The first draft of history. History written by the victors What even is it? The barrage of nonsense comes so fast and thick and is so full of bullshit that the very notion of history feels out of date. Which is probably someone’s point. Or at the very least, in someone’s immediate interest.
Do you even remember the outrage when the Japanese Prime Minister’s Press Office released publicity photos of Shinzo Abe meeting Donald Trump at Trump Tower on November 17th, which revealed that Ivanka and Jared were sitting in on the meeting?
And then like two weeks later, the Times kind of buried the lede that at that very moment, Ivanka’s fashion label was negotiating a licensing deal with a Japanese apparel conglomerate whose majority shareholder is a development bank owned by the Japanese government.
Oh, hands were wrung, potential conflicts of interest were ruminated upon, denials and assurances were floated. And it all turned out to be bullshit, and that was also the same time Jared and Ivanka were in fact preparing to take up offices and jobs in the White House.
So maybe that’s a power of a painting: the ability to slow things down, even just long enough to have an impact, to make something stick, to give some context. It rewards the exercise of looking, looking longer, and looking back.
Campaign Ends April 26th: Our Guernica, After Our Picasso: A Kickstarter
I'm not saying we should commission GWB to paint this, but I'm not saying we shouldn't https://t.co/gVUVtN31UF
— gregorg (@gregorg) March 17, 2017
I swear, I tried not to do it, but the image was too strong. In the days since I started drafting this Kickstarter campaign, I quit several times. And then history kept catching up to this image. In fact, history started lapping it.
So yes, we need to mark this moment, this look on Chancellor Merkel’s face, on all our faces, when it was still possible to not believe what was happening before our eyes. And there’s only one painter who can do this moment justice. Unfortunately, he and justice are not really in a great spot right now, so we’re gonna use #chinesepaintmill and the Thomas Kinkade Editions Pyramid.
Our Guernica, After Our Picasso: collaged details from Michael Kappe/dpa photo, George W. Bush painting, and Picasso’s Guernica
In my darker moods, I imagine a series of paintings of such moments will come- Angelus Novus looking back and piling JPG upon JPG at his feet as the storm irresistibly propels us into the future. Can our brush-wielding Chinese allies capture the essence of Trumpian corruption with authentic Bushian flourish? Can we spread the resulting image(s) to the four corners of the warming, flooding earth to bear adequate witness? Let’s start with one and see.
Back “Our Guernica, After Our Picasso on Kickstarter now
UPDATE #1 After just a couple of days the project has gotten over halfway to its funding goal, thanks!
It has also been the subject of reportage by Will Fenstermaker at Artspace [who is also a backer, write what you know!] and AFC [“that’s a lot of layers to unpack for what’s essentially a meme” I do not disagree!]
On the more depressing news front, today, Day 3, might pass without a single new backer. Perhaps everyone’s too stunned at the floating of #Ivanka2024 by The Daily Caller [not linkin’, look it up], and worrying how a painting can somehow head off this meta-disaster. It probably can’t, but there’s a lot to be done in the mean time.
I’ve also noticed that backers are a savvy bunch. Folks seem to prefer the lower-priced, smaller prints at this stage. Possibly, I thought, because you’re reluctant to put up larger amounts of money for an artwork that you’ve 1) not seen because 2) it doesn’t exist yet.
It might be useful to reframe the entire project as a single conceptual piece, in which case, the physical manifestations are secondary to its core expression. But it’s still natural to wonder how it’ll look, especially if you’re contemplating getting a big one. I’m trying to think up a solution for this. Any advice or thoughts are welcome. And thanks again for spreading the word!
UPDATE #2 WHOA IT IS HAPPENING, THANKS! THE BALL IS ROLLING, THE CAMPAIGN IS CONTINUING. LET’S BUILD THAT PYRAMID AND LAUNCH A WHOLE BUSHMASTER CYCLE OF PAINTINGS TO DOCUMENT THIS THING!
