Missing Wynn Kramarsky

I met Wynn Kramarsky on the internet almost exactly 25 years ago to the day. It turned out not to have been my first encounter with him, but I’ll get to that. We met on Usenet, a global, distributed message board/listserv that was organized by topic, sort of like how reddit is now. It was August 1994, and I had just reported to alt.art.robert.smithson about my visit to Spiral Jetty. Wynn commented enthusiastically and wanted to know more–Spiral Jetty had only emerged from the Great Salt Lake a few months earlier, and was visible for the first time in decades [sic. By analyzing lake levels I’ve since concluded it was visible for a year or two in the 1980s, but it seems no one looked/reported/cared.] We emailed. He offered to send me a catalogue from a recent Smithson exhibition at Columbia, what was my address? On the internet of 1994, it seemed wilder to me to give a stranger a catalogue than to give a stranger your address. It was only when the book arrived with a note and his card that I realized Wynn was lending it to me. I could bring it back on one of my trips to New York (I was at business school in Philadelphia), and we’d go to lunch.

And that’s what we did, a couple of months later. We met at his office in SoHo, the entrance of which was lined with thousands of books. That first visit, an extraordinary Richard Serra work, multiple sheets of paper with ink applied in large slabs with a roller, filled the first open wall. The internet has been failing to surpass itself ever since.

After we’d toured both floors of his SoHo space and had a sandwich with his staff, we went into his office. Behind his desk was a drawing Robert Smithson had made on a large, aerial photo of the Kennecott Copper Mine. I knew it because I had bid on it the year before, when it had come up for auction at Sotheby’s. I had just quit my job and was preparing to go to grad school, and I really had no business bidding, even during a recession. But I really wanted it, and so I made a couple of bids for it before giving it up to the winning bidder. I apologized for running up the price on him, and then I thanked him for not bankrupting me.

Wynn and I became art correspondents, and we’d meet of the years while he was actively putting on shows. He was as infectiously passionate about the work of young and emerging artists as he was about the people he’d known and collected for decades. At his encouragement, I met artists and visited studios I never would have thought to reach out to otherwise. He made me want to be a better, more thoughtful collector by being a curious and engaged counterpart for artists, not just a consumer.

We both got more actively involved in supporting MoMA around the same time–on obviously different levels–and he was always generous with advice and insights. He took collecting and donating seriously, and was always cognizant of a responsibility to artists and to society. I still feel the impact of his incisive observations of socialites, unserious collectors, or museum groupies angling for respectability on my own views of how the art world should or could work. When a committee meeting I was running at MoMA got derailed one night by some tedious presentation, I immediately felt the weight of Wynn’s story about the flaky chair of a museum board he’d been on: “She wrote a check, but she sure couldn’t run a meeting!”

When I began writing, especially for the Times, and later on topics like early Jasper Johns, the Jetty, or Tilted Arc, Wynn’s was always a voice I sought out and trusted, and he always spoke very candidly. I always got the sense he didn’t want to be quoted, though, and so I never did. I also always got the sense that he operated out of a profound respect for the artists he knew, and for their work. It felt like artists trusted him, and that he cherished that. I miss Wynn and mourn for the loss his friends and family are experiencing, but I’m grateful for the chance to know him, and for all he did and showed and taught.

 

Walter De Maria Said What Now?

I cannot even with this caption on this photo of Walter De Maria’s 1969 work, Good Fuck, at Cornell. image: Ithaca Journal via grupaok

Some day I will learn to visit grupa o.k. more frequently in order to better time my awe to their discoveries, but that day is not yet. And so I just saw their January post of Walter de Maria’s contribution to Willoughby Sharp’s foundational exhibition Earth Art, staged in 1969 at Cornell’s White Museum.

Here is how that piece went down, and the Ithaca Journal’s image of it, as told by Amanda Dalla Villa Adams in a 2015 essay on De Maria’s sound works at the Archives of American Art. Did I mention the title of the piece yet?

