While working on the Scipio Moorhead Facsimile Object a couple of months ago, I started trying to figure out the challenge of a Kerry James Marshall Facsimile Object, too. Marshall’s portrait of Moorhead fills the gap in the historical record–there is no known depiction of or signature work by the painter considered to be the first Black artist in America. Meanwhile, the deep, multihued blacks of Marshall’s signature figurative style counter the uniform whiteness of American/European history painting, while also exposing how under-optimized the prevailing systems of image reproduction and circulation are for accurately depicting Black skin. Reproductions of Marshall’s paintings regularly fail in this specific way to mirror the experience of seeing them in person. So they are an excellent challenge for the Facsimile Object construct.
The calculation for making a Facsimile Object of a Kerry James Marshall work is pretty elegant in one respect, though. The epic scale immediately excludes most of his paintings. And the breakthrough work that marked a turning point in his practice–and that anchored his Met Breuer-filling retrospective a couple of years ago–is a headshot, a perfectly sized egg tempera on a sheet of sketchbook paper.
It took several attempts to find a good reproduction of A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self (1980) that would reproduce on aluminum. This multistep filtration process, going from work to image to jpg to print, really gets a workout here, or at least, the apparatus gets seen operating in ways that might otherwise go unnoticed. Sometimes the work’s saturation is pumped up to bring out the red of the figure’s gums, for example, or the brightness is increased to emphasize the painting’s striated facture. Sometimes it’s printed in duotone, flattened into a pair of floating white eyes and an exaggerated grin. It extends the reach of Marshall’s own practice, “forcing the issue of perception by rendering an image that is just at the edge of perception.”
That Marshall knew his carefully calibrated painting was still at risk of being reduced to an undifferentiated black field, a shadow, is perhaps indicated by the title itself. That this was interesting to him is perhaps indicated by his subsequent decades-long practice of depicting Blackness in a world that is still catching up with him.
There was something beautiful and haunting and unexpected about the depiction of the destruction of Sodom from a medieval manuscript that got tweeted across my timeline the other day. Medievalist Dr. Erik Wade’s thread highlighted the blissed out, same-sex residents comforting each other, even as the city burned around them. I was also taken by the delicate line drawings, more refined than marginalia, but clearly less than fully filled in. I hesitate to say it is unfinished, though. The tangle of figures look so similar to each other, for a minute I wondered if the illuminator was tracing them.
It’s from a late 11th-century manuscript known as The Old English Hexateuch, the earliest known English translation of six books of the Old Testament (basically, the Torah plus Joshua). Cotton MS Claudius B.iv, a name derived from one of the founding collections of the British Library, includes almost 400 illuminations in various states of detail. They depict the stories of the Bible set in the contemporary Anglo-Saxon milieu the manuscript’s lay audiences would recognize immediately.
I did not plan on making a Facsimile Object of Dürer’s verso painting of the Destruction of Sodom, but the brushy allure of the flames raining down on the cities proved irresistible. Now again, I find that the delicate lines depicting the victims, and especially the sketchy flicks of flame everywhere, made me want to hold the manuscript in my hand. As this was impossible, I made another Facsimile Object. Now I have an unlikely diptych, from centuries and countries apart, of an unlikely and terrible scene.
Not gonna lie, they hit a little differently now, when wildfires are raging across three continents, than in May, when I made the first one. So far Facsimile Objects have engaged with the present only temporally, by marking a (lost) moment in time: a missed auction preview, a pandemic-closed museum, the sale of a painting, a surprise Summer show. But with some religionists repeating the medieval model of blaming a conflagration on the existence of gay people, this pair of Facsimile Objects connects on a content level as well.
I’m as surprised as anyone that it was only when I finished posting about the orphaned appendices in the Felix Gonzalez-Torres catalogue raisonée that I figured out what to do with them.
I do still think that the Foundation should republish the information about the dozens of works Gonzalez-Torres made, and showed, and sent out into the world, which were later declared to be non-works.
By laying out the eight pages of the CR’s two appendices, Untitled (Additional Material) appropriates the strategy of the iconic stack, “Untitled” (Death by Gun), which reproduces entire pages from a special issue of Time magazine showing the people killed in the US by guns during one week.
