‘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]

Untitled (Newport Center Monument), 2017

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Untitled (Newport Center Monument) IV, 2017, 72 or 84-in. x 108 or 156 in. by 12 in., Ruddy Oak and Bright White on panels, installation image: gmaps
In 2011 The Irvine Company installed two identical monument signs in the grassy quarter-rounds on the East Coast Highway entrance of Fashion Island and Newport Center. They feature the names of three major tenants each, on both sides. Seven feet tall and 13 feet wide, they exceed the maximum dimensions (6′ x 9′) permitted under the Sign Standards of the Newport Beach Zoning Code, and required a variance. [In person the other day, I would never have guessed they were 7×13; they definitely feel like 6×9. Is it possible they were reduced in size after the permit was granted?]
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Untitled (Newport Center Monument) III, 2017, 72 or 84-in. x 108 or 156 in. by 12 in., Ruddy Oak and Bright White on panels, installation image: gmaps
Though they also exceed the Code’s letter size limits, the signs comply with the requirement that letters be “individually fabricated” and of high contrast for easy legibility. At least at their genesis, they were specified to be finished with Reflective Coating #1460 Bright White from Axon Aerospace, Inc.
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No aesthetic delectation here, Ruddy Oak! hashtag Spanish-Mediterranean, hashtag Craftsman, hashtag Perfect Palette®, image: dunnedwards.com
The 2011 permit application [pdf] describes the new signs as having “a faux plaster finish,” but they sure looked painted to me. They match the color specified on plans [pdf] for a similar sign for an adjacent Irvine Company office building: a reddish brown from a local manufacturer, Dunn-Edwards Ruddy Oak (DE5188).
I can find no public record of this color being specified or required in either Newport Beach or Irvine Company codes or styleguides, but it is in heavy use for shopping center and commercial signs within the boundaries of The Irvine Ranch. It also appears on the permitted color lists of at least eight homeowners associations (HOA) in coastal Southern California.
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Untitled (Newport Center Monument) I, II, 2017, 43 x 4 ft each, Ruddy Oak and Bright White on substrate, installation image: gmaps
They also match the color and finish of the main signs at the East Coast Highway entrance, a pair of 43-foot-tall pylons installed in 1985. Which is also the first year The Irvine Company used the “sunwave” logo. Over time the text on the signs has changed to reflect the evolving brand distinctions between Newport Center, a massive, multi-use development, and Fashion Island, the vast mall at its center.
For their part, the Newport Center signs also exceed the 20′ height limit for pylon signs by 115%, but I presume they predated the creation of the code, and/or that no one will tell The Irvine Company what it can’t do in Newport Beach. Their letters are individually fabricated.
There are at least eleven other signs at other entrances to Fashion Island/Newport Center, but they’re more architectural than sculptural, with concrete plinths and stucco-finished capitals. Only the four signs on the ECH exhibit this rigorous, minimalist aspect.
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[l. to r.] Untitled (Newport Center Monument) III, I, II & IV, 2017, installation view, image: gmaps
Fashion Island was and remains a leader in the mall industry for experiential design. In an essay called, “The Archaeology of ‘Shoppertainment,'” Matthew Cochran and Paul Mullins wrote about RTKL/ ID8, a mall interior design company which worked on the Fashion Island Experience. They quote an RTKL brochure:

[Mall experience is] about storytelling. Great places tell stories, and people love to find themselves in those stories. Often this has less to do with the way a building or a district is assembled and more to do with how we read it…Experience is in the details. If a place tells a story, then the details of that place make the story interesting. The smallest elements-from manhole coves to water features-conspire to create a dynamic, authentically human environment.

What story do these signs tell? What authenticity do they conspire to create, with their approved colors from a gated community on a bluff? Can the gestalt of the minimalist object be achieved from your car, at speed, as you pass the mall, or do you have to turn in?
This ID8 quote, too, turns out to have more to do with how I read it:

What makes us linger, pause, sit and think? The building blocks of place probably have less to do with the buildings and more to do with the spaces between those buildings.

In 2002, the day they flipped the switch, architect Gustavo Bonevardi explained how he and John Bennett arrived at their solution for what became the Tribute of Light World Trade Center memorial:

We’re not reconstructing the towers in their original size, but the distance between the two squares of light is the same as the distance between the actual towers. So in effect, we’re not rebuilding the towers themselves, but the void between them.