When Sharp asked De Maria to participate in the show, the artist wrote back a letter outlining his project. Proposing to exhibit a mattress and an audiotape of crickets in the room (presumably Cricket Music), Sharp promptly rejected the work, stating, “in no uncertain words that each artist in the show had to touch dirt.” In the wake of Sharp’s decision, an alternative proposal was submitted according to the curator’s requirements. Sharp later described De Maria’s installation of the accepted work:

[De Maria flew in and during the opening—and there were hundreds of people going through the museum—he had the cartons of earth emptied into the center of the floor, and then he got his only tool, which was a push broom, with bristles and a long handle, and he pushed the earth into a carpet that was about two inches high. And when that was done to his satisfaction—he did it very meticulously—he took the broom and turned it so that the end of the broom handle became a marker and very slowly, across this tablet of earth, he wrote G-O-O-D, and then F-U-C-K…As soon as Tom Leavitt (then director of the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art at Cornell University) saw that, and realized that there were kids at the opening as well as the president of Cornell, they cordoned off the room, put up Sheetrock, and the next day the piece was swept up and dispersed.]

This long retelling of Sharp’s story is important for reassessing De Maria’s earth-based projects and reinserting the foundation of sound to his overall career. According to Sharp, the earth carpet was Plan B; dirt became essential because of curatorial limitation. More akin to his much earlier ironic game pieces, such as Boxes for Meaningless Work (1961), where the viewer is constantly reminded that what he or she is doing is meaningless, Good Fuck is an irreverent jab at the art community.

The title itself is a gimme, obv, but it’s the idea of dirt as De Maria’s Plan B and curatorial imperative that sticks with me. Also as Adams’ footnotes point out, Sharp’s timeline doesn’t quite compute. In her 2013 review of MOCA’s Land Art show, Suzaan Boettger notes that De Maria’s piece stayed on view for several days, but when the university came after it, he and MIchael Heizer both pulled their works in protest. [Boettger brings it up because they both refused to participate, officially, in the MOCA show, too, thus sucking up all the attention by their absence.]

UPDATE: Is there any discussion of earth art that cannot be improved by a little digging? [I am so sorry.]

After thanking me for the mention, Suzaan Boettger pointed out that in fact, she discovered Good Fuck, and Heizer’s work at Cornell, Depression, in the course of researching her 2002 book, Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties [UC Press]. As soon as I saw the cover in my shopping cart, I recognized Boettger’s book, but I am pretty sure I had not read it, because I would have remembered this:

De Maria had arrived at the museum during the opening and, while visitors watched from behind the closed glass doors of the gallery assigned to him, raked the earth that student assistants had provided into a smooth shallow rectangle. He then used the tip of the rake handle to inscribe in capitals on a diagonal across this earthen rug’s surface the words GOOD FUCK. Considering the earth is traditionally coded female, this recalls the archaic practice by a male farmer of copulating with a virgin on a newly furrowed field to insure its fertility. [p.165]

Well. we will never see wall-to-wall carpet of Earth Room or the rows of poles piercing the Lightning Field the same way again, will we?

Boettger’s version also has the work on view for at least “a few days” before White Museum director Thomas Leavitt told the artist he would close the work off in advance of an elementary school group visit. De Maria and Heizer pulled out, so to speak, together.

There should probably be a limit on the number of curatorial WTFs in a single post, but the fact that neither artist nor their work were mentioned in the exhibition catalogue, and that Heizer’s participation in a related symposium was edited out of the published version  of it, seems like pure institutional malpractice. Boettger found documentation of the works, her footnotes reveal, in a Cornell archive separate from the museum’s own exhibition archives. And Sharp’s account only came out years later. It really should not have taken until 2002 for information on these artists and their works to surface.

