate Rothko’s intended colors, I found myself jonesing to get my hands on the image, and turn it into a work of its own. Called a compensation image, it’s made by calculating the chromatic differences between the paintings’ current state and the target state. It’s a map of everything the painting has lost, an accounting of how far it’s fallen from its (hypothetical) historical potential.
It’s the color that might have been. In the case of Rothko’s Harvard Murals, Mancusi-Ungaro explained that they weren’t seeking to return the paintings’ appearance to a new, “original” state, but simply to erase the damage caused by Harvard leaving the works to bake in the sun for 15 years. The target state was determined using color-corrected Ektachrome slides from 1964 and a sixth painting, excluded from the set, which has been in dark storage in the Rothko estate.
The images above showing three of the paintings with and without the corrective projection come from a TEDx talk given by Harvard conservator Narayan Khandekar. The dramatic reveal, when the museum turns off the projection, happens every day at 4 o’clock, and is by all accounts dramatic.
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What is not shown is the compensation image itself. Here is a photo of part of it, when Khandekar holds some foamcore in front of the painting. I would like to see and use the entire thing. There may be a way.
In 2011 other Harvard conservator Jens Stenger published a report on the project at the International Committee of Museums triennial in Lisbon, which is circulating as an ICOM-CC newsletter pdf. In it, Stenger discloses that the team confected a small scale test of the light correction process by using identical materials (egg and pigment) to paint another Rothko and superfade and correct it.1, 2
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A is the Conservators’ Rothko. B is the painting after a few weeks under some tungsten lamps. C is the interpolated compensation image (A – B). D is the lit painting (A + C).
In an incisive essay last April, John Pyper likened the compensation image’s duplicative relationship to the painting as a similar to a print and a plate. Seeing it now makes me think of a color photo negative.
Which makes me think of Alma Thomas, who painted Watusi (Hard Edge) in 1963 [!] using the form from Matisse’s giant cutout, L’Escargot, but in the inverse colors. For Thomas the colors signaled a reversal of direction for cultural appropriation. What does the color of a compensation image represent? Here it is loss, a loss caused, let’s face it, by Harvard’s years of neglect, mishandling, and occasional abuse. [Actually, the projector project does not address the physical damage, dents, scratches and graffiti the paintings received in what was, after all, a campus dining room.] At least in this case, compensation feels too diplomatic; maybe we should call it a restitution image, or a reparations image.
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Now that I look at it a bit, the particular colors of the Rothko compensation image remind me of not just any photo negative, but the first photo/negative, made by Joseph-Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. And just because a projection is used to index and compensate for loss or aging now doesn’t mean that’s all it’s capable of. It turns out photography could do more than capture a view out a window.
1 I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say this outcome is literally the kicker from the Artforum discussion.
2 This is the second instance I’ve heard of conservators making post-war painting simulacra, and now I want some.
Stenger, J. et al., “Non-invasive Color Restoration of Faded Paintings Using Light from a Digital Projector” [icom-cc.org, pdf]
After Mark Rothko, American [printeresting.org]
Previously, and very much related: On Peter Coffin at the Hirshhorn, also Donald Moffett
other early Donald Moffett projections on paintings

