In WWII, Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from the west coast, stripped of basically everything they couldn’t carry, and imprisoned in inland internment camps, rows of tar paper barracks in the desert surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard towers.
Everything else, they had to build themselves. Here are a couple of photos from the War Relocation Authority collection at the National Archives of the preschool playground at the Tule Lake Relocation Center in Newell, CA.
Looks like they had better scrapwood at Tule Lake than at Topaz Mountain in Utah. Or maybe better carpenters. Still, I’d add that unfinished wood slide to the list of injustices perpetrated against loyal American citizen children by their government.
The photo blog on The Atlantic has been running extended looks back at images from World War II. Today’s theme: Japanese-Americans forcibly removed from their homes and businesses and shipped to internment camps in the middle of the freakin’ deserts.
The caption on #39 just bummed me out: “Nursery school children play with a scale model of their barracks at the Tule Lake Relocation Center, Newell, California, on September 11, 1942.” Their barracks.
On the bright side, check out the sweet little pine plank nursery chairs they’re standing on. How many civil right’s a brother gotta give up to score a few of those, I wonder?
America’s imprisonment of its own citizens because of racial bigotry during World War II has been of great interest to me since discovering Born Free and Equal, Ansel Adams’ self-published photobook of Japanese Americans detained at Manzanar, in the early 1990s. It always felt like important history that must be faced and not forgotten. Now, of course, it is a crime being surpassed and magnified, with families being torn apart and children fleeing for their lives being subject to state-sponsored terror at a scale this country hasn’t seen in almost a century, and all for the accumulation of Mautocratic political power.
It is not a sufficient response by any measure, but I am republishing a series of blog posts here which I made over the years at Daddy Types, the weblog for new dads, which I ran from 2004 until my CMS broke late last year. On DT I often wrote about the overlooked or forgotten histories and objects of parenting, with a focus on modernism, design, DIY, and dad-related projects. That included frequent posts on the material lives of Japanese American children imprisoned in detention camps during WWII, including the attempts to provide kids an approximation of a normal environment through schools, playgrounds, and domestic spaces built out of scrap lumber.
And here I am starting to feel about headboards-I-don’t-own-as-readymade-paintings like Dan Flavin ended up feeling about fluorescent lights: stuck.
Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like. Can you just imagine the market pressure? Demanding you to keep repeating your greatest hit, to keep churning out every iteration of the formula, to see the concept through to the bitter end, until it’s ultimately the headboard on your own deathbed, stained with your own hairgrease, that becomes your final, ghostly selfie. The hammer drops, the crowd cheers, your kids want to cash out and move your estate to Zwirner, authorizing faux-finish headboards in posthumous editions.
Damn. That got dark fast. And here I’d only planned to point out that this king-size, faux snakeskin quilted pleather number is most definitely in the top ten of the series. The top five, even. If you want it, you have until next week to let me know, at which point it’ll slip from all our grasps.
How much sense does this not make? People buy the sheets from Felix Gonzalez-Torres stacks at auction, on eBay, and at various artist book & ephemera dealers, and it just seems…what’s the word here? Hilarious? Sad? Stupid? Embarrassing? Ridiculous? Wrong? Inexplicable?
Well, no. There’s an easy explanation. People sell Felix posters because they want money. And people buy them because they are for sale.
Felix made his first work that includes a stack of paper in 1988, and his first to consist of a stack constantly replenished with “endless copies” in 1989. Then there was a burst of stacks in 1990. By the time of his death in 1996, the artist had produced 47 stacks. Four were declared after his death to be “registered non-works.” One consisted of rubber doormats, which are not to be taken. One consists of an edition of 200 signed, silkscreen prints which together comprise a single stacked work, which are not to be taken. One was an edition of 250 of which 89 were sold separately, and the remaining 161 were sold together as a stack, which are not to be taken. The first one, it is not clear whether they can be taken. One is made of little passport-sized booklets, which can be taken. So that makes 38 stacks made of posters infinitely replenishable with endless copies. Along with a registered non-work stack created with Donald Moffett, three stacks were collaborations with another artist, who provided the image or text: Michael Jenkins, Louise Lawler, and Christopher Wool.