On the bright side, Heizer’s withdrawal of his work seems to have been a major pain in the ass for Cornell; the dirt excavated from his 8-ft deep, 75-ft long trench had been repurposed for other artists’ works, so it couldn’t be swept away so easily. But by then, all the critics and VIPs had been flown back to Manhattan on Cornell’s private plane. #junkets

“Draw a Straight Line and Follow It (Repeat): Walter De Maria’s Cricket Music and Ocean Music, 1964–1968 [aaa.si.edu, 2015]
This Land is Their Land [caa journal, 2013]

Better Read #012: In The Domain Of The Great Bear, By Mel Bochner & Robert Smithson

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Reading a Dan Graham interview transcript about magazine articles as artworks, and contemplating the [so far] failed campaign for Giant Meteor ’16, I thought of Mel Bochner’s and Robert Smithson’s In The Domain Of The Great Bear, published in the Fall 1966 issue of Art Voices. This edition of Better Read is two excerpts from that work, which I imagined as a diptych.
PDF scans of In The Domain Of The Great Bear can be found in various places online [pdf]. The version I like is on Mel Bochner’s own website [pdf], because it preserves the appearance of the work as originally published. Bochner spoke about Domain at a 2005 Smithson symposium at the Whitney Museum. I was at that symposium, but the New York-centric historian who said visiting the Spiral Jetty site doesn’t matter, the film is enough, and Nancy Holt’s nonchalant comments about adding more rocks to the Jetty have obliterated all other memories of that day. Fortunately the talk was later adapted as “Secrets of the Domes” and published in the September 2006 issue of Artforum.
serendipitous update: I happened across the John Wilmdering Symposium at the NGA from last Fall, where art historian Justin Wolff talked about Rockwell Kent’s End of the World lithographs, which were made for Life Magazine. For a story, though, about a very popular program at the then-new Hayden Planetarium, where scientists would speculate on the many ways the earth could be destroyed. So this was not just Smithson; it was a Hayden thing. Great [End] Times. [oh, spoiler alert?]
Download Better_Read_012_Bochner_Smithson_Domain.mp3 [9:36, mp3, 13.8mb, via dropbox greg.org]

Double Double

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One of them, anyway: Michael Heizer Double Negative, 1969, south side, where the calving of boulders and sediment is becoming significant. image: August 2016, greg.org
There is so much about Sturtevant I don’t know, and it amazes me every time I find out something else about her and her art.
For example, have you read Bruce Hainley’s book about Sturtevant, Under The Sign of [sic]? Of course you haven’t, because if you had, the other week when that New Yorker profile of Michael Heizer came out, ALL you would have been thinking and tweeting and yammering about was Sturtevant’s Heizer Double Negative.
I repeat, Sturtevant had a project to repeat Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, within months of Double Negative‘s unveiling, and it was called Heizer Double Negative.
And it would have been NEXT TO Double Negative.
Let’s read on.

Continue reading “Double Double”