Because I cannot look at the Newport Center signs, and their proportions, and their void, and not see the World Trade Center.
But maybe that’s just me. I invite you to visit, view, linger, think, and pause at this installation of new work and pursue your own authentic, dynamic, human experience.
Previously, unexpectedly related, c. 2002: On reading (between) the lines
On’s Location

On Study for Untitled (Thick List)

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I saw this picture by Rey Baniquet in a “best photos of the day” roundup at The Guardian yesterday. The caption read, “MANILA, PHILIPPINES/ President Rodrigo Duterte shows a list of police and government officials allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade during a forum with local and foreign businessmen”. The original photo’s actually wider.
Two things that struck me about the photo. One is the framing, which turned out to be taken from amid a tableful of glasses, and which reminded me of the video of Mitt Romney dissing the 47%, which was made surreptitiously from atop a catering bar. The other, more important thing is the list itself.
Googling around for more information, I kept coming across what the Philippine press called a “thick list” that Duterte had been circulating to the army, the legislature, the judiciary, implicating an untold number of people in the drug industry.
This event involved the Wallace Business Forum, a private business consulting group that advises international companies on doing business in the Philippines. Duterte spoke for two-plus hours at a dinner at the Malacañan Palace on December 12. The transcript and video of his speech are available online.
Duterte discussed the illegal drug industry, including three or four, let’s go with four million, “drug addicts,” as a national security threat. Then he mentioned the reported killings by his government:

You know, this is the drug industry. Sabi ko nga eh [I said, eh] you worry about the 3,000? Dead? A third of them during police encounters, I don’t know about the rest. And you do not worry the drug industry?

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“You want a visual thing? Okay. This is the drug industry of the Philippines,” he said, as he had the list brought to him. This occurs at around 36:30.
The top of the stack is filled with a grid of headshots, like a yearbook. And like the Time magazine issue listing a week of US gun fatalities which Felix Gonzalez-Torres used to create his 1990 stack work, “Untitled” (Death By Gun) [below]. That list included 460 people.
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Duterte says the list in his hand contains 6,000 people. While flipping through the list, he tosses of names and titles, mayors, judges, generals, in a way that makes it sound like he and everyone in the room knows them.
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Duterte’s stack turns out not to be all photos, though. That is only the first deck. Several binder clips appear to break out the drug industry roster by region. The stack looks to be about 1000+ pages, more than two reams, for sure, maybe the clips throw it off a bit. Let’s say the ideal height [sic] is 15 cm.
I am wrestling with how, and whether, to make a work out of what is apparently an active kill list being circulated by a government. The visual, formal, even content reference is immediately clear, but the parameters are not. And neither are the possible implications.
On just a formal level, is the stack a single work, with no takeaways, or is the deck the data, which gets laid out into a larger grid, then turned into a stack? I feel like Duterte’s grasp on the entire stack gives me that answer [one work], even though it contradicts the typical Felix stack format. But of course, so did Felix, who created one stack, “Untitled” (Implosion), 1991, as a single unit comprised of 200 screenprinted sheets. So it’d be a single work. Maybe it’d be a publication. Maybe you print it out and save me the hassle.
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And maybe it’s not the kind of thing that you do casually, or at least while the killings are ongoing. Or maybe not the kind of thing I should do as a white guy. Duterte’s mention of 3-4 million more reminds me of Chris Burden’s The Other Vietnam Memorial, 1991 [above], which mashed up names from a Vietnamese phone book into 3 million anonymized stand-ins for the real, unheralded dead. The people in the Philippines are real, and they have their own names.
It also reminds me of the million-who-knows people on the US’ no-fly list, about whom we know almost nothing except some part of the government deemed them a national security risk. And there are lists of known communists in the State Department, suspected homosexuals in the US Government, climate change scientists in the Energy Department, Muslim Registries, the list of lists goes on.
I tweeted yesterday that I don’t really know why I do these works; that ambivalence and uncertainty was brought to the fore by this photo. So until I think it through a bit more, I am really not comfortable right now with enshrining or recontextualizing Duterte’s “thick list” as an artwork. Even though it is, as the president himself said, a very important “visual thing.”
previously, somewhat related: Better Read #008: Death By Gun

A Memorial To The Border Between The United States Of America And Mexico

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image via @alexismadrigal
I haven’t been, but I feel like I’m very familiar with the border wall that extends into the sea between the US and Mexico.
Several artists have made projects around it, including using it as a volleyball net, or painting one side of it. It’s telling that the Berlin Wall was also painted, on the free side, or rather, on the side that did not erect the wall. Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank is painted in that direction, too.
Anyway, when I saw Alexis Madrigal’s photo of the border wall built in the ocean, I thought what I always thought: it’s as cool as it is terrible. [I think Madrigal was attending #RiseUpAsOne, concert/festival sponsored by Fusion at Friendship Park on the US side.]
When the political divisions currently ripping the US apart, and the political, cultural, racial, security, and economic differences between the US and our neighbor get sorted out, and our terrified, weaponized national border stance eases, I hope that this section of the wall will stay and become a memorial.