The Felix Gonzalez-Torres catalogue raisonné quotes the text the artist included in the certificates of authenticity for each stack:
A part of the intention of the work is that third parties may take individual sheets of paper from the stack. These individual sheets and all individual sheets taken from the stack collectively do not constitute a unique work of art nor can they be considered the piece…its uniqueness is defined by ownership.
So these are not artworks. Or, they’re not the artwork. But they are something of value, even though they are free for the taking in an endless supply. And people trying to explain and justify the value–or the price, really–use paradigms that the artist himself critiqued, rejected, and sought, to some extent, to undermine. Sellers, including auctioneers like Wright who know what’s up, invoke an edition model, calling sheets “original” “prints” and “lithos” from “an unknown edition size.” This framing resonates with the investing community that has grown up around mass limited editions from print mills like Murakami and Hirst, Kawsian art toys and artist-designed skatedecks, and even Richter-style “facsimile objects.”
Rago, an auction house whose business is liquidating New Jersey’s vast collections of silkscreen editions assembled in the 60s and 70s, gives the sheets made-up names like “Untitled (water ripples)” and “Untitled (The Show is Over)”, and gooses the provenance with statements like “Created originally in 1993 for the Printed Matter exhibition at Dia.”
One eBay seller’s allusions to photography and rare book connoisseurship to justify a $12,500 asking price for a single sheet because it was taken from “the original piece” during a gallery show “in October, 1991,” have not gone unchallenged:
Please note that I have received some comments about this one… that is, since it was conceived of as an open edition, there are numerous ones out there from other exhibitions, and possibly a reissuance from the estate.
That could be true, however, the original litho is a “first” printing; subsequent printings are of a subtlely diiferent (sp) size, color, paper, etc. This makes the first edition the most coveted, and hence the valuation.
That stack, like so many of Felix’s work, known as “Untitled”, was acquired from that show at Luhring Augustine Hexler by the Walker Art Center. And despite being in a public collection and widely exhibited since its creation, the sheets from the Walker’s “Untitled” are among the most frequently and expensively sold separately. Unusually, the Walker’s description of the piece includes the number taken during the work’s public exhibition in 1999-2001: “approximately 660 posters per month.” Frankly, 8,000/year seems low, unless I were being charged $1,000 for one as an “edition”, in which case it’d be insanely high.
Felix wanted as many viewers as wanted them to take sheets from his stacks for free, but this turns out to be not the same as free to obtain or endlessly available. They’re not all in publicly accessible collections. They’re not always on view, and they’re probably not close by when they are. So the constraints and complications of getting in a room with the Felix stack you want have real costs, and the way we weigh these costs against the desire to possess a thing is called money.
Then there’s the reality of the work itself, the stack whose “uniqueness is defined by ownership.” The artist’s certificates also say “The owner has the right to reprint and replace, at any time, the quantity of sheets necessary to regenerate the piece back to the ideal height.” There’s a concept worth studying in a work doesn’t just exist at various heights, but that depletes and is regenerated. If you find that dissertation, please lmk. What jumps out to me is the apparently fundamental link between uniqueness and authenticity and ownership, and the dependence of that existence on a right, not a responsibility.
For all the freedom and openness and sharing of Felix’s work, it rests on a foundation of rights granted to collectors, not obligations assumed by stewards. The market for sheets is thus the trickle-down effect of these private decisions that make stacks scarce through unavailability.
Could the artist’s wishes be better served by adapting his stacks to the digitized world he didn’t live to see? What if the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation made all of the stack sheets available for download and individual printing? It’d be several kinds of complicated, I know, but it wouldn’t disrupt the existence of “the piece,” the uniqueness of which, remember, is defined by ownership. [Having recently pulled out around 100 sheets I’ve collected over more than 25 years, I can say this is not an obviously great idea; stacks vary in size, paper type, and finish in ways that DIY printouts will inevitably get wrong, and the artist’s generosity for everyone else’s shitty reproduction of his work will be sorely tested.]