The Jetty Foundation Presents, Send Me Your Money

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A couple of days ago I received a check. Actually, The Jetty Foundation, of which I am the president, received a check. It was from the State of Utah for fifty dollars, an overpayment of a filing fee for annual withholdings taxes.
[I created The Jetty Foundation as a not-for-profit corporation in 2011 in order to bid on the lease for state-owned land underneath Spiral Jetty. Though the Foundation’s bid was not accepted, the terms we proposed ended up getting baked into the renewed lease the state signed with the Dia Foundation, so that was nice.
The Jetty Foundation was not party to any of the negotiations or activities of Dia and its new local Utah partners, and has had no formal activities since 2011. Recently, though, I have discussed making a publication of historical documents related to the Jetty and its site. And also the feasibility of conducting open-access conservation surveys. For these possibilities and any others, that might arise, I have maintained the corporate entity in good standing. Corporations are people, too, after all.]
Alas, this corporate person does not have a bank account, and cannot sign over its check to me, the president, who paid the fee in the first place. And it seems kind of ridiculous to set up a corporate bank account solely to deposit one check.
I considered offering the check as an artwork, a unique work on paper, whose worth might surpass its face value. I thought of copying it a bunch of times as an edition. I half-joked on Twitter of just gathering a bunch more money for the Foundation, enough to make opening a bank account worth the effort. Well, no one’s laughing now.
greg.org is pleased to announce A Very Special Episode of Better Read, an adaptation of Chris Burden’s 1979 radio work, Send Me Your Money, benefitting The Jetty Foundation, as re-performed by a robot.
[Just as I am not interested in the various art student re-performances of Burden’s more physically extreme early works, the several other human re-performances of Burden’s Send Me Your Money kind of bored me. I did find it interesting that the robot voice cut nearly fifteen minutes off Burden’s time, even after I tried to manipulate its pacing. But It was listening to a pledge drive on a local public radio station tonight that sealed the deal; this is audio vérité.]
Download Better_Read_Jetty_Fndn_SendMeYourMoney_20160513.mp3 from dropbox greg.org [mp3, 41min, 59mb, via dropbox greg.org]

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]

Jetty With A View

Jetty, dir. Skylar Nielsen, starring Julian Sands

RadioWest, the local public radio talk show on KUER in Salt Lake, devoted an hour to Spiral Jetty this morning. Most of the time was spent talking with art historian Ann Reynolds, Dia’s Jetty curator and Utah liaison Kelly Kivland, but there were segments from local earthwriter Terry Tempest Williams and director Skylar Nielsen. It was the debut of Nielsen’s short film Jetty, commissioned by KUER, that was the hook for the discussion. Jetty had been conceived and shot one morning in September when the actor Julian Sands was coming to town to do Pinter, and he wanted to visit the artwork, which he’d heard about from his friend in LA, Michael Govan.
But this is all backing into the story. Which nonetheless feels necessary, because it was a fascinating and perplexing conversation that, the main guests’ credentials notwithstanding, felt utterly detached from the art [historical] context, and its theoretical discourses. Instead of that construct, Spiral Jetty exists, in a public place, in the open, in a culture, and that is Utah. Utah is the site. Which makes the art world the non-site, I guess?
First, they didn’t discuss Robert Smithson’s film Spiral Jetty at all. Reynolds made one reference to a photo of oil derricks, but that was it. Which is amazing. In 1993, the last year before it resurfaced, curator Robert Sobieszek wrote of Spiral Jetty “coevally manifesting itself as a sculpture, a film, and a text,” In practice, though, for two decades, the film was the work; the site was irrelevant. This perspective reflected the physical reality of the submerged, i.e. basically lost/destroyed, sculpture, far off in BF Utah, which, New York and the art world were central, check out the view from up here, and Utah’s marginality was the self-reinforcing reason Smithson had picked it. With the re-emergence of the jetty, the enlightened pilgrimage through the chain restaurant cultural desert to the abandoned, entropic wasteland kicked in.
If this morning’s discussion was any indication, Spiral Jetty has been pulled to Utah’s bosom and squeezed, hard. Redeemed from its oil-drilling & tar-seeping failures, it is a manmade monument at one with nature that offers spiritual solace and communion with the land, sky, and water. It is experiential above all, an engine of personal transformation and enlightenment for all who walk or contemplate it. Reynolds’ top tip for visiting Spiral Jetty is to camp out there. And if you can’t at least spend 24 hours. Kivland, whose first visit to Spiral Jetty was in October 2011, with Nancy Holt, as part of the lease renegotiation process, agreed, and committed to visiting for the long haul. [Note: there are no facilities for camping at Spiral Jetty, and all the land you hike on is privately owned. Is Dia contemplating some infrastructure to turn Spiral Jetty into a more Lightning Field Experience?]
Smithson’s pseudo-mystical writing is used to support this reconfiguration of Spiral Jetty into a devotional labyrinth for psychic discovery. Tempest-Williams gave perhaps the most highly evolved expression when she talked about how the submerged Jetty gave her solace when her mother died in 1987, and how walking its re-emerged path with her adopted Rwandan son gave courage that life will go on when she finally visited it, in 2011. Which, girl? That thing’s been out since 1995, and yet you didn’t go until 2011? I’m two degrees from Tempest-Williams and respect her and her work, but this strikes me as a pristine example of her ability to refit something, anything, into a deeply felt reflection on the landscape of her self.
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Or maybe the apotheosis here is actually the Jetty film, created seemingly on a whim, with a helicopter and a dronecam, when the radio folks heard their famous actor/guest wanted to visit the site. In 3-minutes Nielsen puts Smithson’s film through a Fincher filter, with distorted titles, non-spatial edits, and Sands trudging around the landbound jetty, literalizing the Smithson text he intones in a voiceover:

On the slopes of Rozzle Point
[AERIAL SHOT OF SLOPES]
I closed my eyes and
[CUT TO FAST ZOOM ON SANDS STANDING AT APEX OF JETTY, EYES CLOSED, ARMS OUTSTRETCHED TAKING IN THE]
the sun burned crimson through the lids.
[ZOOM TIGHT ON HIS FACE]
I opened them
[SUDDENLY OPENS EYES]
and the Great Salt Lake was bleeding scarlet streaks.

Then “improvising as he saw fit,” Sands begins reciting lines from “The Windmills of Your Mind”:

Like a circle in a spiral
like a wheel within a wheel
never ending of beginning
on an ever-spinning reel

It reminds me of nothing so much as Sands’ portrayal of George Emerson in A Room With A View, who climbed a Tuscan tree to shout his creed and the Eternal Yes to Nature herself.
Actually, I saw A Room With A View as an impressionable freshman in Salt Lake City, though I wanted to be Freddie. And I was the only one in the packed theater to laugh out loud at Daniel Day-Lewis’s garden party scene. I may have to reshoot this movie.
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Oh man, or just mash it up.
“Mr. Sands, Mr. Nielsen, and Mr. Fletcher fly out in helicopters to see a view. Utahans fly them.”
“I have a theory,” said Judi Dench’s Eleanor Lavish, “there is something in the Rozel Point landscape that inclines even the most stolid nature to romance.”
Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty [radiowest.kuer.org]
Jetty, dir. Skylar Nielsen, starring Julian Sands [vimeo]
Behind the Scenes | Spiral Jetty [vitabrevisfilms]

l’Autre Jetée

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We went exploring the Camargue today, and came across these giant mounds of salt being processed south of Salin de Giraud, which looked a lot like the ones in Doug Aitken’s app, commissioned by Maja Hoffman’s LUMA Foundation in Arles. It turns out to be next to some evaporation fields which are the color of The Great Salt Lake at Rozel Point, the color which inspired Robert Smithson to choose the site for his most famous work. This panorama shows these two artists’ fields together for the first time.
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The obvious thing, then, is to combine the two landscapes, creating a spiral jetty out of mounds of pure salt in the pink evaporation ponds. It won’t last, of course, but that’s what entropy’s all about, and public art. To the extent such a word is applicable in this site and situation, the LUMA Foundation is the obvious partner and platform to make this Phantom Spiral Jetty appear.