David Hammons, Rock Head, 1998, image via: hairisforpulling
In 1992 David Hammons took clippings from the floor of a barber shop in Harlem and affixed them to the crown of a melon-sized stone from Harlem. He brought the stone back to the barber shop for a haircut alongside his friend and muse, the Lower East Side poet John Farris. The performance is known as Haircut. Hammons has made several similar sculptures of black hair attached to stone, then trimmed and cut with tramlines, which have been titled Rock Head or Stone Head. They are inspired by history and their surroundings. Black living is at their core. They honor uniqueness and celebrate the individuality of each piece Hammons creates.
“Made Solid is a collection of leather products designed and handmade in Los Angeles by Peter Maxwell and Mia.
Our design is inspired by our history and our surroundings. Western living is at our core.
We honor uniqueness and celebrate the individuality of each piece we create.
“The name Made Solid references the connection we create through our creative process and the end result of our labor. Making a solid connection between the raw leather our hands touch and the well used pieces our friends love is our constant goal.
“We are connected to our surroundings, bringing natural elements to our work. Ocean, sand, stone and sky are referenced.
“We bring our lifestyle to our work.”
In 2013, Maxwell and Mia conceived “one of their most popular and recognizable pieces” in collaboration with “one of their oldest friends,” Los Angeles designer Cristy Pitoc. Their Leather Wrapped Stones are sourced locally, “selected for shape and color,” and vegetable tanned leather is stretched around each stone with the wet molding technique used in saddle making. The edge is stitched, beveled and burnished by hand. “The leather is bound to the stone for life.”
“Use as a paper weight, worry stone, doorstop, art object – whatever it is to you.”
Wrapped Leather Stones have been featured in design-appreciative blogstores, literarily themed artisanal and locally sourced menswear emporia, and well curated home and lifestyle shops to, I’m sure, appropriately contemplative acclaim.
For the Holiday 2016 season Made Solid Leather Wrapped Stones were also curated into the Love, Pop-In Stores at select Nordstrom locations and at Nordstrom.com:
A paperweight? A conversation piece? A work of art? It’s up to you, but this smooth Los Angeles-area stone–wrapped in rich, vegetable-tanned American leather secured by sturdy contrast backstitching–is sure to draw attention wherever it rests. A traditional hardening process gives the leather a beautiful ombré effect. Like all Made Solid leather pieces, this one is cut, shaped, sewn and finished by hand in artist Peter Maxwell’s Los Angeles studio. Using vintage leatherworking tools and traditional saddle-stitching techniques, Maxwell aims to create beautiful designs that embody both simplicity and functionality, and that develop rich character and patina over time.
The collaborative contributions of Mia and Pitoc went unmentioned, but the availability of a leather wrapped stone did not, and Nordstrom’s Leather Wrapped Stone went viral in December as an object of superficial, reflexive media mockery and superfluity, the diametric opposite of their creators’ intentions. It appears they also sold out, but at what must be considered too high a cost, or too low a return; at the moment no Wrapped Stones are available in Made Solid’s online store.
Earlier this week Nordstrom confirmed they would no longer carry the licensed merchandise of Ivanka Trump, citing poor sales. Yesterday Ivanka’s father tweeted in outrage over the haters’ and losers’ slights, and the White House press secretary literally said Nordstrom’s decision to discontinue stocking Ivanka was an attack on the president’s policies and family. Discount clearance stores TJ Maxx and Marshall’s also both dumped the toxic, failing brand. Today as I type this, the other White House flack is violating federal law by literally declaring a commercial promoting Ivanka’s brand and telling people to go buy it.
Untitled (Sold Out) (2017) consists of things that actually did sell at Nordstrom, namely a Made Solid Leather Wrapped Stone. So whatever it is to you, it is now also a declared, limited edition inspired by [our rapidly unraveling] history and its surroundings. Though I will endeavor to pin it down, the size and location of the edition is presently unknown. Both small and medium Made Solid Leather Wrapped Stones purchased from both seasonal appearances at Nordstrom are included, but Made Solid Leather Wrapped Stones purchased elsewhere, are not, no matter what their size.
Fakes already abound, but if you believe you have an example of this artwork, please provide images and appropriate documentation of the provenance, and I will gladly issue a signed certificate. Requests for confidentiality will be honored.