Letting sheets loose in the wild will result in large-scale printing and distribution, probably at poster-scale commercialization. But a line in an eBay auction seems to indicate this is already happening.
After comparing it to a poster that sold for $750 on artnet, the seller of this $1200 poster “by Christopher Wool & Felix Gonzalez-Torres” notes, “NOTE this is an original edition from the Dallas Museum’s run and not from China.” But something ain’t right. The dimensions of the Wool&FG-T sheet are 37×55, and this one from Dallas is 24×36. Also, there’s a giant border, and it says Dallas Museum of Art on the bottom. Also, the letters don’t line up. Because this is a poster of a painting, a painting [right] the DMA acquired in 1991. Meanwhile, the related painting that became the stack is hanging [left] behind Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. They gave it to the Whitney in 2014.
Isn’t this the real source of the Felix stack flipper problem: hypeboys looking for cheap Wools? And at hundreds to thousands of dollars a pop, wouldn’t YOU set up a #ChineseWoolMill to meet their demand?
If there is such a thing as capitalist karma, it comes in the form of Erika Hoffmann, the Berlin collector who, with her late husband Rolf, bought the Wool/Gonalez-Torres stack. In March she donated it, along with her entire collection, to the Dresden State Art Collection. It will become one of the most public and publicly available stack pieces of them all.
[This writing of this post was delayed several days by the outraged consideration of the vast preceding and ongoing corruption of the president, and it took place amidst the anguished, mounting fury at the systemic policy of terrorizing and torturing children and families seeking asylum from perils that drove them to flee their homes. The solace of art has its limits.]
A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER UPDATE: I swear I wasn’t planning to do this, but then someone on Twitter feared it was coming, and so it had to happen.
“Untitled” (Ross in L.A.) in DC is now on eBay. It comprises an original Felix Gonzalez-Torres offset print acquired from the National Gallery of Art, and a full-scale, signed, stamped, and numbered certificate of authenticity. It is available in an edition of 2.
“Paint roller through a Picasso, well, there’s your Powerless Structures right there,” I said. “But can it really be that easy?” And then I remembered that Michael & Ingar hadn’t thought so back in 2004 when they put a safe behind a Hirst.
And then there’s this quote, mentioned in the Ganz sale catalogue, from Jacques Prevert, who visited Picasso two weeks before Le Marin was painted, and a month after the artist had been told by the Gestapo he was to be sent to a German concentration camp:
Picasso, more than any other artist, reacts to the things around him. Everything he does is a response to something he has seen or felt, something that has surprised or moved him. (Quoted in M. Cone, op. cit., p. 135)
So yes, I will react. And if you need me, I will be honing my paint roller throwing technique until the #chinesepaintmill Picasso arrives.
update update: Thinking about how to actually make this work, I look back to an even earlier Elmgreen & Dragset performance piece, 12 Hours of White Paint, Powerless Structures, Fig. 15 (1997) [above], where the duo repeatedly painted and washed off the walls of a gallery space. The downstroke is the key. I bet the painter was painting the wall opposite the Picasso and so had his back to it, and on the end of his downstroke he stabbed it. Which is fine, but I had hoped to work a rollerful of paint into the disaster somehow.
These nice but unremarkable chairs would go nicely with our humble chair, I thought, but claiming that is the reason to buy them would be a lie. You would buy them–I would buy them–because 65 years ago, the family registrar marked two of the three chairs with inventory numbers: D.R. 53.1758. I am fine with acknowledging this.
I realized that buying something you might conceivably need would violate the spirit of the occasion. Beyond all other auctions, a Rockefeller Auction is pure want. And what is wanted, above all, is provenance.
Could provenance and its auratic power be isolated from the object that is its ostensible vehicle? What object might make that possible? It would not just have to be non-precious, or non-aesthetic; it would almost have to thwart value and appeal. It couldn’t be ironic or sentimental, or hold even a remote association with Rockefeller personally–which seemed a little intrusive–or with the family and their history and legacy.
