In early 2017, an editor I admire greatly asked me to write about the new aesthetic of presidential propaganda, a topic which has been a staple of this blog since White House advance man Scott Sforza transformed the September 11th attacks from Bush’s first great failure into his greatest pivot…for his even more devastating failures.
Anyway, point is, I was so traumatized by and angry at and afraid of what was coming, and how inadequate the standard tools of media critique felt, that I stumbled for months, and then ghosted them, and only too late apologized for failing to put this administration under the Sforzian lens. But of course, by then, we were all in it, and what was happening and what happened have indeed outstripped the norms we operated under.
And now here we are. At the pandemic, and the international crime, and the white supremacists, and the fascism, and the police violence, and the camps, and the deliberate destruction of government and public, and the fraud, and the religious extremists, and the armed vigilantes, and the elections, and now back this morning to the pandemic.
And here is a Reuters photo by Tom Brenner, taken at a campaign event in Jacksonville, Florida last week, which @corrine_perkins, @tomwhitephoto, and @brookpete daisychained into my Twitter feed this morning. It feels worth introducing into the flow of Sforzian imagery, but its impact is entirely of Brenner’s doing, not, obviously, its subject’s or his handlers’.
Max Mara created the Whitney Bag in collaboration with the Whitney Museum’s architect Renzo Piano to echo the facade of the new downtown building.
To celebrate its 5th anniversary, the cult bag has been revived in a special edition version dedicated to the American painter Florine Stettheimer who boasts an important presence at the Whitney. A feminist and activist ante-litteram (1871-1944), Stettheimer’s work “Sun”, created in 1931, inspired the bag’s five new color variants and the design of the floral printed lining. [via]
Nevertheless when she needed a Whitney Bag to carry a bible across a tear-gassed public park for her father’s photo opp, Ivanka chose white.
This weird practice I’ve been exploring leaves me very aware of how I discuss it, and of how works are explained. I try to be accurate about what I actually do, or what a work has to do with me. A lot of times, the work exists, and I announce it. Or I’m stoked to announce it. It’s on view. It is available. Sometimes it is conceptualized. Rarely is it conceived; that doesn’t feel like how it works. It’s not really found, though that is obviously part of the process. Same with declaring it, though I bridle at the ostensible ease, which can make me doubt myself as a Duchampian poseur, or an armchair usurper of someone else’s creative exertions.
But sometimes, rarely, exquisitely, there is a right word to describe the flow from which a perfect product emerges. In this case the word is realized. I realized this work in a hot-tweeted instant about an hour ago. This work was realized at the Hirshhorn Museum.
It is also interesting to me how immediately and completely realizing a work transforms the context and history around it. Something I hated with disgust I now love-hate. This huge, overbearing, aggressively dumb sculpture once seemed to me a monument to its own pomposity and that of the institution(al leadership) that brought it to town, then set it smack in the unavoidable center of things, then promptly discovered it was too big and unwieldy and expensive to get rid of, and that it wasn’t even clear the site’s hollow foundation could support the apparatus needed to remove it, or survive the attempt unscathed.
So yeah, amazing how that’s all changed now. And you can see it during the shutdown. What you can’t do, though, is ever unsee it.
“One night I could not have dreamed that I painted a large American flag, but the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that the artist mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection.
By draining most of the color from the flag but leaving subtle gradations in tone, the artist shifts our attention from the familiarity of the image to the way in which it is made. “White Flag” is painted on three separate panels: the stars, the seven upper stripes to the right of the stars, and the longer stripes below. The artist worked on each panel separately.
After applying a ground of unbleached beeswax, the artist built up the stars, the negative areas around them, and the stripes with applications of collage — cut or torn pieces of newsprint, other papers, and bits of fabric. The artist dipped these into molten beeswax and adhered them to the surface. The artist then joined the three panels and overpainted them with more beeswax mixed with pigments, adding touches of white oil.
cf. Study for White Flag, 2018, Crayola washable marker on coloring page, 8 1/2 x 11 in. (21.6 x 28 cm)
“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.
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.
The text in this edition is the law, S.188, first sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, who took issue with the commissioning of a $22,400 portrait of an Obama-era cabinet official who stepped down before the portrait was even finished to recover from a severe car accident.
It bans federal funds being used “for the painting of a portrait of an officer or employee of the Federal Government,” and then goes on to specify the Executive and Legislative organizations to which the law applies. There is no specific mention of the law’s applying to the Judicial branch of the federal government, or to unmentioned independent entities like the Smithsonian, NASA, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the Federal Reserve Bank, just to name four that come to mind. But perhaps the ban on any Federal employee is broad enough.