The dimensions, meanwhile are a nod to one of two pieces that ended up classified as Non-Works: a 1990 collaboration with Donald Moffett called, “Untitled” (I Spoke With Your God). The stack of printed text by Moffett on red paper (“I SPOKE WITH YOUR GOD/ HE COMMANDED ME TO CUT OUT YOUR MOUTH”) appeared just once, in a two-person show at the University of British Columbia Arts Center in Vancouver. [The print size, 29×23 inches, is one Gonzalez-Torres used in other stacks, too, including “Untitled” (Veterans Day Sale), 1989, the image of which was used above for a rendering of the piece. I did not print 20 inches worth of giant bootleg posters today.]
As it turns out, this Non-Work does have a Foundation webpage, complete with installation shots. It does not appear to be linked from anywhere, and the URL now ends in “-hidden.” I am in awe all over again.
On April 3, 1974, a photograph of kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst posing with a machine gun, a beret, and the seven-headed snake logo of the Symbionese Liberation Army was delivered, along with a cassette tape of the fourth recorded message from Hearst, to KSAN Jive 95, a counterculture radio station in San Francisco. The recording said Hearst now called herself Tania, a name taken from a comrade of Che Guevara, and she reiterated the SLA’s revolutionary demands for her release.
Wire services reproduced the photo, which appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world the next day, Thursday, April 4th. On Kawara clipped his copy of it out of the Washington Post. By the weekend, and presumably before Hearst was identified as one of the armed SLA members who robbed a bank on April 15th, WE LOVE YOU TANIA flyers appeared on the campus of UC Berkeley, from whence she’d been kidnapped.
These may now be considered the first Tania Facsimile Objects.
In 1989, presumably in relation to her large-scale, silkscreen on aluminum sculpture Tanya as Bandit, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, artist Cady Noland created a work on paper titled Tanya. The cropped photocopy, a generation or more removed from the Tanya as Bandit source image, was put up for sale at Christie’s in London during Frieze Week 2014. In anticipation, the sale was pre-commemorated on this website by an edition, Untitled (Tanya).
In addition to an impulsive celebration through commerce of an exceptional object’s appearance at auction, in Untitled (Tanya) can be found some of the impulses of the Facsimile Object project. The edition indicates the possibility of realizing a perfect [sic] copy of Noland’s work, but only by cutting away the elements of designation and authentication–title, number, date, stamp, signature–thereby destroying the edition itself. An authentic but nearly worthless work is displaced by an equally worthless but iconic copy of another work. Their fate is in the collectors’ hands.
Tania Facsimile Object (N1), 2021, drops into this visual lineage, paying homage to the original, ad hoc WE LOVE YOU TANIA flyers of 1974, as well as Noland’s later appropriation. At 7.5×6 inches, Tania Facsimile Object (N1) shares the dimensions and cropped composition of Tanya (1989), while utterly transforming the object’s material characteristics. The high-gloss, dye sublimation print on aluminum is an exploration of how far the Facsimile Object format can diverge from referent works, how big a gap can be created, while still maintaining that facsimilated, auratic glow. Or maybe it’s just the light reflecting from the window.
Each Tania Facsimile Object is accompanied by a full-size, certificate of authenticity, handmade, signed and numbered on Arches. It will include, of course, a disclaimer to affirm to everyone that Ms. Noland was neither involved in nor consulted on the realization of this Facsimile Object, which will be available until September 11th, 2021. [update: Though Noland’s show was extended without announcement until September 18th, availability of this Facsimile Object ended September 13th. Thank you for your engagement.]
David Rimanelli posted this beautiful Manet to instagram today, Bouquet of Violets, an 1872 painting that if I’m reading the note in the painting itself, first belonged to Berthe Morisot. Of course, my first reaction to these sorts of things now is, “Manet Facsimile Object?”
And the answer is, alas, no.
The size is perfect–22 x 27 cm–and it’s both very desirable and inaccessible. But without a lot of digging, the only image that shows the full canvas is a stock photo. And so the dimensions of the widely circulating–and cropped–Wikipedia image are slightly off. Also the color is different enough to take a quick whip-up off the table.
But the main dealbreaker for me is the sheer numbers of commercialized print options for this public domain image. Even if none is a Facsimile Object, there are tons of objects which are facsimiles. Like art, Facsimile Objects aren’t supposed to be functional, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do something IRL. In a case like this, the facsimilating is being done, and at scale. I’m going to need to think this through.
A few months back, in the midst of the Manet Facsimile Object and NFT frenzy, Eric Doeringer suggested I submit a work for a project being organized by Micheál O’Connell for the ABC Artists’ Books Cooperative. I am psyched and grateful to have my work included.
As an irreverent critique of the whole authentication boom, O’Connell conceived ABCOA as a collection of artworks that are their own certificates of authenticity. The resulting portfolio comprises 60 certified works of art, which is quite a deal for EUR30.