I love that this puzzle presented itself at the exact same time I was dealing with the Japanese plates Danh Vo bought 11 years ago from the rural Pennsylvania estate sale of an obscure US general with a connection to the Vietnam War and the JFK assassination.Anyway, I did a reverse estimate sort on the 800 or whatever lots in the online auction. I skipped past all the Staffordshire porcelain figurines of shepherdesses. I lingered for a moment over the fireplace tools and andirons (above). I have a thing for andirons of provenance, but then I remembered that the Rockefellers did, too: David’s brother Nelson had a business selling reproductions of his art collection, including his Diego Giacometti andirons.
Then I found it: Lot 1732 An 18th Century English Cast-Iron Fireback, est. $200-400. It was in terrible condition, or rather, it had a rare patina. Like how they gratuitously leave the bird’s nest in the hood scoop of the barn find Ferrari. 1st Dibs lists two nearly identical firebacks [below] with Spes, the Roman goddess of hope, as 17th century Dutch, so Christie’s (and the Rockefellers’) description probably stems from the careful preservation of an inaccurate invoice “from WM. Jackson Co., 1 February 1956.” #provenance.
Oh, weird, what’s this, Lot 1753, Late 17th Century Italian Priedieu, “the base reduced in depth”, est. $400-600? A priedieu with the prie removed is kind of perfect. Not to question the Rockefellers’ faith, of course, just that when you put it in a home, the kneeling part of a priedieu can be a real tripping hazard. The provenance here was distinct, too: “Acquired with the contents of Hudson Pines.” David & Peggy bought Hudson Pines from his sister Babs, who’d built it. So this 10-inch deep, chopped up priedieu has a double Rockefeller provenance. I imagine it holding a tiny key bowl, or blocking an unsightly vent.
But it’s also almost the same dimensions as the fireback. Now I could see these two damaged, useless, clunky antiques together, a found monochrome diptych monument to this liquidity event, a celebration of the massive value accrued around them during the last 70 years of their 350 year existence.
Each of these marred tchotchkes ended up selling for $3000, which answers the question of what provenance is worth. And I don’t have to worry about where to put them.
Tim’s point is well taken, and borne out in the show: Vo makes both sexy, shiny, collector bait (gold-leafed flags & alphabets, Statue of Liberty fragments) and meaning-laden but head-scratchingly unaesthetic cultural detritus (the stuffing from Robert McNamara’s chair, the Unabomber’s typewriter). The typical market dynamics of art stardom readily attend to the former, while posing a challenge to the latter.
At least that’s how it looks on the secondary market. Vo’s global network of top-flight dealers know a thing or two about placing “difficult” work with “connoisseurs.” Those McNamara chairs, purchased at Sotheby’s for $146,000, were promptly stripped for parts, which were sold as separate works to nine of Marian Goodman’s most well-cultivated private and institutional clients. And some of the wonkiest Gothic and Hellenic scrap mashups with the grossest Exorcist titles are in the collection of Francois Pinault. Then Vo installed them in the Dogana alongside scrap metal rented [rented!] from Cameron Rowland and plastic tarps David Hammons dragged into Mnuchin’s joint from the street.
Two things that stuck with me from the Guggenheim, and any time I see one of Vo’s spare, deliberate installations: he makes almost as many objects as he shops, and he shops a lot.
Vo makes a lot of very interesting editions, which get equal treatment in his shows, even if they don’t garner equal attention. An easy place to start looking is the sheaf of photogravures Vo has produced with Niels Borch Jensen. There was a burst of activity in 2010, starting with Joseph Carrier’s photos of Vietnam; various family snapshots; and a candid photo of the artist who, at that moment, would have been his ex’s ex. Loaded/awkward. Anyway, seven of the 12 prints in the screencap above are in the show, and that’s still just the tip of an iceberg.