The implications for this law are as yet unknown. Perhaps it will lead to an expansion of photography-based portraiture, including, hypothetically, portraits by artists that rival the expense of paintings. Perhaps artists will create official paintings that are somehow not technically portraits, or at least not representational. Scott Pruitt could be depicted by a painted picture of the $25,000 concrete phone booth he had installed in his EPA office, for example. Or Ryan Zinke could be included as a small but still recognizable figure dwarfed by the active face of a giant, publicly subsidized coal stripmine.
Perhaps artists will paint the portrait for free with purchase of a frame, or a $31,000 office dining set, or a $125,000 door. Perhaps lobbyists, corporations, or others who wish to ingratiate themselves with a government official will donate their extravagantly expensive portraits, or commission them from the official’s dabbling wife. Perhaps painters will donate the portrait to an auction gala for a fake charity run by the president’s family and held at the president’s hotel, and the subject will need to bid his own portrait to a sufficiently high amount that he can keep his cabinet job another year. Or perhaps George W. Bush will paint them all.
I’m off the sauce now, but there was a time in my life where I was pretty deeply interested in American antique furniture, and so the significance of the chair Kehinde Wiley depicted President Obama sitting in felt like a story waiting to be told. Because no one mentioned it at the National Portrait Gallery event; I didn’t think to ask him about it until later; and none of the hottest takes I’ve seen have really taken up the subject.
Also, that chair felt terribly specific, and yet it is also pretty confounding. Its stylistic details do not line up easily with any period of 18th or 19th century American design. And if it wasn’t American, it might be British, and how did that happen? And if it wasn’t British, well, what could it be? The more I searched archives and museum collections and auction databases, the more convinced I became that the chair held a secret, especially when some of the similar comps out there were mid-19th century Neoclassical Russian. Oh damn, is that why Obama looks so serious? What sort of chair drop was this? [SPOILER ALERT: IT WAS NOT RUSSIAN.]
The details: an armchair with curved arms, with scroll ends that don’t reach the seat but have some kind of support, sometimes called an elbow chair. The arms are reeded, aka, they have grooves along the top. The skirt appears to have an inlaid pattern. The front legs are turned on a lathe. The back has both an oval top, which is either inlaid or carved, and a pierced splat below. All of this indicates a fine wood, either rosewood or mahogany. There are elements of Regency style, common in the 1800-10s or so, but most of the similar examples are from England. The round back feels like much later 19th century, though, and one super-savvy designer friend I asked suggested it was an 1870-80s American interpretation of earlier, Regency style.
So what does that mean? Where does it come from? Maybe the historical record is the better way to a solution? Except there is no remotely similar chair in the White House collection, or in portraits of previous presidents. (I think it was LA Times critic Christopher Knight who saw a reference in Obama’s pose to a seated Abraham Lincoln in a group portrait by George P.A. Healy. A salient reference, even if the chair is clearly different.)
I asked decorative arts curators, and an antique dealer, who all felt the chair was unusual, even odd, but no one could identify it or explain its significance. It felt like conceding defeat to ask the artist for the answer, which I did, two days later, via the NPG’s press office, since it’s their painting now.
Word came back, but no detail: Wiley had created the chair. It is an imaginary synthesis of design details for which there is no explanation. At least it’s not me, I thought. And I wondered whether this fixation on decoding stylistic quirks, the foundation of antique connoisseurship, was a foreign language of exclusion and privilege (yeah), and whether that came to bear. Or maybe the point of the chair was simply visual, aesthetic, a requirement for how it functioned in the painting in terms of pattern, form and design (maybe). The flowers may transmit a coded signal, but the ornate particulars of the chair are noise.
Or maybe there’s more explanation to be had some day
I went to the unveiling of the official portraits of Pres & Mrs Obama yesterday at the National Portrait Gallery, and I wrote about it for ARTNews.
You’ve seen the portraits by now, so I included a photo of them veiled, like fancied up David Hammonses. Which is a hot take I’d love to see.
I discovered that the Obamas created a playlist for the unveiling on Spotify, which I don’t use. But if someone wants to look it up, (“2/12 Obama Event Playlist,” if you can search for that kind of thing), lmk. (Update: it’s apparently not visible.) Meanwhile, here’s a partial track list so far:
Rise Up, Andra Day
When The Day Comes, Nico & Vinz
Matter of Time, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Black Gold, Esperanza Spalding (feat. Algebra Bresett)
Sign of the Times, Harry Styles
And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, Jennifer Hudson
Mi Gente, J. Balvin, Willy William (feat. Beyoncé)
Bang Bang, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande
Boredom, Tyler The Creator (?)