I have also been slow in posting about it only because I have not been able to figure out where my brief accompanying text went. So I’ve finally given up and am explaining the piece here.
As the text of De Maria’s certificate itself states, the engraved stainless steel High Energy Bar is not only made “operative and authentic” by the presence of this CoA; the combination of Bar and Certificate constitute another work, the High Energy Unit. My work, High Energy Certificate, completes the gesture De Maria started, by declaring a standalone certificate a work of art.
While this obviously affects all the extant certificates of de Maria’s High Energy Units, the CoA facsimiles printed for ABCOA also constitute a distinct but still authentic subgroup of this work. It’s possible that they have a brief explanatory text on the verso. Or maybe they don’t? They’re operative and authentic either way.
Director Barry Jenkins said one of the inspirations for The Gaze was a painting by Kerry James Marshall. In The Gaze, shot on the set of The Underground Railroad, actors embody ancestors, people who lived and died without much or any visual record of their existence. Marshall created a similar series of paintings depicting Black people of history for whom no visual record survives, and Jenkins called outScipio Moorhead portrait of himself, 1776, a 2007 painting (above) which he saw at the Met Breuer in 2016. I think Jenkins is quoting a text from the Met:
“In this painting Marshall created an imagined self-portrait of a real African American artist, Scipio Moorhead, who was active in the 1770s. Few if any images of Moorhead exist in the historical record. Everything we know of his legacy is based on Phillis Wheatley’s first book of poetry, published in 1773 while she was a slave [sic] in Boston. The book’s title page illustration is an engraving of the writer, reportedly modeled on a painting by Moorhead. The engraving remains the only visual proof, however tenuous, of Moorhead’s existence.”
From what I can find, no images of or by Moorhead survive, only some mentions of him in correspondence; marginalia identifying him as the subject of one of Wheatley’s poems; and the etching that is supposed to be based on his portrait of Wheatley.
Somehow the Met has a print that was not bound into one of the 300 copies the book Wheatley first got published in England. It was soon published in Boston after her return as a free woman, in 1773.
The preface to Wheatley’s book includes a statement signed by 18 prominent Bostonians who examined her and her manuscript and pronounced them genuine, despite her background as “an uncultivated Barbarian” who labors “under the Disadavantage” of being enslaved by the Wheatleys. Which, one must imagine, is an extraordinary thing to have experienced.
Wheatley married, wrote poems criticizing slavery and praising the American revolution, then died young, at 31. A new book by poet and professor Honoré Fanonne Jeffers includes previously unpublished letters showing her husband’s attempts to publish a second book of poetry after her death. Except for Wheatley’s book and a couple of other mentions, Scipio Moorhead’s fuller story remains unknown.
Marshall’s depiction of Moorhead is notable for the size of the historical void it occupies. The greatest sculptors of ancient Greece are only recognized as such because of later Roman copies of their work. Having no known work survive certainly hasn’t hurt the legacies of Phidias, or Polykleitos, who are foundational for European art’s history of itself. What would our culture be like if Moorhead’s Phyllis Wheatley were as influential as Myron’s Discobolus?
Samuel F. B. Morse expected his 1822 epic, 9×12 foot painting of the chamber of The House of Representatives in the just-repaired US Capitol would tour the country to paying crowds, and then be triumphantly acquired by the politicians he made famous. That did not happen. The tour was a flop; the painting he’d spent months creating in a makeshift studio next to the House chamber was sold in Europe, and eventually ended up at the Corcoran. It was only with the dissolution of that museum in 2014, almost 200 years later, that Morse’s painting came into the collection of the nation, at the National Gallery.
Morse chose not paint the chaos and occasional violence that typified the House’s deliberations over such controversies as the Missouri Compromise or the displacement of Indian populations. Instead, perhaps aspirationally, he depicts a calm moment where hardworking servants of the people were preparing for a night session.
Eighty recognizable politicians, journalists, and others are depicted–Morse sold a pamphlet diagram for viewers to identify them all-but the dramatic focus of the painting is an unidentified lamplighter. The figure stands on a ladder, against the giant chandelier, which has been lowered for his reach. [My first favorite thing about this painting was the thin, black line extending from the top of the painting to the chandelier, His back to the picture plane, but his profile reveals him to be a Black man. Was he enslaved? It’s not clear; the US government did not as a practice own slaves at the time, but slavers regularly leased the enslaved for government work–like rebuilding the Capitol after the British burned it in 1812. Morse was a supporter of slavery (also an opponent of immigration), which may explain why the central figure of his painting goes unnamed.