The first Vo edition I regret not getting was Seasons Greetings, made for his show at the Fredericianum in Kassel. A gift box contains a T-shirt from the Statue of Liberty; a coffee mug with a Barbara Bush quote on it from the GHWB Library shop; a book about Ted Kaczynski Harvard sued out of print; and just when you think the loaded-souvenir-shopping-as-practice has gone too far, there is a card on which Vo typed out the name of the show, JULY, IV, MDCCLXXIV– using Kaczynski’s typewriter.
I started thinking about these editions because Tim Schneider hadn’t mentioned them, at least not directly. Tim broke out the auction performance for Vo’s works: of 52 pieces to come up for sale, 13 were not gilded cardboard or Statue of Liberty chunks, and 6 of these 13 were bought in. And two of those six, I realized, were the same piece.
Two examples of Untitled, 2009 (above), from an edition of 12, had come up for auction: one at Phillips in 2016, from Daniel Buchholz (est. $8,000-12,000); and another, from Bortolozzi, in Christie’s London in 2015 (est. £10,000 – £15,000). [Christie’s deletes webpages for unsold lots, so unless you have a print catalogue, or an artnet database, you’ll need an Internet Archive.]
When Vo turned his apartment into an exhibition site for the 2010 Berlin Biennale, they were hanging in the kitchen [above]. And before that, in a Summer group show in 2009, Daniel Buchholz showed them in Köln. That credit line also includes an auction catalogue for the estate of Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, which was unmentioned anywhere else.
Which immediately got me wondering. And sure enough, there it is: 2007, Alderfer Auction in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. Among the various lots of Japanese Imari ware Gen. Lemnitzer had accumulated were twolots of twelve matching plates in slightly different sizes. They totaled, with premium, around $1200. Even as a barely emerging artist, I’m sure he netted out.
The super weird thing, though I didn’t know how weird yet, was that the day after I was searching for Vo’s 11-year-old sale, a near identical pair of Imari plates was coming up for auction in West Palm Beach. The pattern was identical, the marks identical, the sizes were very slightly different, but maybe not out of the auction houses’ margin of error. The auction estimate was $40-60. Even by the cruelest market calculus, that seemed like an unlikely price curve.
There must be thousands of plates like this, I thought, wrongly. A search through almost ten thousand auctions for Imari porcelain plates turned up only one that matched the Lemnitzer plates Vo bought and the two in front of me. [Sidebar: there is too much stuff in this world.] Could this pair be an overlooked Vo edition? If it was, could it be rescued? More interestingly, if it wasn’t, did it matter?
The auratic weight of provenance, history, culture, and memory are at the crux of Vo’s work. He buys the objects he buys because of these associations, and he puts them in an art context, where their backstory operates like an informational dye packet that explodes when you read a wall text, irrevocably staining the object in your mind, if not your eye. You can complain about the inertness or opacity of Vo’s objects, and their reliance on explanations, but I’m pretty sure he dgaf. And by the time you realize it, it’s already too late; Vo has changed the way you see–and think about–what he’s put before you.
So can that connection be severed? And if severed, can it be reattached? If it never existed, can it be conjured by an identical object? Vo spends an awful lot of time shopping. It’s probably the main part of his practice, besides chopping. These intangible issues, evocations, and associations hover around every transaction we make; it’s how brands work, how fashion works, how art works. Vo transposes his objects from one sphere–the historical, political, or personal–to another, but every time we trawl through eBay or a museum shop, so do we. Consumption and the mechanisms and networks of capitalism implicate us all.
Whether these Floridian plates once sat on the shelf of the American father of the Vietnam War is immaterial. Because now these plates evoke Danh Vo. And that is something.
If you bought these plates, please know that you did so because the liveauctioneers app gave me the false impression that I had placed a winning bid, and then gave no warning before it closed the sale. While you enjoy your plates, I will enjoy thinking about them.
In 1776 a committee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were charged by the Continental Congress with creating an official seal, a sign of sovereignty and authenticity, for the new United States. Two committees later, in 1782, the primary suggestion from their committee included in the final design was the motto, E Pluribus Unum. Other committees, meanwhile, contributed the eagle, and the use of 13 elements–stars, stripes, arrows, olive leaves–to symbolize the original states in the Union.