The Vermeil Room in the White House as redecorated by Pat Nixon’s plumbers, photo c.1992, LOC via Phillips-Schrock
The White House needed renovation and redecoration, and the Nixons were determined to put their mark on the place. By 1969, the French interiors commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy were worn from use. Also they were detested by politicals as reminders of a martyred rival. H.R. Haldeman and new White House curator Clement Conger set out on an aggressive fundraising effort to remake the White House and its collections, a campaign publicly led by the First Lady Pat Nixon. The period room-style appearance of the White House to this day largely reflects Mrs Nixon & co’s work.
Based on my Google Books previews of it, this story of “the Dismantling of Camelot” is meticulously told by Patrick Phillips-Schrock in his 2016 book, The Nixon White House Redecoration and Acquisition Program: An Illustrated History.
Vermeil Room a la Boudin, c. 1964, image: whitehousemuseum.org
Phillips-Schrock’s account of the 1971 redecoration of the Vermeil Room on the ground floor of the White House is representative. From a caption of a photo of Boudin’s Kennedy-era design: “The room was expensively finished in painted surfaces in blue and white with vitrines lined in white silk. Conger found it offensively French…” [p.74]
From an interview with Conger: “What we have done in ‘face-lifting’ the Vermeil Room is to change the room from a very dark blue–which is rather depressing–to a light green-gray, the appropriate color as the background for vermeil, which is gold. You use blue with silver, but never such a dark blue!” [p.76]
The room was reconceived as an early 19th century sitting room, with a table at the center “attributed to the workshop of Duncan Phyfe, it was on loan until a donor could be found to purchase it.”
An 18th century lighting fixture in crystal with 10 lights replaced the Kennedy chandelier of bronze and blue tole. Further lighting was supplied by four matching sconces and by two candlesticks given by Mrs. Marjorie Meriwether [sic] Post, which were placed on the mantel. The fine Louis XVI marble fireplace was acquired and installed in 1962. [not too offensively French, I guess. -g.o] Within the firebox were a pair of valuable brass andirons, obtained from Israel Sack of New York. When the room was opened to the public, Conger related, “These are American andirons, so called ‘in the Paul Revere Manner’ with the flame and diamond lozenge–except they are a little more petite and narrow than the heavier ones of this same design one generally sees.” [p. 77]
The andirons abide.
American Andirons in the Vermeil Room, c.2008, image: CSPAN via whitehousemuseum.org
I mention this because I just googled across it. And because 1971 was a busy year for well-provenanced, Paul Revere-ish andirons. It was the same year Mrs. Giles Whiting bequeathed her Paul Revere (Attributed) andirons to the Metropolitan Museum. Interestingly, Mrs. Whiting’s Revere-ian andirons did not have a diamond and flame, but an urn and flame finial. Actually, I don’t know if that’s really interesting at all. Maybe what’s interesting about andirons is not the things themselves, but the complicated narratives into which they are enlisted.
Previously, related: Untitled (Andiron Attributed To Paul Revere Jr.), 2014 [greg.org]
I confess, when I heard parts of downtown DC were blocked off yesterday morning, my first thought was how this might affect my driving to the National Gallery.
But the composition and placement of this RESIST banner by Greenpeace makes this the most masterful work of art of our new era. Better even than the styrofoam copy cake. Scott Sforza could not have done it better himself.
Untitled (Republican Years), 2017, nine empty jumbo frames, installation photo: @davidnakamura
Pleased is not the right word, but I will announce the installation of a site-specific work, Untitled (Republican Years), in the West Wing of the White House this afternoon.
The title is a reference to a 1992 stack piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Republican Years) (below), to which it bears a resemblance.
Felix’s is, of course, an endless number of prints.
This work consists of nine empty frames for the large, official photos known as “jumbos”, lining a staircase north of the Oval Office. The wall normally contains ten jumbo frames, but one has been removed. Personally, nine still feels like too many. One feels like too many. In any case, tomorrow the work will no longer be on view.
Monday Update: Indeed, the work is gone. [via @davidnakamura]
installation shot, 2017, image via @juddlegum
Just when I thought Sforzianism was obsolete, and my ambivalence about designating politically charged stacks as works was abating, a cadre of Trump Organization staffers dressed the set of Donald’s press conference with six stacks of manila folders containing paper.