A Statement-As-Question From A Panel on Painting

No one’s really sending them to me, and so these are still not easy to collect. And this statement-as-question by Phong Bui at Hunter College’s recent panel on painting maybe doesn’t count, because The Brooklyn Rail co-sponsored the panel.
But it’s still good. And the two tall uncomfortable guys asking questions after Bui are interesting to listen to, too, the latter mostly for his strained, uncomfortable language, but both kind of get shut down by Amei Wallach, who I ended up finding pretty disagreeable. Anyway, Bui starts around 1:04:00. As previously, line breaks in the transcriptions map to pauses by the speaker.
You know what the best show at MoMA recently?
that we tend to forget?
Is the Robert Gober retrospective.
That is–
And why do I say this?
Because years ago, I think it must have been in
early September
2007
-6, actually,
Rob Storr and I came to interview Elizabeth Murray
for her retrospective there.
In the course of talking to Elizabeth
about the way in which she created her structure
and she emphatically said that it came from Ron Gorchov’s
early
paintings
that she had, you know–
exposed to
in the early 70s when she first came to New York
Travel back to Bob Gober’s show
He used to work for Elizabeth
building those structures but that’s not the point the point is
that show was so great partly because he
featured
artists
who influenced him
who he admired
and I don’t remember–
do you remember
not long ago
the previous Whitney
where the whole
room
was dedicated to Forrest Bess?
That was an amazing significant event
Why?
Because it brings back to the way why MoMA
have forgotten
since
I think the last show they ever
allowed to happen was Morris Hirshfield
Irving, could you correct me on the date?
’47, maybe?
Irving Sandler, everyone.
You’re very close.
I was close. Well, alright. That was Alfred Barr, essentially being fired.
They fired him because of that
Yes, but, Outsider Art, or what you call Self-Taught Art
has been the essential
synthesis
integrated with
Early Modernism
and you go back to Barr’s chronology? It’s all there
and you go back to Rousseau and other early Modernists like Kandinsky, Klee they collected children’s art
mentally ill patients’ art all kind of Outsider Art was being embraced
and integrated into their pictorial thinking
To mediate from the constraints of Western
you know
pictorial history I think that’s exactly what it’s about. Going further back about reproduction
I have a question about that. Well
maybe you provided an answer to?
On top of it?
It was uh
Francis Bacon
actually
who
first saw the reproduction of
Velasquez’s Pope Innocent
and he’d been
obsessed with that image
painted over
a series of several paintings
until
this is my humorous
sensibility came to play here
He finally came to the Prado
for the first time
he never saw the painting and you know
he died in Spain
He died soon after seeing the real Velasquez.
So reproduction has a certain resistance toward a certain romance it’s like going to a date, someone you met two weeks ago
in a party
that you were delighted to have a great time talking and you go to a dinner
a kind of a
romance
you take them out to a very fancy restaurant
and you start talking a while
and you realize not going anywhere.
So you go to the bathroom
and you
you don’t want to come out.
Why? Because that person looks at you very seriously and, “I love you.”
And I think that kind of romance can kill you.
OK.
A Panel on Painting: Presented by the Brooklyn Rail and Hunter College [vimeo, though @davidsurman also nicely loaded it onto ]
youtube]
Previously:A Statement-As-Question From Fractures Of The Civilization
‘I’m Going To Fail’, or Protocols of Participation

In The Beginning

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God, Elsa Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven, photo: Morton Schamberg, 1917, collection: metmuseum.org

The claim that Duchamp “stole” Fountain from Elsa Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven was brought to the fore recently. The ostensible hook was a criticism of the reissue of Calvin Tomkins’ Duchamp bio, which doesn’t credit Freytag-Loringhoven. But authors Julian Spalding and Glyn Thompson’s real goal is the delegitimization of Duchamp, and with him, the entire post-war art and theory that flowed out of Fountain. It’s the reactionary art historian’s equivalent of traveling back in time to kill teen Hitler. Here is Dr. Thompson trolling his commenters at The Art Newspaper:

Any of the global curatorial elite contemplating changing a label also have the problem of what to attach labels to, because the problem for a work art that draws its legitimacy from the acceptance by Duchamp of the attribution of Mutt’s urinal is that it is now required to obtain it’s legitimacy from somewhere else. Had Duchamp merely exhibited a urinal at the Janis Gallery in 1950 and explained it as homage to Elsa, whose urinal had been rejected by the Independents in 1917, there would be no problem, but there is, because the replica of 1950, attributed to Duchamp, and signed R Mutt, drew its authenticity from the attribution of Mutt’s original to Duchamp, a process which had begun with no complaints from Duchamp in 1935.The implications of this conundrum for the future of avant-garde art must now be addressed…

“Duchamp’s mean and meaningless urinal has acted as a canker in the heart of visual creativity,” they kicked, “Elsa’s puts visual insight back on to the throne of art,” as if they would for a minute support the artistic reign of Queen Elsa, whose outrages and transgressions troubled even the Dada-est of her contemporaries.