The only other non-white person in the painting, however, was well-known in Washington. Petalesharo was a Pawnee chief who traveled to DC as part of a Great Plains delegation to negotiate the fate of his and other tribes. He is shown seated in the House spectator’s gallery, with an impassive expression that resembles the portrait Charles Bird King made at the same time for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Petalesharo had become famous through the promotion of missionaries, who’d reported that the chief had stopped his tribe from killing a young Comanche girl, either as part of human sacrifice or in revenge for a theft. This show of civilized mercy was probably appealing to the man to Petalesharo’s right, Jedidiah Morse, the Calvinist minister and geographer, who was also the artist’s father. Jedidiah had come to Congress to share a massive report he’d written on the US relationship with the Indian tribes. After traveling for several years and meeting with Indian leaders and communities, Morse argued for white coexistence with the Indians, along with a heavy dose of assimilation and missionary-led Christianization. His recommendations were ignored in favor of abrogating treaties and exterminating Indian populations who would not remove themselves from newly claimed lands. Next to Papa Morse is Benjamin Silliman, Samuel Morse’s chemistry professor at Yale. Years later, after Morse would develop the telegraph and Morse Code, Silliman became the first person to distill petroleum.
While viewing Morse’s painting the other day at the freshly reopened National Gallery, I got up close to study these standout figures; their unusual compositions, one obscured at the center and the other pushed and fenced off at the margins; one with a glowing chandelier and the other amidst brushy abstractions of the grand chamber’s marble columns; and to contemplate their significance, long unsung, to the history of this scene and this nation. Which prompted my gallerygoing companion to say, “Uh-oh, here come the Facsimile Objects.” [Reader, I married her.]
As another experiment on cropping my way to Facsimile Objects, I envision this as a diptych extracted from the painting, each realized at full scale, and installed where Morse put them in the original painting. Seeing these definitely reminded me of Titus Kaphar’s 2016 painting Enough About You, in which he isolates and frames the face of an unidentified enslaved boy in a portrait of Elihu Yale. But I’m still figuring out how these compositions read apart from the larger painting, and in relation to each other. Unlike Kaphar’s work, an awful lot is missing here.
The first proofs just arrived, and while they’re great images, they’re a little low-res; even a big jpg of a 12-foot painting is not really big enough to work with, so I’m going to shoot the details myself. Which feels a little extra, but also necessary here. brb.
The Museum of Contemporary Art owns Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1988 work, Forbidden Colors [not shown]. The work consists of four panels painted in the colors of the Palestinian flag. The title refers to an Israeli ban, ended in 1993, on any display of these colors in combination within the Palestinian occupied territories.
Forbidden Colors was first shown at The New Museum, then at White Columns. But after MOCA acquired it, they have only exhibited it a couple of times and loaned it once. [It has been shown twice since I first wrote about it in 2013, including at Noah Davis’s Underground Museum in 2018.]
So far, no one at MOCA from Klaus on down has mentioned this important work in relation to the violence and oppression Palestinians are currently suffering at the hands of Israel, its military, police, and the settlers, who are executing a system of apartheid within Israel, Gaza and the Occupied West Bank.
Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors (May 2021) is a repetition of Gonzalez-Torres’ work, which I am making available for exhibition to any gallery, or museum, or other institution who wishes to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and support for their rights.
It is meant to stand in for the artwork it repeats whenever or wherever that work is needed, but is unavailable. If you want to exhaust your efforts to borrow the work from MOCA, that’s fine, but it’s not a prerequisite for getting this one. I’ll provide as many as necessary, at cost, around $400 for materials and labor and (US) shipping. Or pay someone local make one for you; there are surely artists or painters among your staff who could do it. It took me about six hours to make one, but maybe your art handler already knows all the monochrome protips. Send a photo and credit info if you’d like it recorded. As Rauschenberg once wrote of other monochrome paintings, “It is completely irrelevant that I am making them–TODAY is their creator.”
In its title Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors pays homage to Sturtevant’s repetitions of Gonzalez-Torres’ light string and go-go dancing platform works.
In its execution and offering up as a stand-in at a moment of institutional timidity, it is related to an earlier work, Untitled (300×404), which I created in 2009 when MoMA and/or Gagosian wouldn’t permit the use of a Richard Prince Cowboy photo in a Slate review of an exhibition.
When Felix Gonzalez-Torres presented Forbidden Colors he described it as “a solitary act of consciousness here in SoHo.” Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors (May 2021) is a shared act of consciousness with people all over the world.