Space Boots, Miley Cyrus
Book Of Your Heart, U2
Our Guernica Cycle – EB-5, 05.06.2017, in the style of George W. Bush, 2017, oil on canvas, 50x80cm (20×28 in.)
On May 6, 2017, The New York Times reported, Jared Kushner’s sister met with potential investors in Beijing, trying to raise $150 million for the family’s Jersey City real estate project. She was promoting the EB-5 visa program, which essentially sells US green cards for making a $500,000 investment. Her PowerPoint slide showed photos of “EB-5 Visa Key Decision Makers,” including Senators Grassley and Leahy; DHS Secretaries Jeh Johnson (ex-, obv.) and Gen. John Kelly (now ex-, too, obv., and White House chief of staff); -and her brother’s father-in-law (and boss) Donald Trump.
Jared Kushner still owned major stakes in his family’s business at the time, having transferred only some of his holdings to his other family members when he became a White House employee. He would subsequently revise and refile his financial disclosure forms repeatedly to include previously undisclosed conflicts, contacts, and investments.
Kushner had tried mightily during the transition to secure Chinese investment in his company’s overleveraged flagship property, 666 Fifth Avenue. His efforts failed, and his partner, Vornado, has since declared that their ambitious plan to redevelop the office building into a multi-use megatower-and refinance it at a much higher valuation-was no longer feasible. The property is on track to go bankrupt as early as 2018, putting the Kushner’s equity at risk. Our Guernica Cycle – EB-5, 05.06.2017 is the second painting in an ongoing series. I now see the Our Guernica Cycle as proceeding in roughly chronological order. It is November, and the outrageous Guernica moments since May are obviously piling up like leaves in the gutter. But the pace of disaster puts us all at risk of forgetting or acquiescing to the obvious wrongs of just a couple of months ago. If painting can do anything at all, it should be able to recalibrate our narrative clocks a bit.
So here is a painting, and a pyramid of prints, of the US president’s family hyping his political power to sell visas in exchange for investing in their private real estate company.
While it is similarly painted in China, in the attempted style of our still-most-relevant painter,
George W. Bush, EB-5, 05.06.2017 obviously differs from the Ivanka / Merkel 03.17.2017 work in several ways. For one thing, it’s done before you decide to buy it. I honestly cannot imagine how this helps. But then, given what we all knew going into it, I could not imagine why anyone, including me, would want to have an awful painting of Ivanka & Merkel in my life, either. Even more than before, this is a case of urgency, of feeling the need for an image of a moment of a crisis to be produced, disseminated, and preserved, even while the crisis continues. To bear witness, to #neverforget.
This work is further complicated by having the actual picture of Trump in it. Could it be any tougher of a sell? On the bright side [sic], the execution of the image is, I believe, more skillfully Bushian than ever. So at least it’s a good bad painting of a corrupt cabal. Right? And anyway, the gradient is probably the best part.
The Modified Kinkade Pyramid is in effect, and all prints will be available in the identical sizes and editions as the first work. However, blighting the image by hand will only take place upon request. So please make a note if you want more blight. The print was made available first to original Kickstarter backers, and now it is available generally, for a limited time. It is discounted 10% because y’all are all VIPs to me, but also to take into account a better sense of actual production and shipping costs. As before, any surplus will be turned back into producing the next images in the Cycle.
Literally no one has asked, but it is possible that the first print, Ivanka / Merkel 03.17.2017 could be made available as well.
Thank you again for your engagement during this ongoing disaster.
Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery), 2017, printer’s proof. ink on rag, 27×31.5 in., $860., limit one per collector, image: ap/jacquelyn martin via @_cingraham
Art and the Mnuchins can never get too far apart from each other. Today Steven Mnuchin was photographed by the Associated Press holding the printer’s proof for a new print edition, Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery). It is issued in a signed and stamped edition of 10, plus 4 artist proofs.
Half of the edition is a #monochrome painting on an uncut 50-subject sheet of $1 bills signed by Steven T. Mnuchin. If you asked me this second the only possible color would be black, insta goth dom leather glove black, into the conscienceless pits of hell black, fund passthrough tax cuts by raising taxes on everyone else and gutting health care soul black, but that might change.
Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (paper painting), 1953, 18x14x4 in., shoe box tissue paper, glass, wood base. lost or destroyed.