Tantas Sombras

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Teresa Margolles’ La Sombra, installed at Echo Park Lake, photo: Carolina Miranda/LAT
Teresa Margolles has contributed a memorial to Current: LA Water, the “public art biennial,” which started last week. La Sombra (The Shade) is near Echo Park Lake and looks to be the most significant and prominent work in the program, which runs, incredibly, for less than a month.
La Sombra is a six meter-high…pavilion? Awning? Structure? In her onsite report for the LA Times, Carolina Miranda calls it an installation, a memorial, and a monument. It looks like it’s made of concrete, but if it’s going to disappear in a couple of weeks, I suspect it’s gunnite or stucco sprayed on a plywood box.
Which hurts. Margolles created La Sombra as a memorial to 100 Los Angelenos murdered with guns in the last 18 months. The sites of these killings were visited, washed, and the water re-collected for use in mixing the concrete. This circulatory element echoes Margolles’ previous works which incorporate the water used to wash corpses in the morgue in her home city of Juarez.
La Sombra is a stark, powerful form that draws people to it, especially on a hot, sunny day. In this way, perhaps, the deaths of these hundred people might yield some comfort to the living. Maybe family and friends can come sit under it. Maybe people will be motivated to act against gun-related violence.
“I wanted [La Sombra] to be on the scale of what has happened,” says Margolles in the Times. “I wanted it to have presence.”
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Donald Judd, One of 15 Untitled Works in Concrete, 1980-84, 2.5m x 2.5m x 5m, Chinati Foundation, image via wiki
The scale and presence of La Sombra are indeed notable. It seems quite large. It looks like it could be concrete-Judd-in-Marfa-fields-size, but it is actually 4x that. It has an architectural presence and is not slight. It feels like about the right scale for 100 people. Maybe it is even the size of 100 people standing within it, I don’t know.
Memorials use scale to convey their meaning. Some memorials, like for the people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing and the AA77 crash at the Pentagon, use a cemetery-like field of individual-scale objects-chairs and benches, respectively-to represent the dead. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World Trade Center Memorial, meanwhile, incorporate individual names into a larger, holistic experience of loss. nodding to a larger, shared sense of mourning, of a community, a nation. It really depends on the scale of death, whether it is thousands (58,195 or 2,977), hundreds (168 or 184), or one.
By remembering 100 otherwise unrelated deaths with one La Sombra, Margolles appears to have found a new scale for memorialization: a memorial unit that modulates between societal tragedy and individual loss. [I just remembered that the Pentagon Memorial actually called the benches “memorial units”.]
There were not just 100 people killed in LA with guns in the 18 months Margolles bracketed; there were 975. Even if it was just because of the prohibitive the logistics of washing down all those murder sites, the artist knew her temporary memorial alone could not account for that “scale of what has happened.” She’d need nine more La Sombras, just in LA. With an average of 55 people being killed each month, that’s another La Sombras every two months.
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Imagine these 3-meter tall Judd concrete sculptures at Chinati are actually 6-meter tall Margolles La Sombras, each commemorating 100 people killed with guns. image: chinati.org
And now scale them up. There are 30,000 gun deaths in the US-half a Vietnam War or ten September 11ths-each year. Margolles’ La Sombra could be the optimal form and size for memorializing the people killed by gun violence across the country. But some details would need to be worked out. How far back in time do we go? We could need thousands of La Sombras right from the start. Seems impractical, at least at first.
Where should they be placed? Do we combine them all into one sprawling site, like an AIDS Quilt of concrete, an ever-growing Holocaust Memorial for a slaughter we refuse to stop? I think a La Sombra site could take into account the hundred people it memorializes within a city or perhaps a state, without getting too granular with your data; you wouldn’t want them to pile up and stigmatize a neighborhood, though having a few together could totally work.
Spread them out at least a bit. Though maybe a city or state could decide to stack them up in a public space, magnify their presence, so the absence of the dead can’t be ignored. Of course, you’d also want to avoid gamifying them, having them treated as kills to be racked up by violent forces in society, or even just a run-of-the-mill gun-toting psychokiller. They need to stay present in the landscape, but also just ominous and uncomfortable enough to prick the consciences of we who remain.
An artist’s imposing new monument at Echo Park Lake honors Angelenos killed in violent crimes [latimes]
Current: LA Water, LA’s Public Art Biennial, runs through August 14. [currentla.org]