The folders were unlabeled; some, if not all, papers appeared to be blank; no reporters were permitted access to any of it. Trump described the tableful of paper in folders as a portion of the many, many documents he’d had to sign to create the trust that would hold his companies when he becomes president. His sons would manage the trust. That is about all. It is unprecedented, unaccountable, and almost certainly unconstitutional, and yet the existence of these stacks of unviewable, unknowable, possibly entirely blank paper furthers the likelihood that this trust fiction will proceed, with all the entirely foreseeable outcomes. This is an extraordinary effect for such an abject object as manila folders.
If this were a work, a Felix Gonzalez-Torres-style stack, I’d imagine it would be shown on a black-draped table. There’d be an ideal height, or number of paper and folders as seen here. But as the paper would be symbolically linked to Trump’s businesses and addressing the conflicts his businesses pose, I guess the supply could be infinite. Felix used the word endless, but I think that word is one of the reasons I’m not really sanguine about designating this right now.
UPDATE: Oh wow, more stacks. A stack of that Time magazine. Or, a stack and a bundle. This one falls somewhere between Felix and Robert Gober. via @mattmfm
Previously, mentioned: On Study for Untitled (Thick List)
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?
“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.
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.
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.
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
It seemed so much funnier when Cady Noland did it.
Maybe not funny, but at least it didn’t freak you out. Noland’s artworks drew from the raw aesthetic landscape of late 20th century built America to shed light on uncomfortable truths about patriotism, violence, commercialism, waste, the American psyche.
But it did it in an art context. Whatever it was, or however dark or unsettling, it was still [just] art. You could walk away from it.
Or wake up from it, like a bad dream.
Now there’s a white nationalist bigot in Florida trolling Muslims, and protesting Hillary Clinton and her treasonous supporter citizens by building a lock-em-up protest cage in the back of his pickup truck. No voter shenanigans, he says on Twitter: Trump landslide or in the cage ya go.
My instant impulse, or maybe it was a coping mechanism, was to make a Noland reference. Then as I got ready to post this thing here, and declare it a work [as one does around here], I got cold feet. The reality of this person and his anger and hatred and poisonous rhetoric and not-idle threats piled up, and I reconsidered. This is literally not-helping, I feared, it is making-worse.
But after a couple of days of looking, and thinking, and seeing this guy’s gesture/threat circulate, I came to see this as important. Or at least real. Relevant. This bigot’s sculptural move was atypical, even perhaps unique, but it is a datapoint in a network, a churning system of political hate. These images are of a physical object manifesting the digital flow of right-wing ideas and imagery across Twitter and Facebook. It’s a post-Internet avatar of Trumpist America.
Looking at it, now I wonder: is this how Noland saw, how she read, how she felt, when she made her works? Did she dream of making toxic, dystopian, American flag-draped cages, only to wake up and find the dream was still there? And wasn’t even a dream?
Hillary Clinton speaking at the closed Trump Plaza in Atlantic City July 6, 2016, image: philly.com/Tom Gralsh
I missed this while I was out of town, but Hillary Clinton hit a Sforzian jackpot when she gave a campaign speech on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, in front of the closed and failed Trump Plaza Casino.
Carl Icahn owns the building now, and the vestiges of Trump’s failure are literally written on the wall, providing a readymade Sforzian backdrop.
Or two. According to Amy Rosenberg’s report at philly.com, the Clinton campaign had originally wanted to stage their event a block inland, with the casino’s de-Trumped tower in the background, but it would have blocked traffic to Caesar’s. So they wedged in to a less optimal but still effective corner of the boardwalk, the ghosts of T-R-U-M-P lingered on the classy, glassy marquee.
same, this time via Asbury Park Press/USAT/Tom Costello
If you don’t count his kneejerk tweets blaming anyone else for his business’s failures while crowing about skating out of bankruptcy with a wad of investors’ dough, Trump’s reaction came Thursday. The Press of Atlantic City reports that the traces of Trump’s name were removed “for good” from the boardwalk facade. “Black paint has been applied to cover up any mention to Donald Trump.”
