Say You’re In If You’re In

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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.
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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.

Elizabeth Warren, Filtered

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I know she’s not in the White House rn, but the tasty pixel pattern in this picture of Elizabeth Warren on Talking Points Memo caught my eye this morning. Until I noticed it was on her podium, too. And it’s also on the edges of her hair and hands. So it’s a Photoshop filter applied with a quick and somewhat dirty mask. Weird.
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TPM doesn’t give a photo credit, but I searched up the original. Looks like it was taken Saturday, Sept. 19 at the 2015 Massachusetts Democratic Convention by Dave Roback of The Republican [please, oldest joke in Springfield, I’m sure].
That is what digital projected video looks like in 2015. And anyway, those pixels aren’t even pixels; it’s the moire pattern from four-color offset printing. Which has been used to approximate visible RGB pixels on a television screen.
Have I already thought about this image more than whoever hacked this thing together, or whoever decided to use it? Or was there a moment of contemplation, a decision, to make an image look more retro? And if so, did it involve someone who’s possibly too young to have seen either moire or visible pixels?
Why Wall Street Is Howling Over The Big New Reform Coming Down The Pike [talkingpointsmemo]
Sen. Elizabeth Warren blasts GOP presidential candidates with fiery speech at 2015 Massachusetts Democratic Convention in Springfield [masslive]

Sforza, Heizer. Heizer, Sforza.

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If I had to make a list of photo ops I could never imagine, Michael Heizer standing alongside Pres. Obama and Sen. Harry Reid would be right up there. And yet here we are.
Heizer, along with LACMA director Michael Govan and others, gathered to celebrate the designation of the Basin & Range National Monument, which protects 704,000 acres of Nevada wilderness, ranchland, and Heizer’s decades-long project, City, from oil extraction or encroaching development.
Spiral Jetty‘s on 10 acres. Lightning Field‘s on a few thousand, plus DIA’s bought up 9,000+ surrounding acres to protect the view. With 700K plus a high-powered entourage at the White House, it’s as if Heizer has out-Earthworked all the Earthwork artists with the biggest Earthwork on Earth.
[via @RepDinaTitus]

Souza Over The Rainbow

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Big up, Pete Souza, who got this shot of Pres. Obama shooting a rainbow from his hand as he boarded the plane back from Jamaica yesterday. I have not seen Sforzian mise-en-scene that tight since Karl Rove tried to put George Bush’s head on Mt Rushmore.
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[Which, like so many things from that era, turns out to have been not so slam dunk after all. The image that circulated at the time, which I’m not finding right off, had GWB’s profile lined right up. But Google Image results now for that speech show a wide range of camera angles that miss or avoid the setup. Aesthetic resistance would have been more interesting at the time. Of course Souza’s not just any hack, he’s the White House hack, so he wouldn’t miss.]
What’s not shown in the photo will no doubt be added, the way people started sticking Hitler’s and Sarah Palin’s heads alongside Bush’s. The White House that trolled Netanyahu’s scary bomb poster in their infographic for the Iran nuclear talks had to know that anti-gay people people would be riled up by Obama shooting his rainbow laser everywhere.
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But the callous calumny of this twitter ad still caught me by surprise.
President Obama Shoots a Rainbow From His Hand in Jamaica [pete souza via jezebel thx @magdasawon]

Richard Nixon’s Last Look

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Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow over Dark Blue, 1964-5, from a suite of 27 color lithographs, ed. 29/75, loaned to Henry Kissinger for display in his White House office. Collection: SAAM
Who was Henry Kissinger’s favorite artist? Ellsworth Kelly. But that’s not important now.
While searching through the White House art loan records for the Nixon administration yesterday, I noticed that over the years, Kissinger borrowed several Kelly prints for his office, including the one above. It was a gift of the artist in 1966 to the National Collection of Fine Arts, which became the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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Claes Oldenburg, Scissors Obelisk, aka Scissors as Monument (Scissors Obelisk, Washington, D.C.), 1967 or 1968, ed. 144. Collection: SAAM
I first started wondering about art in the Nixon White House a couple of months ago, after I stumbled across a NY Times article describing a 1978 NCFA White House Loan inventory that showed hundreds of artworks missing, mostly from the Nixon era:

More than 100 prints, including a Claes Oldenburg poster, “Scissors Obelisk,” and an Andy Warhol “Flowers” poster, borrowed and displayed in the White House, at Camp David, and in the Presidential helicopter during the Nixon Administration, have not been found where they were supposed to be.

The reason I’m writing this should now be clear: Richard Nixon had art on his helicopter.