Better Read #008: Death By Gun

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“Untitled” (Death By Gun), 1990, endless. collection: moma.org
We’ve come to reading the names of the dead, to intone them, as a form of memorial.
I’ve never felt Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (Death By Gun) was a memorial per se, more a statement. Remembering for different ends. But following the massacre of Latinx gay people at Orlando’s Pulse night club, and the subsequent readings of their names, it occurred to me that I’d never read and did not remember the names of the people who appeared on Felix’s 1990 stack piece.
I looked for the original Time magazine article that was the artist’s source, and I couldn’t find it online. I couldn’t find it in libraries. I ended up buying an old print edition of the magazine itself on eBay. July 17, 1989.
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And I transcribed the names of the 460 people who were killed in the US the first week of May 1989, the week Time chose to document, in the order Felix chose to lay them out, and had them read aloud by a computer.
Download Better_Read_008_Death_By_Gun_20160620.mp3 from dropbox greg.org [dropbox greg.org, 16.7mb mp3, 11:37]
Previously:
Better Read #007: Spinoza’s Ethica from Sturtevant’s Vertical Monad
Better Read #006: The Jetty Foundation Presents, Send Me Your Money
Better Read #005: Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up
Better Read #004: Why We Should Talk About Cady Noland, a Zine by Brian Sholis
Better Read #003: Sincerely Yours, An Epic Scholarly Smackdown By Rosalind Krauss
Better Read #002: A Lively Interview With Ray Johnson, c.1968
the Ur-Better Read: W.H. Auden’s The Shield Of Achilles, Read By A Machine

⌘S

About five years ago I began collecting dead websites. It started in 2010 with Thomas Hirschhorn, after his first website, made for the Bijlmer Spinoza-Festival in Amsterdam, disappeared from the net. The Spinoza project was the third in a series of temporary projects dedicated to philosophers.
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Hirschhorn calls these “presence and production” works. Here is a 2009 interview with Ross Birrell:

“Presence” and “Production” are terms I use for specific projects which require my presence and my production. It means to make a physical statement here and now.
I believe that only with presence – my presence – and only with production – my production – can I provoke through my work, an impact on the field.

When the project is over, the programs end, the materials are dispersed, the artist moves on, and a couple of months later, the website where the entire thing had been documented disappears. Then the links go dead, the URL expires, and gets scooped up by some zombie ad network. All that remains are some jpgs illustrating Marcus Steinweg’s Bijlmer lectures.
I’d been to the first at Documenta, the Bataille Monument, in 2002, but not the Spinoza Festival, and so the website was it for me. I’d wanted to read and see more, longer. And then I discovered I couldn’t. It was gone.
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So when Hirschhorn launched his second website the next year, for CRYSTAL OF RESISTANCE, the Swiss Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, I was ready. Almost. I grabbed the whole site several times, but l missed some galleries. And then it was gone.
The GRAMSCI MONUMENT site in 2013, I definitely got that one. And Hirschhorn’s project at the Palais de Tokyo in 2014, FLAMME ETERNELLE, I got that one too.
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When the greatest website in the world got edited into oblivion, I grabbed it from the Internet Archive and made a piece out of it last year: Untitled (Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide).
Then a few months ago I heard MOCA had deleted the informative and interactive mini-site for Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon’s Land Art show, so I rebuilt that one. Or I’m in process. I still have to reconnect the Google Earth links. [Google’s deprecated KML API may have led to the page’s demise.]
This is how I started posting them as subdomains, similar to found texts or found web objects. In the case of Hirschhorn, I was very aware since Venice that these were different, and very much not his work: “This website is neither an artwork, nor part of the artwork <>”, it said on the front of the site.
But wasn’t, but now it was, but of a different work. Hirschhorn’s projects required his presence and his production, and my sites had neither. They appeared the same but were the opposite.
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They weren’t just for me anymore. At least I didn’t have to think so.
I do edit them, leave my mark, track changes, in the text somewhere, or the source, in ways that are invisible or imperceptible, where I imagine literally no one will ever know or care. At one point, in a more cynical mood, I rewrote the entire Gramsci Monument to be entirely about me. But the more I consider Hirschhorn’s practice, the less sure I am that the gesture works as critique. [Of him, anyway. Of me, OTOH… At least I kept a clean version too.]
For example, here is something I wrote in the source of Ends of the Earth:

Though it is still available on the Internet Archive, this is the kind of thing that should, I feel, exist within an art context. It is too off-the-cuff to imagine these two mirrors as a site and non-site, but that is an apt reference, I won’t throw it out. What ultimately motivates this repetition of the site is a bafflement at why MOCA removed it in the first place. Huge shoutout to Kim Drew (@museummammy) for calling this to my attention.

I just feel like I have to grab these things, even the ones that get scraped into the Internet Archive. It’s an urge that I can’t dismiss, even when I can recognize the futility of it. I have to save them.