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Fountain, 1917 assisted readymade by R. Mutt, apparently photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, as it was first seen and known via its publication in The Blind Man 2, May 1917

Which doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Their claims are not based on their own work, but on many years of carefully researched and argued publications of scholars like William Camfield, Irene Gammel, Amelia Jones, and Francis Naumann. Among the evidence: a letter Duchamp wrote to his sister in April 1917, just days after Fountain was rejected, attributing it to “one of my female friends,” which was only discovered and published in 1983. Also bolstering the case: the similarity of Fountain to God, top, Freytag-Loringhoven’s plumbing fixture-based sculpture of the same period. No brainer, right?
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Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, c. 1920, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, photo: Charles Sheeler, via francisnaumann

Except that for decades God was considered to be the work of Dada/precisionist painter Morton Schamberg. Schamberg was a close friend of decidedly un-Dada Charles Sheeler. Both Schamberg and Sheeler photographed artworks for money. Freytag-Loringhoven’s found object assemblage Portrait of Marcel Duchamp exists only in Sheeler’s photo of it, above, which was only discovered in the 1990s. They have separate billing. Naumann, who has written several of The Books On Duchamp, re-attributed God to Elsa in the mid-00’s, but so far she gets, at best, shared credit. One of the photos Schamberg took of God includes his own machine-inspired painting in the background, but two do not. This is the only sculpture associated with Schamberg, who died in the 1918 flu pandemic.

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Morton Schamberg photo of God, image via christies

This Schamberg-less Schamberg photo of God sold at Christie’s in 2011. The estimate of $5-7,000 was in line with his market history; the result, $390,000, makes me think that the Baroness’s history was a factor and that someone out there believes in her God.

This God talk was weighing on my mind for a couple of months when I stumbled across a 200+ page oral history from UCLA of the pioneering West Coast abstractionist Lorser Feitelson, whose career began in New York in the 1910s and 20s:

[Freytag-Loringhoven] would come up to visit us, …and she’d bring up all kinds of –I think I told you this–a cluster of pipes that she picked up right around the corner (they had razed one of those buildings), dragging this thing up the stairs. [It sounded like] somebody was busting the building. And she said, “Isn’t this a grand sculpture?” And she wasn’t kidding. Accident made this thing. What the hell difference does it make if the guy intended it or not? It wasn’t difficult to convince us.

The awesomely gossipy Feitelson tells the Baroness’s endless demands for sexual services from men and women alike, and of her many arrests for indecent exposure for “the way she dressed, in batik, with an opening there and dyed pubic hair, walking down Fifth Avenue.” And of how taking his young nieces to Elsa’s studio turned out to be “the worst mistake I ever made in my life,” when she identified the glittery pink nebula painting they were looking at as a belfie.

For all this, though, Feitelson’s most interesting story is of his first, daunting encounter with Freytag-Loringhoven, who picked up the young student at a live modeling session in Gertrude Whitney’s Studio Club and took him home.

Geez, I mean, what the hell kind of a gal is this? And here on the walls were shovels and all kinds of things. I said, “Marcel Duchamp.”* She said, “Yes, I know him very well.” I don’t mean to say that she took it from him–and I’m not sure. She was playing around with “found discoveries.” She would take the shovel and put it up against a background of some kind of a colored paper or materials. She had many such things, and they were wonderful.

morton-schamberg-god-sculpture_1.jpg
God, cast iron plumbing trap on miter box, 1917, attr. to Schamberg & von Freytag-Loringhoven, collection: philamuseum

In a deal engineered by Duchamp, God was acquired in 1950, along with many major Duchamp works, by the Philadelphia Museum.. The Large Glass joined the museum two years later. God is currently credited to both Schamberg and Freytag-Loringhoven.

What if Elsa took the original In Advance of A Broken Arm? What if she helped make it? What if she and Duchamp conspired to create R. Mutt’s Fountain–which, remember, was identified almost immediately as a Buddha–and submit it to the Independents? Feitelson wrapped up his discussion of the Baroness with a segue to Duchamp: “[s]he had to have this terrific conceit and faith in her convictions. And I still say you cannot talk about Marcel Duchamp detached from other people.” In its own fitful way, the art world’s conversation is starting to shift.