A Report From The Las Vegas Piece Junket

Last summer I wondered about finding and visiting Walter de Maria’s Las Vegas Piece, three miles of trench bulldozed into the Nevada desert in 1969. [Technically, I wrote about the Center For Land Use Interpretation’s account of leading curator Miwon Kwon’s graduate seminar on a hunt for Las Vegas Piece, and about how the artist prepped people for visiting the piece, and about just recreating the damn thing already, we have the technology! Did you know Sturtevant worked on plans to make a double of Double Negative? On the ravine on the Mormon Mesa right next to Michael Heizer’s fresh original? Holy smokes, people, read Bruce Hainley’s book. But that’s another post.]
Yes, the piece is supposedly lost, and now de Maria is, too. And so all we’re left with is his description of Las Vegas Piece from his 1972 oral history interview with Paul Cumming.
But no, there is another. The late curator Jan van der Marck wrote about visiting Las Vegas Piece in the catalogue for an exhibition of “instruction Drawings” from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman collection at the Bergen (NO) Kunstverein in 2001. van der Marck was a founding curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and was involved in organizing artists’ response to the police violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention. But that’s another post, too. Here’s van der Marck’s crazy story of what amounts to an Earth Art junket: [with paragraph breaks added for the internet]:

Earth art turned into a personal experience for me in February 1970 when Virginia Dwan invited me and a few German art writers and museum directors to join her and the artists Michael Heizer and alter De Maria on a quick inspection of some new works in the Nevada Desert. From the Las Vegas airport our small band traveled ninety-five miles in north-northeastern direction on unpaved roads, in the back of Heizer’s pickup truck.
That afternoon was going to be devoted to De Maria’s Las Vegas Piece, which he would describe to us only as “an extensive linear work on a flat valley floor.” An hour before sundown we arrived at our destination and were gripped by the stillness of the landscape. Before us stretched a freshly dug, eight-foot deep ditch in the sage brush-covered desert soil, in the distance loomed the purplish mesas.
We had to lower ourselves into the bulldozed trench, which wind and erosion already had given a natural look, and we were to start walking. Other trenches would branch of, the artist warned us, and choices had to be made, but it would not take us long before the layout could be deduced from the turns with which we were faced. The first man or woman able to draw a mental map was encouraged to shout and would be declared the winner. And, by the way, De Maria added, ‘don’t go the full three miles, because if you do, you are not much of a mathematician!” The configuration we were to discover for ourselves in the least amount of steps was a one-mile incision into the landscape meeting another one-mile incision at a right angles [sic]. At the midpoint of each one-mile stretch a set of half-mile ditches branched off, meeting each other at a right angle and forming a perfect square. Walter De Maria’s Las Vegas Piece, long reclaimed by the desert and inaccurately described in the literature, was seen by a hand-full [sic] of people.