In Defense Of The Center For Political Beauty


It’s just one word in one tweet, so it really shouldn’t become the point, but those who follow me on Twitter know I have a thing for the language of art news sites, and their poetic idiocies of the market. This, however, just pissed me off.


It is as pure a sign as you’ll find of the pathology of current money-fixated art world that last night a half dozen media outlets filed hundreds of bid-by-bid tweets from an Impressionism auction, yet the “bizarre news” is that artists are literally trying to save lives by drawing attention to one of Europe’s existential political crises.
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I had never heard of the Center for Political Beauty before this morning. They are the artist collective whose mission is to engage “in the most innovative forms of political art: a type of art that hurts, provokes and rises in revolt in order to save human lives.”
They removed crosses commemorating some of the East Germans killed while trying to cross the Berlin Wall, and have reinstalled them on what they’re calling the European Wall. The Center for Political Beauty has announced that they will cut down portions of the EU’s border fence on November 9th, during the official ceremonies surrounding the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
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“>politicalbeauty.de: Keine Benutzung der Bilder ohne vorherige Genehmigung!
The photo above of a cross on a fence along the Bulgaria-Turkey border is circulating with the AFP wire service story that is the lone, primary source of English-language coverage of CPB’s project. I’ll never look at a Cy Twombly chalkboard painting the same way again.
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The images and details that don’t circulate, though, are more damning: At least 136 people died or were killed trying to escape across the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1989. The UNHCR says over 2,500 Africans trying to reach Europe have drowned or gone missing this year alone. The CPB says the number of people who have died trying to enter the EU since 1989 stands at over 30,000.
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Here is a photo by Massimo Sestini of a boatful of African and Syrian asylum seekers who were intercepted by the Italian navy last June. This situation is anything else–an outrage, a humanitarian crisis, a “rendering void of the legacy of the Holocaust,” as the CPB puts it, but it is not bizarre.
And artnet should be shamed for their tendentious attempts to mock and marginalize artists pursuing something beyond the callow complacencies of the market.
UPDATE: I’m still not satisfied with this yet, or how or why it bothers me, but I’m reading Thierry du Duve’s “Art in the Face of Radical Evil” [October, Summer 2008, pdf], about MoMA acquiring and showing photos of Khmer Rouge execution victims from Tuol Sleng, and about whether they’re “art,” and what are the implications if they are:

Sobriety in exhibition design, noncommittal wall texts, and clever avoidance of the word “art” in press releases won’t succeed in hiding the fact that our aesthetic interest in photography is shot through with feelings, emotions, and projections of sympathy or antipathy that address the people in the photos beyond the photos themselves. I am convinced that something of that emotional response to the properly human ordeal of the subjects in the Tuol Sleng photos had a say in MoMA’s decision to acquire them. To suppose otherwise would be to lend the acquisition committee undeserved cynicism.

This feels like it’s inching closer.

One Does Not Simply Walk Into Portbou

Now that I’ve read up on it, and on the philosopher’s harrowing last days, I think I experienced the Walter Benjamin Memorial in Portbou, Spain the only way it really should be experienced: by total accident. Which is almost impossible.
We’d been visiting family in Provence, and one of the kids, the one who has been taking Spanish, not French, was wanting to go somewhere they spoke her language for a change. Plus, they wanted to go to the beach. Relenting, I pulled up the last town I knew in France, Banyuls, and looked to see what, if anything, was across the border.
The answer was Portbou. Google Maps said it was 3.5 hours away; we figured we’d drive to Spain for lunch and a couple of hours on the beach, send a postcard, and head home for dinner. Extraordinary traffic which had the autoroute backed up for several kilometers before the border, and the caravan of caravans winding along the 1.5 lane coastal mountain road, easily doubled our drivetime, and we arrived in Portbou starving and almost late for lunch.
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We quickly parked in a massive tunnel-turned-one-way parking lot, and wandered back through town to find any open cafe. And that’s when I spotted the Walter Benjamin information panel. It turned out to be No. 2 on the town’s four-stop Ruta Walter Benjamin, the Hotel de Francia, where Benjamin and his fellow refugees stayed after sneaking across the Spanish border in September 1940. And where he, where, well, as the panel puts it, “What happened over the next few hours is a striking illustration of all of the tragedy of barbarism.”
This town has erected a plaque in front of the hotel where Benjamin killed himself.