* OK, I’ve wondered about this for a while, and now it’s a year later, and I am still wondering. I have a hard time figuring out how Feitelson would see a shovel hanging in a stranger’s studio and immediately associate it with Duchamp.

Feitelson actually said this drawing studio was before Whitney started her Studio Club, but that was 1914. And Duchamp only hung In Advance Of A Broken Arm in the studio he shared with Jean Crotti in November 1915. So no.
Feitelson said he was in NYC “during the war,” which would be 1918-19 from the US view of things. Whitney Studio Club was on W 4th St, and moved to W 8th in 1923. So that’s a possibility. But again, Duchamp had his shovel in his studio, and Feitelson never seems to have gone there. He never mentioned Crotti. He never mentioned the Arensbergs, the center of Duchamp’s circle, and exactly the kind of folks a namedropper like Feitelson would go on about. Did people talk about Duchamp’s studio objects? Because I don’t think he showed them publicly. Instead, I suspect this Elsa memory is a retrofit, Feitelson trying to make it sound like he knew what was going on in Elsa’s studio. There may have been a shovel, which would be interesting, very interesting! But I highly doubt if he saw it, Lorser Feitelson connected it to Duchamp.

Uber, But For Artists

Monochromes. Why’s it always gotta be monochromes?
In his recent NYT Magazine profile of Stefan Simchowitz Christopher Glazek writes about the emerging artist Kour Pour that “several artists I spoke with had initially assumed that Pour did not in fact exist — that he was a computer-generated figment of Simchowitz’s prodigious imagination.” One reason Glazek gives is that Simcho’s email was the contact link on Pour’s website. Another, he infers, is because Pour’s digital image tapestry paintings seem so perfectly suited to Simcho’s Instagram- and minor tech billionaire collector-centric art dealing operation.
But Glazek saves the biggest reveal for his annotation of his own article on genius.com: he’d heard that Simcho had already fabricated an artist, and had put his work up for show and sale in 2011. That artist’s market-optimized multi-culti name was Chen Obogado.

An artist told me Simchowitz had approached him to make paintings under a false name, though it seems possible that Simchowitz actually painted them himself. I’m not sure if money ever exchanged hands for the paintings. It may have been more of a prank than a scheme, and the art world is forgiving of pranks.