Yes, let’s take things in order. First, the hilarious image of Michael Heizer blazing down a dirt road in BF Nevada with a truckload of German museum directors. This is a thing that happened.
Next, “declared the winner”? De Maria apparently positioned the experience of his piece as a game and a competition, a mathematical mystery that visitors were supposed to calculate with their bodies and draw in their heads. What is that about? And anyway, who is going to judge this competition? If a curator cracks an earth art mystery in the desert, and no one’s within a mile of them to hear it, do they make a sound?
There’s a big point I’ll get to, but let’s jump to the end, where van der Marck calls out [in the footnotes] Carol Hall’s 1983 paper “Environmental Artists: Sources & Directions” for an inaccurate description of Las Vegas Piece. Well, my diagram above would need correcting, too. According to van der Marck, the two mile-long lines in Las Vegas Piece met, and each was bisected by a half-mile trench, which met in turn to form the square. Which would look more like a right angle bracket, like this:
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But the artist himself needs correcting, too. Because the diagram I drew was based on de Maria’s explanation to Cumming. And the biggest difference of all, of course, is that de Maria told Cumming the trench was “about a foot deep, two feet deep and about eight feet wide.” Yet van der Marck said it was eight feet deep and that they had to lower themselves into it. This is a non-trivial difference. If it was the former, then visitors would be in constant sight of the surrounding landscape and each other. If it’s the latter, they’re completely cut off. From everything. All they have is the view along the trench, and the darkening sky. It’s the difference between a meditative labyrinth path, and an actual FPS-style labyrinth.
Also, if De Maria’s piece was really eight feet deep, it would relate more directly to Heizer’s nearby Double Negative–and it would still almost certainly be visible, or at least findable.
And now the fact that as august a scholar as Miwon Kwon relied on as ambiguous a guide as CLUI tells me that no one actually knows what the deal is with Las Vegas Piece. Except, perhaps Virginia Dwan.
UPDATE: Indeed. Virginia Dwan donated her gallery’s archives to the Smithsonian, but they are currently closed for processing. According to Margaret Iversen’s 2007 book on post-Freudianism, Dwan told Charles Stuckey in an 1984 interview that De Maria forbade any photographs or documentation of Las Vegas Piece, partly to abjure the work’s commodification.
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Yet an unsourced, undated aerial photo reproduced on this French webpage seems to depict Las Vegas Piece. The scale is about right. And when I flipped it 180-degrees, the geographic features look like they match the area just to the right/east of the map marker above. But what are we actually seeing? Isn’t that top line a road? And there’s a diagonal line. Yet if they’re not Las Vegas Piece, who would take this picture here, and why? If it’s really credible, I’d guess that the photo was the source of CLUI’s coordinates, identified by the same method I just did: by eyeballing.
When Dwan accompanied Calvin Tomkins on a visit to Las Vegas Piece in 1976, they followed a map De Maria made, but never located the work itself. This despite Dwan’s having visited the site before. Lawrence Alloway made it, though, for his October 1976 Artforum article, “Site Inspection.” [Both accounts are only online as excerpts in Iriz Amizlev’s 1999 dissertation, “Land Art: Layers of Memory,” from the Universite de Montreal. (pdf). Amizlev also ID’s Carlos Huber of Kunsthalle Basel and John Weber in the back seat of Heizer’s pickup.]

On Jetty Time

Spiral Jetty sign
I’ve kept quiet and hopeful for six months, but now I think it’s time to congratulate Dia Foundation, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College on the renewal of Dia’s lease for the Spiral Jetty site; and on the newly announced, three-way collaboration managing stewardship of the artwork. I think it’s fantastic, reassuring for those who know and care about Smithson’s work already, and encouraging for the many people in Utah and beyond who will discover it going forward.
When I founded The Jetty Foundation in Salt Lake last summer and submitted an application to DNR to lease the state land under Spiral Jetty, I proposed a similar partnership, where local stakeholders would support Dia’s stewardship of the work by engaging on the crucial environmental, development, educational, and political issues that impact the Jetty. The Foundation also very explicitly affirmed the importance of Dia’s undisputed role as owner of the artwork and the designated steward of Smithson’s estate.
I don’t mean to claim any credit for creating the solution that DNR developed in its negotiations with Dia. On the contrary, I think the concept of local institutional engagement on the Jetty’s behalf has been gaining traction in Utah in the years years since the artwork re-emerged. If the Foundation’s proposal encouraged Utahns’ vision for a stronger, more engaged future for the Jetty, then the weeks I spent basically lobbying with local politicians, government officials, and other community leaders was well worth it.

Continue reading “On Jetty Time”

On Bruce McAllister’s DOCUMERICA And Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty

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One of the startling images Alan Taylor included from the EPA’s DOCUMERICA collection is by Bruce McAllister. The caption:

A train on the Southern Pacific Railroad passes a five-acre pond, which was used as a dump site by area commercial firms, near Ogden, Utah, in April of 1974. The acid water, oil, acid clay sludge, dead animals, junked cars and other dump debris were cleaned up by several governmental groups under the supervision of the EPA. Some 1,200,000 gallons of liquid were pumped from the site, neutralized and taken to a disposal site.

Hmm, is that the only photo McAllister took of railroads and toxic industrial dumps near Ogden in the early 1970s?
No.
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“THE UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD’S CAUSEWAY ACROSS THE GREAT SALT LAKE THREATENS THE ECOLOGICAL BALANCE OF THE LAKE, 07/1972”
McAllister’s acid pond is “near Ogden,” but it turns out it was even nearer the Great Salt Lake. The site was called Little Mountain Salvage.