Continue reading “One Does Not Simply Walk Into Portbou”

A Vested Interest

Josh Marshall solicited “What’s Your 9/11” thoughts from the readers of Talking Points Memo. I’ve avoided reading them, and most such other efforts this week. But the title he gave to reader DE’s submission really encapsulated my own ambivalence about what the Memorial Industrial Complex has metastasized into, and why I’m reluctant to turn myself over to it:

So my personal unease with 9/11 memorials is the feeling that there are a lot of people in this country with a vested interest in the country not moving on, even though the two main perpetrators of the attack are either dead or in US custody and the organization they led has been soundly defeated. They want our leaders to keep delivering the Gettysburg Address every year, to keep us on that war footing, so that they can misdirect our resources and some Americans’ lives in the service of foreign and domestic policy goals that have nothing to do with what happened on 9/11.

This manipulation of memorialization by keeping the wounds open was quickly apparent to some, of course. For all the good that did.
“A Vested Interest in the Country Not Moving On.” [tpm]

Louis Kahn’s Monument To The Six Million Jewish Martyrs

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I recently came across this photo of Louis Kahn’s “Monument To The Six Million Jewish Martyrs,” which, I had no idea. And it was to be built in New York City, Battery Park, to be exact, and was perhaps the last best chance for an apparently serially disastrous effort to build a Holocaust memorial in the city. Ultimately, of course, the city did get the Jewish Memorial Museum in the 1990s, in Battery Park.
There is no doubt a story to tell about the tumultuous history of that process. And I’m sure someone has already written a decisive history of how people attempted to grapple with the Shoah and Holocaust as history, and how and when those concepts took hold. Because they’re absent from the contemporary discussion of this memorial. But what really sticks with me is the story and particulars of Kahn’s memorial design, and how resonant it seems with memorials followed it.
Kahn was recommended by an Art Advisory Committee [via Philip Johnson] that had been brought in in 1966 to help the Committee to Commemorate the Six Million Jewish Martyrs solve their seemingly impossible charge: creating a suitable memorial to genocide. The NY Times’ architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable complained that the previous designs were full of “wrenching angst” in which “the agony and the art were almost too much to bear.”
After the City Art Commission approved it, Kahn’s 6-foot model was put on impromptu display in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art for month, from Oct-Nov. 1968. Which is when Huxtable praised as architecture and sculpture “of the highest order”:

In an age that has made a flat mockery of conventional memorial values and platitudes, Mr. Kahn’s solution is a cool, abstract, poetic, powerful and absolute statement of the unspeakable tragedy. It could rank with the great works of commemorative art in which man has attempted to capture spirit, in symbol. for the ages.

And in case you needed any more reminder that memorials are as much an expression of the time they’re created, not just the history they mark, here’s Huxtable’s final judgment:

The generation that lived through the time and events the monument proposes to commemorate will never forget them. We have that memorial seared in our souls.
The generations that are innocent of this kind of totalitarianism and ultimate tragedy will find no monument meaningful. That is one of the anachronisms of art and history in an age of violence.
This memorial could work, as art and as history, and as a lasting expression of the human spirit. In a nihilistic, value-destroying society, that is no mean artistic accomplishment.

Yow, no Summer of Love here.
Kahn’s Monument was to consist of seven 10×10 squares, 11 feet high, made entirely of elongated, cast glass brick, and arranged 2-3-2 on a 66-ft square grey granite plinth. [His original design, presented to the Committee in 1967, called for nine 12x12x15 squares in a grid. I think the switch to 6+1 was a way to Judaize and particularlize the memorial’s content.] The translucent bricks meant that the blocks would change with light, weather, and the presence and movement of people around the site. Only the center cube would be inscribed and accessible; as Kahn put it, “The one, the chapel, speaks; the other six are silent.”
I think Kahn’s 1967 proposal is at least one of the earliest, if not the first, deployments of Minimalism in a memorial context. Or maybe Post-Minimalism is more accurate, since Kahn’s evocative forms and their deliberate emotional and experiential evocations were anathema to the objective Gestaltism of orthodox Minimalism as it was being argued out at the time.
If the history of using a Minimalist formal vocabulary for intractable memorials typically began with Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial, then Kahn’s Monument pushes it back 15 years–to the conflict-torn heart of the Vietnam era. And though it wasn’t realized as he envisioned, Kahn’s proposal was influential. It’s the best explanation I can see for for the use of glass block in New York State’s disappointing Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Water Street in lower Manhattan. [That memorial’s plaza siting was probably also influenced by Huxtable’s unequivocal condemnation of the Battery Park site for Kahn’s memorial, an insurmountable criticism which probably doomed the design she praised so highly.] More directly, though, Kahn seems like a direct progenitor for the two most prominent Holocaust memorials built in Europe to date.
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Kahn’s formal references to the silenced, the room-scale, and the bookshelf-like bands of glass brick are all echoed in Rachel Whiteread’s Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, where a ghostly library of books the city’s murdered Jews will never write stands on a plinth in a public square in Vienna. Whiteread’s memorial has obvious precedents in her own sculptural practice, and I’ve never seen her mention Kahn as an inspiration, so it’s entirely possible that these resonances are natural and widely held, and which the artist and architect arrived at separately.
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Amazing shot of Peter Eisenman at the 2004 opening of his Berlin Memorial from Mark Godfrey’s book, Abstraction and The Holocaust
I can’t believe that’s what went down, however, with Peter Eisenman and Richard Serra. From its central formal device–passages between impenetrable, figure-dwarfing blocks–to its title, Memorial to the Six MIllion Murdered Jews of Europe, Eisenman and Serra [who subsquently removed his name from the project] had to have been very familiar with Kahn’s proposal, and with the politically fraught development process that spawned it.
Oh, look, Mark Godfrey’s 2007 book Abstraction and the Holocaust has an entire chapter on Kahn’s Monument. [amazon, google books]
Anthony Vidler wrote about Kahn’s memorials [cooper.edu]
The Louis Kahn Collection at UPenn has drawings and a different model of the memorial. [upenn.edu]