The final design was described in terms of its heraldic elements by Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson, and this text remains the law Congress enacted in June 1782. Thomson provided an engraver with a sketch, which was turned into a die and put to use by September.
After his inauguration in April 1789, President Washington asked Thomson to transfer custody of the Great Seal from Congress to the Department of Foreign Affairs. It has remained under the charge of the Secretary of State ever since.
Between 1782 and 1885, four dies were created as replacements were needed, with minor changes or heraldic corrections each time. But since 1885, the die’s design has been fixed. It was installed inside a new press in 1904, and in 1986, the current die, along with a master die from which all future dies may be created, was put into service. An officer of the Department of State uses the Great Seal for 2-3,000 official statements, treaty documents, ambassadorial appointments, and such, per year. It is most widely seen via its depictions on the back of the $1 bill and the covers of US passports.
With this context in mind, I hereby announce a new work, Untitled (Art In Embassies), which went on exhibition this week in some courtyard at the US Embassy in Lima, Peru. It comprises a pop-up The Great Seal step & repeat tradeshow photo-opp backdrop and thirteen folding chairs, arranged in a circle.
The installation is visible in these photos showing the US’ official representative to the Summit of the Americas, a relative of the president with no experience or actual role, who cannot obtain a security clearance because she and her family are under criminal investigation; eleven alumnae of some economic development grant programs of the previous administration; and someone’s tio.
Ciao, come stai? Welcome back from Italy, untitled (to Marianne) 2!
In 2011 I was puzzled by this Dan Flavin work on paper being sold at Christie’s. It sure looked like a diagram for a light work, and it was described in Leo Castelli’s inventory as such, but one which had never been realized. It ended up in the Tiffany Bell light works catalogue raisonné as a sketch, not an orphaned certificate. [Flavin did not recognize orphaned certificates, or orphaned hardware. If you were missing one or the other, you were SOL and your work was, too.] This work’s inscribed with the date 1970 and “executed in 1972,” which adds to the piece’s excitement.
If it did, it probably just got left off the Christie’s provenance by accident. Or if the sale didn’t go through, the IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTOR got to live with it for another year, a privilege that is now being valued, graciously, I’m sure, at around EUR 10,000.
Meanwhile the Estate has kept busy by selling posthumous editions of works unrealized by the time of the artist’s death, editions it had once officially declared closed.
Vito Schnabel showed some in St. Moritz last season, and Kenny Schachter said there was some vagueness about their status. Nothing mentioned in the press release, except the Gallery’s new collaboration with the Estate, and the light works being described as “proposals”. Indeed!
I would think that in such a dynamic conceptual environment, there must be a way for untitled (to Marianne) 2 to exist as an actual, physical light work. You know what, this is something that’s changed since 2011, too. Now we make things happen! If you buy this drawing, and Stephen won’t make this into a light work for you, I will. I’ve got a “proposal”, so HMU.
UPDATE: Congratulations to the new owner (assuming you paid the GBP18,750, obv). If the Estate is not your thing, drop me a line, and I will make you one of mine.
Each of the five elements in Tony Smith’s sculpture Wandering Rocks (1967) has a name: Smohawk, Shaft, Dud, Slide, and Crocus.
Of the edition of five, at least one Wandering Rocks is installed indoors. The National Gallery’s is on the lawn [above]. The Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park’s, which is the artist’s proof, was previously installed on and around a woodchipped path [below].
What is my intention? It is a new measure of man, in forms of free space, in terms of space that is defined but not enclosed, in terms of measurable space that flows so subtly into the infinite that it is impossible to know where the boundaries of art and nature lie…”
Placing art is hard. Placing sculpture in public is harder still. So many decisions can detract from the experience of art, or can thwart the artist’s intentions. With close looking and self-awareness, it is often possible to overcome these environmental obstacles and appreciate what the artist has accomplished. Additional benefit can be gained by understanding what the curator’s intentions might have been, too, whether or not they achieve them.