Untitled (Trump Plaza Black) Nos. 1-3, 2016, paint on panel, collection: Trump Entertainment Resorts/Carl Icahn, installation photo via Press of Atlantic City
Actually, from Jack Tomczuk’s (or Michael Ein’s, I can’t tell) photos, the traces of Trump’s name were not painted over, but were covered by painted panels. Five black monochromes were affixed to Hillary’s Sforzian corner, and to the fenced off boardwalk entrance, where the ghost of Trump’s made up crest remains visible but illegible.
The exhibition will remain on view at least through November. I would be stoked if you visit it and post photos.
Untitled (Trump Plaza Black) Nos. 4 & 5, 2016, paint on panel, each in two parts, collection: Trump Entertainment Resorts/Carl Icahn, installation photo via Press of Atlantic City
Hillary Clinton takes on Trump in A.C. [philly.com]
Faded ‘Trump Plaza’ removed after Clinton appearance [pressofatlanticcity.com]
image of yahoo tv via @thegarance
Those who don’t build a functioning campaign organization, including media and advance teams, are doomed to recycle 15-year-old Sforzian Backdrop techniques.
Yahoo’s Garance Franke-Ruta rightly called this “the most passive-aggressive work of campaign advance” she’s ever seen. This extraordinary wide shot of the scene comes from her Yahoo colleague Holly Bailey.
image via @hollybdc
Alumisource is in Monessen, PA, down the Monongahela from Pittsburgh, but this backdrop is straight out of the early Sforzian playbook. I’m not sure if we’re ready for a GWB election renaissance, or, frankly, if that kind of schtick even still works.
Trump gave most of his press conference in Scotland surrounded by these Nazi golf balls pic.twitter.com/UsUoVK3nkW
— Naomi O’Leary ⚡️ (@NaomiOhReally) June 24, 2016
I have tried to avoid the Sforzian analysis of this election. It feels like we’ve moved, or morphed, or devolved, or fallen, so far beyond, away, from the days of cannily placed powerpoint backdrops.
Sometimes, though, attention must be paid. As when comedian Lee Nelson threw a bucketful of Nazi golf balls at Donald Trump’s Scottish golf course press appearance.
Trump, who multiple sources confirm literally studied and embraced the speeches of Adolf Hitler-he kept them on his nightstand-was “surrounded by Nazi golf balls.” Nazi golf balls. Nazi. Golf. Balls.
From The Journal:
After around ten minutes, Trump campaign operatives decided it might be a good idea to start clearing them away – and set about scooping them up with a few of his branded baseball caps.
Make America Great Again Filled With Nazi. Golf Balls.
OH PROTESTER BONUS: Nelson was also the guy who showered corrupt FIFA head Sepp Blatter with money [thejournal.ie]
Wolfgang Tillmans is worried about the impending vote for the UK to remain in the EU. So he and his studio assistants created a set of posters to encourage people to stay in, and especially to vote, and to register to vote. UK voting registration must be completed by June 7.
After they were released yesterday, I tried to find a printer in the US who could easily handle an A1 (33×24 in, roughly) size. So far, nothing. I need to print them out before the vote, though; if it goes awry, I don’t think I’ll have the heart to make a memorial set.
I also tried to find anyplace that can confirm that Wolfgang’s parents are Polish and Spanish. He grew up in Germany, and I always understood he was German-in-London.
There are a couple of atmospheric landscapes, and some of the posters are now-classic Tillmans abstraction, but most of them are straight-up text, a new direction for Tillmans’ practice. Text are images, though, so it’s really not that far afield. The most intriguing poster for me is #24. It’s completely blank.
It’s probably the one that most closely mirrors my feelings about the EU’s right-wing turn lately; I just haven’t known what to say. And it boggles my mind that the Britain and Europe of my generation are creating such an existential crisis for themselves.
Read Wolfgang Tillmans’ letter and download and circulate the posters [tillmans.co.uk]
UPDATE: So I emailed Wolfgang’s studio to find out the story behind the blank poster, and the next day they replaced the pdf file. The new poster bundle includes two new posters, and the monochrome is gone. So now we know. And that original 4.21 pdf is vintage/collectible.