Continue reading “Richard Nixon’s Last Look”

Scott Sforza, Ottoman Cosplayer

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Europe and next to Europe. Ho. Ly. Smokes, Turkey, what the hell is going on with your imperial warrior cosplay Sforzian backdrops? After showing Mahmoud Abbas around the new Presidential Palace, Prime Minister Erdogan took him to a feast and a live jousting demonstration at Ottoman Times.
Abbas welcomed at Turkish presidential palace by Erdoğan – and 16 warriors [guardian, image: getty]

Paris Marching In Place: The Sforzian Montage

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image: crowds at the Place de la Republique, via reuters, I think
Europe. The states of Europe, united against terrorism and intolerance as they marched through the streets of Paris yesterday, led by the families of those killed this week,
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image: ap
and the heads of dozens of countries–including those countries where journalists are regularly jailed, flogged, and killed–marching arm in arm, marching, mar–wait, don’t march yet. Everyone in front, look up and…OK, march now.
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image by unknown, maybe TF1, via @rukhasgunsalu
As anyone who spent a moment contemplating the security nightmare might have guessed, the assembled leaders were actually not among the regular Charlies, but were instead marching in place, for the cameras, on a sealed-off street. If you thought otherwise, it might be because you were meant to. From the photos and slideshows, it sure could have seemed like one Paris March. As Twitter user Gonzalo put it, “Los líderes mundiales no encabezaron la Marcha de París, pero hicieron un montaje para hacernos creer que sí.”
A montage to make us believe they are. Instead of simply crafting a single, standalone image, make a photo-op that blends seamlessly into the broader visual narrative of the event. I believe this colonization of a montage represents an advance in Sforzian technique which warrants more investigation. Stay tuned.

Uncle Sam’s Club

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The Department of Homeland Security released this photograph of Secretary Jeh Johnson and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and their respective entourages visiting the Males 16-17 aisle in the Nogales Placement Center, where several hundred ? thousand? unaccompanied minors are being detained, after being arrested while crossing into the US.
I’m going to be Gurskying up images of these juvenile prison warehouse stores as I find them. I just cannot even right now.
Readout of Secretary Johnson’s Visit to Arizona [dhs.gov/news]

It’s Hard To Keep The Cowboys Straight

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Republicans: Gays, Drunks, Let God Sort’em Out, image: AP/Rex C. Curry via TPM
Yesterday I tweeted about Texas governor Rick Perry wearing his “Smart Glasses” and standing “in front of a Richard Prince mural” in San Francisco where he was condemned for comparing homosexuality to alcoholism.
This morning Mr. Prince tweeted the following, which, like most tweets that don’t mention me, I assumed to be about me:


Upon further review, it turns out the photograph of Governor Perry was actually taken last Thursday at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth, where the party was condemned for endorsing anti-gay “conversion therapy.”
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images ap/ray c. curry via chron
The image projected behind Gov. Perry is Lone Rider, Texas, a 1974 photo by William Albert Allard, originally published in National Geographic Magazine.
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detail of “West Texas Cowboy,” Allard’s National Geographic wallpaper
It is one of the first five results on Google Image search for “texas cowboy riding,” and given the saturation levels and pixellation, I suspect Gov. Perry’s people got their jpg from the National Geographic wallpaper collection and cropped out the copyright info and logo,
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and not from the C-prints for sale in Allard’s gallery.
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Allard was one of the original photographers for the Marlboro Man and Marlboro Country ad campaigns after they switched from models to real cowboys in the 1970s. Prince would begin rephotographing these print ads around 1980. As far as can be discerned, this image has not appeared in a Marlboro ad, and has not been rephotographed by Mr. Prince. Yet.
greg.org regrets the error.

Art Of The Bush School

You go to war with the paintings you have, not the paintings you might want or wish to have at a later time.
Right now the paintings we have are by George W. Bush.
Why do they exist? Why are they being exhibited? How are they being used and discussed? Why do they matter?

image via flickr
I think the simplest answer for why George W. Bush started painting is because he has nothing else to do. Bush is toxic and unemployable as a political figure. He can’t campaign for Republicans, can’t talk on television about anything important, can’t give speeches for money, can’t write memoirs, can’t travel to certain countries where he runs the hypothetical risk of getting arrested for war crimes. Painting is a harmless and respectable pursuit that offers an aura of cultured acceptability.
As he explained to Jay Leno, the idea of taking up painting comes from Bush’s fantasy of being, or being compared to, Winston Churchill. Churchill painted. Of course, Hitler also painted. If painting makes Bush like Churchill, does it make him like Hitler, too? Is either association, when based on painting, more or less outrageous than the other? Painting becomes a rhetorical device, an uncritical excuse for likening Bush to Churchill. This has political ramifications that should not be ignored, yet they almost always are. That’s the transformative power of painting.
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“I was sitting up here wondering how to kind of live life to the fullest,” Bush told the History Channel, a sponsor of the GW Bush Center’s exhibition, “The Art of Leadership: A President’s Personal Diplomacy.” “That’s the wonderful thing about painting. It’s absolutely transporting,” said Laura Bush.
Bush’s painted portraits of world leaders he worked with are central to the premise of the show, which is that “personal diplomacy,” i.e., personal friendships and relationships, are a transformative aspect of a successful foreign policy, i.e., Bush’s foreign policy. Bush is personable and sensitive, which these other leaders felt, which enabled the achievements of his administration, these painted portraits show.
The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy
Is that too heavy for you? The paintings are the lone, personal expression in an exhibit that’s otherwise nothing more than documentation of the systematic diplomatic ritual of documentation and exchange. They are flanked by “jumbos,” large prints of photos taken by the official White House photographers, a format which lines the halls of the West Wing. Many portraits are accompanied by state-themed statuettes, books, and objets, the official gifts Bush received from his counterparts.
“But the paintings provide a personal insight that such artifacts cannot,” wrote Dallas Morning News reporter Tom Benning, who toured the show with the artist:

As Bush walked through the exhibit, he stopped at each portrait to share not just an art critique, but a reflection.
He painted his dad, George H.W. Bush, in a “loving way,” as a “gesture of compassion.” He depicted Blair as a “good pal” with a “determined face.” He focused on the Dalai Lama’s lips to show his “gentle, sweet countenance.”
He aimed for a “sympathetic portrait” of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to highlight her sense of humor. He put a smile on former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to show that he’s “just a fun guy.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is “a little wary” and “suspicious about the future,” reflecting his “enormously difficult job.” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki “doesn’t look real confident,” a nod to his “fragile democracy.”
“Eyes are very important,” Bush said. “You can convey a feeling about somebody.”

This is as good a time as any to point out that Bush painted his portraits, not just from photographs–a common enough practice as well as a long-established conceptual strategy, though I think only the former pertains here–but from the top search result on Google Images. Many photos were taken from the subject’s Wikipedia entry. Bush based his paintings on the literally first-to-surface, easiest-to-find photos of his subjects.
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Is this meaningful in any way? If he had one, it would mean Bush’s studio assistant is very, very lazy. But in all his discussion of it, Bush’s painting practice appears to be a solitary one. He apparently did not tap the enormous archive of photos, taken by the professionals who followed him every day for eight years, which are contained in his giant library. Instead, it seems, he Googled the world leaders he made such impactful relationships with himself, and took the first straight-on headshot he saw.
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By outsourcing the editorial decisions about the source images to Google and Wikipedia, the rest of the paintings’ decisions can be claimed by The Decider himself. The sources serve as an index of Bush’s subjectivity, interpretations, and technique, only some of which is hinted at in his walkthrough. Maybe there’s an audioguide? Whether they are successful artworks in critical or aesthetic terms is an entirely separate question. But it is disingenuous, dishonest, or delusional to claim Bush’s paintings are not art.
They are the art of our time. The art of the 21st century. The art of the Bush Era and the Global War on Terror that made him famous. And for many who care deeply about art, that is very depressing. And damning. We yearn for art’s relevance in our society, for art to have an impact on our culture. We want people to experience art and to feel it’s important. Unfortunately, George Bush’s paintings accomplish all those missions. They’re the newsiest paintings to come along since George Zimmerman’s eBay auction.
Bush and his paintings grab the media spotlight just as reporters are gaining traction in the years-long struggle to account for the criminality and deception of Bush & Cheney’s CIA torture regime. The 6000+ page Senate report on the CIA, and the CIA’s own equally damning first account of itself, plus its responses, plus vast amounts of documentation of torture practices, are slowly moving toward declassification. Leaks are starting to emerge. Official facts are starting to be documented. The practices that continue to poison US courts, treaties, military & foreign policy, and intelligence, are finally coming into sharper view–and the man responsible for it all is successfully fending off his reckoning with a paintbrush.
Ironically, there is even more important art buried within the Senate’s trove of classified CIA documents. And as Bush was being interviewed by his daughter on NBC, these other artworks were still being actively suppressed. Jason Leopold and Al Jazeera reported that the Senate report contains detailed sketches of waterboarding by Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al Qaeda leader imprisoned at Guantanamo. He did not base his drawings on Google Images, but on his firsthand experience. As a “high-value detainee,” Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times at a CIA black site in Afghanistan, with each interrogation session authorized and closely monitored from the White House.
Zubaydah produced ten drawings on yellow legal paper and index card-sized paper, detailing multiple torture techniques he was subjected to, Leopold reported in 2011. Since the CIA illegally destroyed its own waterboarding videotapes in 2005, these drawings may be the most powerful visual evidence of the Bush torture regime we have left. In March Leopold also obtained and published Abu Zubaydah’s diaries from before his capture, when he had been waterboarded and interrogated by Pakistani intelligence–without, it should be noted, yielding any true or useful intelligence. Which the CIA knew.
The point is, once again, art matters. Art has surfaced in the most dire circumstances, at a crucial moment in our society’s history, produced by someone whose actions and moral standing confound our engagement with it. And culturally speaking, we don’t care; we’d rather see Bush’s folksy pictures from the internet. Every news story about Bush’s paintings represents ten reports not filed about Bush’s torture. In the art world, meanwhile, we’d rather not see it at all. Better to condemn and dismiss it quickly. Snark and move on. Stoke the indignance that keeps us and our practices unsullied. Ward off any engagement with cowering incantations of connoisseurship and facture.
This is how art appears in our society today. Art works, as they say, and this is what it does: it absolves and redeems and defuses and deflects. Ultimately, George Bush’s paintings are important less for what they show than for what they obscure. And the art world’s critical structures seem unable or unwilling to meet the challenge posed by the art of the torture & terrorism school.
The Art of Leadership runs through June 3, 2014 [bushcenter.org]