For the experienced art viewer, it is a special challenge to appreciate the work and understand its context while identifying the flaws, errors, or shortcomings that mar its presentation. A wonky spotlight. No benches. Audio bleeding from the video installation two galleries away. One or two of these, we can let slide. When such seemingly avoidable distractions pile up, though, and threaten to ruin an art experience, perhaps a conceptual artistic exercise can help.
To deal with unnecessarily problematic encounters with art, I propose to turn the third most egregious or annoying thing about it into a new work of its own. It may not solve the problems you identify, but maybe you’ll get some relief from art’s power to give significance and meaning to your annoyance. Maybe the thrill of discovering installfails and the interpretative exercise of ranking them will become a reassuring relief, if not a delight, when you look at art.
the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.
Wrote Duchamp, who could not have imagined a work whose form–indeed, its entire existence–is predicated on the spectator’s decision to conjure it through affront.
Now, I don’t want to uncritically gamify your museum visits. Being compelled to contemplate an artwork about your connoisseurship of annoyance could become infuriating if it begins to intrude on. Every. Freaking. Poorly glazed. Painting. In the place. But it could also lead to an awakening, a liberation from the burdens of the imperfections of the external world, which in turn fosters deeper encounters with the art in front of you. Deciding not to conjure the work by deciding not to log more than one or two annoying things in an encounter is a valid, and powerful, option.
And so in honor of the eagle-eyed spotting of the sprinkler cover sitting in the lawn next to Wandering Rocks, between the otherwise unremarked-upon stanchions and the steel cheese grater fence, I have designated this work Untitled (Avoidable).
A pre-emptive note: I have seen Carl Auböck’s 1950s-era stone and leather paperweights coming up for auction at Wright20 in a few weeks.
Though they bear a superficial formal resemblance, they do not quality as editions of Untitled (Sold Out). If you submit them for authentication, please be assured that I have logged their dimensions, patina, and images, and I will know immediately that you did not buy them at a Nordstrom’s Christmas 2016 pop-up shop, so please save me the hassle and you the certain public embarrassment.
Whether it heals all wounds, time does cool all hot takes. When the Gursky show opened at the Hayward Gallery in January, I was immediately set off by this kicker from Laura Cumming’s review in The Guardian:
But the show’s masterpiece is unlike almost anything Gursky has made before. It is a new work, a single shot of some prefab houses skimmed on a mobile phone while driving through Utah. The photograph registers the speed of the car racing through the landscape – and modern life – in all its random glitches and blurs. At the same time, the houses look perilously ephemeral against the ancient mountains behind them. This fragile little thing, a spontaneous and disposable shot, is enlarged to the size of a cinema screen – a monumental homage to the mobile phone and the outsize role it plays in depicting our times.
Not just Gursky using a phonecam, but Gursky doing something new? Now that is news.
In addition to the phone and all its quotidian implications, what caught my attention was the subject: Utah. I had, just a couple of weeks before, driven along the very road in southern Utah as Gursky. I was also in the middle of a two-month mess on my server, which necessitated rebuilding my blog and its underlying software and databases. But that could wait until I identified the precise stretch of highway Gursky had captured. So I set out again, on Google Street View.
From the geology and the development, it was possible to narrow down the site of Gursky’s photos to the roads around Zion National Park, and east from Zion and Kanab, toward Grand Escalante and Staircase National Monuments. The sections of this rural, two-lane highway with guard rails and fresh blacktop were even fewer. And none of it matched.
This section of Utah is very sparsely populated, and very few roads cross it at all. So the options dwindled very quickly. But on the road between St George and the border-straddling polygamist towns of Hildale, UT and Colorado City, AZ, I recognized the striated mountain range immediately. But there were no houses at all.
Which, two things: it’s now obviously a composite. But before that, those poles. Gursky’s original image is full of blurs and artifacts, including what are apparently some disembodied pole fragments. These artifacts, coupled with the disparate blur on houses, patios, guard rail, etc., led me to assume Gursky had experimented with an iPhone’s panorama feature from a moving car. That he was exploiting the stitching algorithm of the phone, a source of found digital manipulation.