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China Art Objects, Mind Games, installation view with Chen Obogado [L] and actual artist Evi Vingerling [R], Jul/Aug 2011
Let’s review Obogado’s known body of work and brief exhibition history. It won’t take long. As far as I can tell, Chen Obogado made his debut in a summer group show at China Art Objects called, appropriately enough, “Mind Games.”
Chen_Obogado_MS6_01_chinaartobj.jpg
Chen Obogado, MS6 01, 2011, resin, pigment, aluminum, image: caog.la
Like many actual artists at the time, simulated artist Chen Obogado [SimChO?]’s practice interrogated chemical process-based abstraction; two works are pigmented resin slabs, possibly on aluminum panels, but definitely in tray-like aluminum frames. They retain the traces of their skll-less pour [!]: bubbles, pour lines, and pigment mixed unevenly within each batch. I guess this is supposed to be works’ content. If I were trying to sell them, I’d reference the foam scenes from Fischli & Weiss’sThe Way Things Go and let the zombie abstraction momentum do the rest.
Chen_Obogado_MS001PB001_chinaartobj.jpg
Chen Obogado, MS001PB001, 2011, polyurethane, aluminum, image: caog.la
The third, smaller work is made of polyurethane in aluminum. It is glacial, sculptural and reductive, and appears to be a piece of Stingel-ian insulation board that’s been scraped with a solvent-dipped spackling knife. They have inconsistently formulated serial numbers for titles. Their irrelevance is a standout, even among the forgettable flotsam that seems to have washed up in Culver City that summer. [Like car crash videos in drivers ed, anyone starting a new painting series should be forced to surf 3-yr-old group show installation shots.]
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Chen Obogado, CO MSM 001 S1, 2011, resin, platinum powder, aluminum, est. $3,000, opening bid: $1,500. image: laxart
Which wasn’t enough to actually forget them. The fourth and last Obogado to make a documented public appearance was in November, at the LAXART benefit auction. This work was made of resin and platinum powder on/in aluminum. Which sounds like it might be kind of metallic and shiny, a poor, stupid, unconnected man’s Jacob Kassay.
It was listed as a “donation of the artist and an anonymous donor,” which makes little sense in the benefit auction context, and even less if he actually didn’t exist. But it does seem like the credit line of an artist who didn’t exist who wasn’t buying his own materials. Last summer Simcho told Artspace, “I help dealers decide which artists to represent, how to represent them.” Was SimChO presented to CAO and LAXART as a Simcho joint? Was he pitching the glorious future where artists-as-brands soared free of the foibles and frailties of actual artists? The next step in the end of authorship? That would be more than a scheme OR a prank.
The Kassay mention above is interesting because Summer 2011 was when Kassay had his first show in LA, and L&M. And Henry Codax had his first show in New York. Is it too late to organize an east coast/west coast monochrome show of these two non-existent artists? Please say no. #Sumer2015
Though rumors of Kassay and Olivier Mosset’s involvement in Codax’s work were reported at the time, I’ve come to think that Codax must be a gallerist’s dream: all that margin without all those hassles. Assuming it sold, of course, and you could keep it moving. And maybe that’s what doomed SimChO’s work: Simcho couldn’t keep up the act well enough to sell it, or maybe it sucked so bad even his buy-it-now yesmen network didn’t click, and so Simcho decided to eat the cost of two buckets of resin and call it a day?
It’s worth considering Chen Obogado in the Simcho’s own preferred, network/platform/disruptor context [My favorite quote, from another of Glazek’s annotations: “All he demanded was a minimum level of respect. ‘You can’t say I’m bad–I created the post-internet movement!'”] Stories of artists feeling exploited by Simcho remind me of reports last year of the drivers who were the pawns in Uber’s anti-competitive attacks against Lyft. Which LOLjobsWTF when Uber’s CEO talked about how psyched he was to replace all the drivers with robot cars. If Chen Obogado’s any indication, Simchowitz may feel the same way about artists.
Christopher Glazek annotates himself [genius.com]
When he has a fawning audience Simchowitz really lets the vision flow. Must read. [artspace]

Better Read: A Lively Interview With Ray Johnson, c.1968

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Ray Johnson, The Paper Snake, 1965, published by Dick Higgins, image: rayjohnsonestate
I’ve been thinking of various audio projects, something this side of an actual podcast, perhaps. But unlike a podcast, it’d be useful and interesting and not something being done already by everyone else.
And so I’m experimenting with a series I’m calling Better Read, art-related texts transformed into audio. While I’m working, I’ll often use text-to-speech to listen to papers, interviews, essays, and other various longform writings. It’s imperfect, but also an improvement. In the car, we’ve been listening to Moby Dick | Big Read, in which each chapter is read by a different person. It generally works.
So for Better Read, I am envisioning a mix of live and computer readers. Sometimes I’ll get the author herself; other times, someone can read from a text they really like. I might read a few myself, but to be honest, I really don’t like listening to me. Maybe you do? We may find out!
That W.H. Auden poem I posted the other day may become Better Read #1, and once I figure out the frequency, &c., I’ll set up a dedicated URL
But for now, please enjoy this 1968 interview with Ray Johnson, recorded for the Archives of American Art’s Oral History project. It really is a standout among an invaluable collection. And I especially like the idea of using a transcription of a recording as a script for another recording; fine tuning this process will be useful before I tackle any large, intense deposition transcripts [*cough* Canal Zone/Yes Rasta]
So definitely let me know your thoughts, advice, feedback, suggestions, requests, &c., and we’ll see how this thing shapes up.
Better Read: An Interview with Ray Johnson [45min, 22mb, dropbox greg.org]