Shrapnel Bench By BarberOsgerby

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Speaking of violence and sculptural street furniture, the design team of Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby and Tor Studios made one of a series of commissioned benches for the Victoria & Albert Museum during the London Design Festival. It is an elegantly pockmarked block of Carrara marble.

They were inspired by shrapnel marks left in the V&A museum’s western facade after the Second World War. “It’s something that always fascinated me and Ed on the way from South Kensington tube up to the Royal College when we were students, and so when this project came up we thought it was a nice way to reference that,” explained Jay Osgerby at the opening.

Indeed, the splash page for the duo’s website is currently an image of the shrapnel marks.
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Which, of course, immediately brings to mind the facade of JP Morgan’s former headquarters, 23 Wall Street. The building was damaged by an explosion on Sept. 16, 1920, that was believed to be carried out by Italian anarchists. A donkey cart laden with 100 lbs of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron window sash counterweights exploded at 12:01, killing 38 and injuring more than 143 people on the street and in the building.
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Morgan refused to repair the shrapnel marks, which are still visible on the pink marble Wall St. facade to this day. The building, long vacant, is currently being marketed as a retail site, perhaps for a department or Apple store.
Bench Years by Established & Sons at the V&A museum [dezeen]

Running Presidential Fence

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I’m really trying to get this writing thing done tonight, but I just have to point out that Richard Smith’s photo of the Secret Service’s six-mile perimeter fence at the RNC in Tampa is awesome. It’s like if Christo and Serra were cellmates and Cady Noland was their baton-wielding guard.
Fence Comes Down [narrativemag]
UPDATE:
Speaking of Running Fence, there are two historical markers in Marin County commemorating Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s 1976 project.
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see full size images at the Wikipedia entry for Running Fence. Please.
This anniversary marker is located in the quarter-acre Watson School Historic Park in Bodega. An outdoor vitrine contains an installation photo by the artists onto which was added the following text:

Running Fence
September 10, 1976
On September 11, 2001,
the Board of Supervisors of the
County of Sonoma selected this
site to commemorate the contributions of
Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Their vision,
dedication and
perserverance made
the Running Fence
possible. This art
project consisted of:
42 months of collaborative efforts with ranch property owner participation, 18 public hearings,
3 sessions at Superior Court, an environmental impact report and the temporary use of the hills, sky, and ocean.
Rising from the Pacific Ocean south of Bodega Bay the 19 foot high 24.5 moile long Running Fence ran west to east,
following the rolling hills of Marin and Sonoma counties to the Colati ridge.
[Format and italics original.]

Watson School Park is currently listed as closed for renovation. It is not known whether the marker is affected.
Christo_Running_Fence_Marker.jpg
Meanwhile, in December 1976, the County Landmarks Commission in Sonoma designated Pole #7-33 as Historic Landmark #24, and installed a bronze plaque [above] that reads:

CHRISTO’S RUNNING FENCE
September 10 through September 21, 1976
A majestic work of art, 18 feet high 24-1/2 miles long, which extended east-west, near Freeway 101 at Cotati on private property of 59 ranches following the rolling hills, crossing 14 roads, through the town of Valley Ford, and dropping down into the Pacific Ocean at Bodega Bay. Conceived and financed by Christo, Running Fence was made of 165,000 yards of heavy woven nylon fabric cut into panels 18 feet wide by 68 feet long, hung from a steel cable strung between 2050 steel poles set 62 feet apart. Each pole was embedded 3 feet into the ground and braced laterally with guy wires and earth anchors. The lower edges of the fabric panels were secured to the bottom cable. All parts of the structure were designed for complete removal and novisible evidence of Running Fence remains on the hills of Sonoma and Marin Counties today. This pole #7-33 was erected permanently by Christo at the request of the citizens of Sonoma County to commemorate this historic event.