But of course, this turned out not to be the case. What hit me during these first few days was that this Gursky was being presented as a single image when it was now obviously a composite.
And so I set out to find the site of the other, lower half. Which, with every Streetviewed mile, was turning out to be an entirely fictional, constructed composition. While trying to rebuild my webserver I wandered the highways again, finding this or that house; meanwhile the more accurate version of Gursky’s process emerged: that he’d taken photos with a phone, and then returned to reshoot sites with his regular camera, and–like always–he just fixed the whole thing in post.
So my Gursky bust turned into a Guardian factcheck. And I was left dissatisfied, again, by Gursky’s view, even as I grew intrigued by Google’s. I found myself indexing the differences: vantage point, height, date, blur, glitch, and stitching. I imagined Streetview’s rooftop, panoramic compositor, and Gursky’s passenger driveby–which turned out to be a tripod on the shoulder. And I tried to imagine what it’s like for a maker of ambitiously scaled images to work in a world where giant companies are constantly taking a picture of the entire earth. Maybe the better digital analog for Gursky’s practice isn’t Google at all, but etsy.
In good etsy form, I have knocked off Gursky’s image by collaging the elements I’ve found. If/as I find more, I’ll add them until…until what? I don’t know, I guess until it’s done, or I get bored. If you see something say something.
Thanks to grupaok, I’d been looking at Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Minus Objects a lot when my server ran into trouble last December.
Partly because I’ve been long contemplating tables as a platform for paintings, and Pistoletto made a table out of paintings.
Partly because Minus Objects was Pistoletto’s attempt at breaking [or “dismounting”] the capitalist system that rewarded/demanded artists produce in a recognizable style, and all he did was jump off his own market, and confuse his dealers. [Though curator Germano Celant caught on quickly, and made Minus Objects a critical foundation for his proposition of Arte Povera.] Partly because that whole concept is LMAO now that his selfie-friendly mirror paintings have roared back into vogue, anchoring art fair booths around the globe.
But let’s face facts, it’s really because of that awesome, giant, unmounted photo of a slightly demonic Jasper Johns.
It looks very different from our post-Struffsky vantage point, but I’d imagine this object was especially problematic for the art context of its day. Just as tables & chairs and cardboard teetered on the functional and material boundaries around art, respectively, this headshot was thwarting the idea that it was just information.
I decided to be directly transforming a feeling or an idea into an object. Being in that condition, the dream of the night became part of the daily life. Because I was living in the studio, in that place, and the work became part of my life. It was like a living activity.
And I had a dream that I was looking around for cardboard, and was cutting cardboard, it was like a recipe to make a rose, that I had in my dream. And getting up in the morning I decided to realize this recipe that I was dreaming in the night. I find the cardboard in my studio, and I did exactly what was the dream, and the work was done.
At the end of the dream I was giving the fire to the center of the rose, and I did it.
Because I was living the occasion of the moment, and getting up in the morning, the mail arrived. There was an envelope, and inside a catalogue of Jasper Johns, a square catalogue with Jasper Johns, he was smiling. In the morning, I see this face smiling to me, and I say, “OK, I will blow up it.”…I thought this the morning The Smile arrived.
The installation photos show the single, giant photo. And I always thought the cutout version, with The Ears of Jasper Johns came later. But Pistoletto says his idea was to make a 2×2 meter photo of The Smile, and that his printer only had meter-wide paper. The two sections are listed as each 80 cm wide. Everything’s 250cm tall. So there are some rounding issues, maybe, and the single pic is listed as 125 cm wide. Whether there was cropping or reprinting or both, I don’t know.
In any case, I was taken with the idea of tracking down the original photo–I assume it’s in the square catalogue for the 1964 Whitehall Gallery show–and making a giant Smiling Johns myself. But I guess sometimes it’s good to wait? Because in the mean time, the press around the show at The Broad helped surface this photo of Johns:
And oh my gosh, now I want to make 2-meter wide versions of this in an edition of a million and hang them everywhere on earth.