News from the Facsimile Objects front: barring any exceptional developments, the National Gallery in London will reopen on Monday (5/17), and so the Dürer there, the heavenly phenomenon on the back of the St. Jerome, will be visitable again. At that point, of course, the corresponding Facsimile Object (D1), will no longer be needed, and so will become unavailable. Get one while you can, I guess. The Karlsruhe agate-like painting on the back of Dürer’s Sad Jesus will, sadly, still be available, while Germany’s COVID numbers remain so high.
Recently I made a couple of Facsimile Objects related to works in the National Gallery in Washington, DC, which has been closed for several months. They will not be issued in any numbers, partly because the NGA just reopened. In fact, we were there yesterday, the first day back, when the shipment of test FOs arrived in the mail.
As you can see from the installation photo above, though, they look nice. Other than their uselessness, I’m pleased with how they turned out.
What O’Brien probably said was that it was a study for the giant four-letter enamel on panel paintings Wool made in 1990. Because he’d been making stencil-style text paintings since around 1987, when he’d famously said he was inspired by seeing SEX LUV freshly stenciled on a white panel truck by a graffiti artist in the East Village.
If you are in the market for that piece–and you’d be a FOOL not to be; it is at once important, fantastic, and adorable–then you need read no further. You are set. You are good to go, and godspeed you. Despite his recent NFT hijinks, Kenny still loves that fiat money, and has surely earned this deal the hard way, on those mean Miami streets. Go cash him out. From here the discussion turns away from mad money and toward Facsimile Objects.
Do paintings, like people, have a fabricated online persona, and a different, “real” character offline? Or do paintings, like people, have one real existence, different aspects of which are manifested online and in the real world?
These Albrecht Dürer Facsimile Objects have been propped, taped, and laid out in front of me for a little more than a week now, and while I expected them to live different than their 500-yo painted counterparts, I am struck by how they also differ from their digital images.
There is no more than two paintings by Albrecht Dürer in a public collection in the United Kingdom. One is this swirling, brushy depiction of an explosive, cosmic phenomenon on a small pearwood panel. The other, a meticulous devotional picture of St. Jerome in the wilderness, is on the other side of the same panel. The panel was only attributed to Dürer in 1957, and was acquired by the National Gallery in London in 1996.
Like all England’s museums, the National Gallery has been closed to visitors since December 2020, when a Tier 3 lockdown went into effect to reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. According to current government indicators, museums will remain closed until at least May 17. So assuming it’s really by him, England’s only Dürers will remain inaccessible for at least several more weeks.
While considering whether an Albrecht Dürer Facsimile Object could offer even a partial experiential hedge during this challenging, Dürerless time, another, similar Dürer suddenly became similarly inaccessible.
Another small oil, c. 1492, depicts a swirling abstraction of sliced agate or other hardstone, painted with a transparency that permits the grain of the fir panel to show through. On the other side of this panel is another small devotional painting, a gold ground picture of Christ, Man of Sorrows, which was attributed to Dürer a few years before 1941, when the Nazis’ favorite art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt sold it to the Musée des Beaux Arts in occupied Strasbourg. It subsequently crossed the Rhine, and is now at the State Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, which was closed on March 22 when German health officials abruptly declared lockdowns to thwart a “third wave” of the pandemic. The government then changed some restrictions after a backlash, but I think the Kunsthalle is closed until at least April 18.
“If a work is on Google Street View, does it even need a Facsimile Object?” is a question that came to mind. But then I wondered what would happen if these two works were decoupled from the paintings they are physically twinned with, the works they were fated to be “behind,” always understudied and overshadowed by? Facsimile Objects might hit different with this not-quite-a-pair. So let’s see.
Earlier this week a restored original animated gif of nyan cat sold for 300 Ethereum. And today the order book was closed for Édouard Manet Facsimile Objects when Manet’s painting, le chien Minnay, sold for EUR520,800 in Paris.
Both of these transactions take place in a world where the experience of art is decoupled from a physical artwork. In one case, a digital object is rendered auratic through a purchase premised on an imaginary scarcity. In the other, frank facsimiles of a unique and long unseen object mitigate the inability to travel and experience the object in person.
It was literally not until after the auction of the Manet, despite spending weeks thinking about it, and weeks of seeing people talk about NFTs as Niftys, that I saw that Facsimile Object, abbreviated, could be pronounced faux, as in FO Dog. So you’ll excuse me if I can’t elucidate on the concept of a unique copy of a restored original animated gif.