The other half is 50 $1 bills signed by Steven T. Mnuchin, shredded by hand, in an appropriately scaled perspex display case inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s lost Untitled (Paper Painting) of 1953. All examples are accompanied by an engraved, signed and stamped certificate of authenticity.
As moneyfactory.gov [srsly] has only begun producing Mnuchin notes today, and moneyfactorystore.gov only offers uncut notes from 2013, with former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s signature on them, the actual release date for this edition is still to be determined. You may add your name to the waitlist.
Previously: Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery), 2017, pdf
Related: Untitled (Crystal Bridges), 2015
2011: ArtCash by Warhol, Rauschenberg, et al for E.A.T., including bills featuring the ur-print-your-own-money traitor Jefferson Davis
Sean Hannity going full Glenn Beck on Fox News, via @mikedelmoro
Mike Kelley, Entry Way (Genealogical Chart), 1995, via phillips
Mark Lombardi, Banco Nazionale del Lavoro, Reagan, Bush, Thatcher, and the Arming of Iraq, c. 1979-1990 (4th version), 1998, collection: moma.org
Our Guernica Cycle – Ivanka / Merkel 03.17.2017, 2017, 50x80cm, oil on canvas and associated print editions, greg.org
Happy apparent Birthday, Ivanka!
I’ve been staring at her distorted portrait for so long, it took the shock of the news yesterday to make me realize I have not actually, officially, gone public with the results of the first picture I Kickstarted. “Our Guernica, by Our Picasso,” an historic painting to mark the moment last March when Ivanka Trump turned up in a White House meeting with the leader of the free world, Angela Merkel, executed in the style of George W. Bush.
In the course of production of the pyramidful of print editions, plus some canvases, the project became Our Guernica Cycle, and Ivanka/Merkel 03.17.2017 became the first image, unfortunately, and not the last. I’ve now lived with these images for almost six months. All but two of the project backers have received their merch [the last two canvases are staring at me right now, set to be shipped before the opioid crisis is solved.]
And a new image is complete. It is a moment for reflection. Also a moment to celebrate getting these things out of the house. And I’m still asking the question I started with: what is art supposed to do? What is a painting for? The image I ended up with is terrible. In the process of applying the Kinkade-ian custom “highlights,” I realized they could only and ever make things worse. I started calling them “highblights,” or just “blight.” I gave backers the choice between “more blight!” and “it’s bad enough!” and they split almost evenly. With the last works going out the door, I am still undecided.
What does it mean, too, for an artwork to be experienced only [or largely] privately, by its purchasers? It is the antithesis of a Guernica; it’s My Own Private Guernica. Our Guernica.
The greatest outcome from this project has to be the show of support, the collective, shared outrage combined with an open-eyed engagement with art, even knowing it will not solve the horrible problems looming all around us. 59 people bought prints that didn’t exist of an image that hadn’t been created yet, in order to see it happen. And that is amazing, and I am very grateful. Maybe the real Our Guernica is the friends we make along the way.
Six months later, though, we’re obviously not through this. The world has not ended [I’m writing this at 11:39 on Monday night. Oh, I’m just about to publish it at 1PM on Tuesday.] The world has not ended, but our town square is still being strafed by Nazis. So Our Guernica is Our Guernica Cycle. What does that mean?
In the spirit of #thisisnotnormal, I’ve been working my way through images and possibilities, with the goal of accurately witnessing and capturing the political horrors and threats that surround us. Even more than Guernica, I’ve been thinking of Goya, whose Disasters of War series, 80+ prints whose creation occupied decades, and which Goya did not anticipate publishing in full in his own atrocity-rattled lifetime. I’ve especially come to appreciate the Chapman brothers’ Insult to Injury project, [above] where their clownish embellishments of a Goya Disasters of War portfolio condemned the folly of Bush & Blair’s Iraq War. [Called it, obv.]
So I expect this series will go on a while. After the backers were taken care of, I used the rest of the Kickstarter project funds to commission the next painting. It, too, has arrived. I think I will invite the original backers to order one first, but it should be available soon. It, too, was created with instructions to look like George Bush had painted it. The Chinese painters I’m working with seem to have gotten a little better at this bad style. Perhaps that will be when we know the Cycle is complete: when the #ChinesePaintMill system designed to industrialize Gerhard Richter’s paint-from-photo tactics can successfully reproduce the clumsy expressionist facture of the man who is still, alas, America’s most relevant painter. So stay tuned. Our Guernica, After Our Picasso [kickstarter]
Previously, related: On Coming Around on Insult to Injury