The County’s landmark information lists the site as “containing steel pool [sic] from original art installation.”
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I believe this is it, next to the post office. Looks like it’s presently being used as a flagpole.
Oh, the Bodega bay Heritage Gallery has a photo of the fancier plaque on the other side of the pole. Also, Running Fence was acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Remembering Running Fence was on view in 2010.
If moving it away from that mural didn’t destroy its context, I would definitely replicate that, as is, stanchions, flag and all. Maybe a vinyl wallpaper photomural would work.

Forever Moore

The other day I had to laugh while watching one of the Thomas Houseago interviews Andrew Russeth posted to Gallerist NY, and the artist was talking about sculpture and time and the universe, and then he taps on his own work and goes, “in this case, bronze, which will definitely live longer than me, right? I mean, I’m gonna die much faster than that. So you have this uncanny feeling…”
Riiight. I guess Houseago hasn’t had this Guardian article open in his browser tab for the last two weeks then?
“Stolen memorials: melted down means lost for ever”
Though Sarah Bakewell’s hook is a recent uptick in the theft for scrap of bronze memorial plaques, and the loss of community and cultural memory that entails, the article is illustrated by Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, 1969-70, (LH 608):
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“This huge bronze Henry Moore sculpture, worth £3m, was stolen in 2005, chopped up and sold as scrap. Photograph: Hertfordshire Constabulary/PA”

In 2005 thieves chopped up a two-tonne sculpture by Henry Moore, managing to reduce its value from £3m to about £1,500 in scrap bronze. Yet it would seem odd to say that £2,998,500 somehow fell out of the metal and vaporised when the axes cut into it. A small part of its value does survive in images and memories of the lost work. Conversely, the attack damaged something not precisely located in the work itself: our confidence in the safety of large public sculptures.

Odd indeed. And it made me wonder what had, in fact, been lost, when this sculpture we expected to exist for thousands of years, was carted off in the night on a stolen flatbed truck.
And whose fate was unknown for several years until its hacked remains were tracked to a scrap exporter in Rotterdam.
And yet whose date and title–Reclining Figure, 1969-70, LH608–the Guardian never saw fit to mention.Though accounts do report that the Henry Moore Foundation, from which it was stolen, acquired it in 1987, which, let’s come back to that.
The 3.5m-long piece had only been installed the year before (in 2004) at the Foundation’s Perry Green sculpture garden. It had been brought ‘home’ from an extended loan to the Snape Maltings concert hall in Suffolk.
In 1977, when he was nearing 80, Moore created a foundation to manage his body of work and legacy and to preserve his property in Hertfordshire. He passed away in 1986 at the age of 88, but he had taken ill and by the mid-80s, he had all but stopped working.
And yet activity at his company only intensified, with what the Foundation’s collection catalogue calls a “sudden late rush” to cast and sell everything possible while the artist was still alive:

The amount of casting during Moore’s final years was considerable, and not just of new work, since the Trustee [of the new Foundation] had become aware that many artist’s copies of sculpture made before 1977 remained uncast.

Reclining Figure LH608 was one of nine late 1986 castings of artist copies of large, pre-1977 works to move into the Foundation’s Collection.
And it’s an edition.
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Reclining Figure LH608 in the entrance courtyard of the Louisiana Museum, image via, jaime silva’s flickr
There are other examples of LH608 in at least three public collections: at the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan; and at the entrances to the Louisiana Museum in Denmark [above], and the Tel Aviv Museum. And presumably, there’s a maquette somewhere, and who knows if there are other examples in whatever other sizes, in private hands. So we’ve got plenty beyond just “images and memories” to rely on
Which, I confess, though it makes it logistically easier, kind of takes the urgency out of my blindingly obvious idea: to recreate the lost Henry Moore sculpture. Which has only not been recast already because of the evolved, arbitrary constraints of the [non-Rodin] sculpture industry, which views posthumous casts differently from casts made 25 years late, while the artist was on his deathbed.
Anyway, we have the technology to bring Reclining Figure LH608 back, to rebuild her. A 3-D computer model capable of driving a CNC milling machine or a 3-D printer can readily be derived from snapshots of the sculpture. All that’s missing right now is a shot of the backside, and we can help the world’s culture recover from its hypothetically tragic £2,998,500 loss.
So, please, visitors to Denmark, Israel or Japan, send photos, so that Zombie Henry Moore Figure can recline once again.