Continue reading “On Bruce McAllister’s DOCUMERICA And Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty”

DOCUMERICA And The Ills Of The 1970s American Landscape

Following on from the multiple installments of archival World War II images on hisphotoblog In Focus, Alan Taylor has assembled selections from another remarkable public photo archive, this time from the Environmental Protection Agency. In the early 1970s, the newly formed EPA sent photographers around the US to document the environmental and physical state of the country. The project, titled DOCUMERICA, rivals the Depression-era Farm Security Agency’s photo effort in scope and scale; more than 100 photographers produced over 80,000 images, and the Corcoran and Smithsonian organized DOCUMERICA exhibitions that toured the country until 1978.
In setting out to “systematically record the ills of the 1970s American landscape,” EPA project director Gifford Hampshire consciously patterned DOCUMERICA on the FSA’s photo program, consulting with FSA veteran Arthur Rothstein on setting it up and selecting photographers.
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Around 16,000 have been digitized and are available on the National Archive’s website, and I’ve just barely started poking around. The least interesting of the two things I’ve found so far, both from photographer Bruce McAllister, is documentation of what I believe is the first installation, on October 10, 1971, of Christo & Jeanne Claude’s Valley Curtain in Rifle Gap, Colorado.
Christo_412-DA-2358.jpg
I’m guessing it’s the first, because McAllister’s photo captions mention how “it was ripped to shreds by canyon winds in 24 hours.” Christo tried again on August 10, 1972, but that time, a storm forced the curtain’s early removal. Which makes McAllister’s stated date of 05/1972 incorrect. On the other hand, sundresses and October in the mountains don’t normally go together, do they? Either way, as ills of the American landscape go, Valley Curtain was little more than a 24-hr flu.
Alan Taylor’s 46 favorite images from DOCUMERICA [theatlantic.com]
DOCUMERICA: Snapshots of Crisis and Cure in the 1970s [archives.org prologue magazine]
Search the Archives Research Catalog for “Christo Javacheff” [archives.gov]

Great Minds Think Alike, But Only Some Of Us Write For The New Yorker

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I didn’t read it earlier, and I have to read it now, obviously, now that it’s finally been published in the US. But I wonder if my first short film may be an inadvertent adaptation of Geoff Dyer’s 1994 essay on World War I and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, France.
The Millions has a nice interview with him about it:

TM: You write in the book, “The issue, in short, is not simply the way the war generates memory, but the way memory has determined – and continues to determine – the meaning of the war.” Can you describe the meaning of the war?
GD: Always in the book I’m just trying to articulate impressions of it. It’s certainly not a history book. I always have faith in this idea that if I remain honest and open about my own confusion, the blurriness of my impressions – it’s not because I’m short-witted or stupid – the chances are those feelings will be shared by other people. And I just had this very distinct sense of the First World War as being something rather buried in its own memory. There’s so much discussion, as the war is going on, about how it will be remembered, or if it will be forgotten. So right from the start it just seems preoccupied with how it will be remembered. The other crucial thing is that distinction I make with the Robert Capa pictures of D-Day, where it all seems to hang in the balance and there’s a great sense of immediacy. With the First World War there’s no immediacy to it. It comes buried in so many layers of myth and memory.

Hmm, actually, maybe not. Or maybe the opposite. In 2001-2, I was looking at what a place of horrible destruction was like when there was no one left who did remember it. The difference between remembering and knowing, perhaps. Or the past and the experience of the present.
Also, Spiral Jetty first re-emerged in 1994, not 1999. I’d have thought the New Yorker would’ve caught that.
The Millions Interview | Geoff Dyer on the London Riots, the Great War, and the Gray Lady [themillions.com]
The Missing of the Somme (Vintage) [amazon]