Performance-Lectures: A Compendium

The performance lecture form has been of interest to me and a topic on this site for an extended period of time.

It has its origins in my own professionally driven interest in Powerpoint as a Creative Medium [oof so many dead links, from when I also believed hotlinking images would be the best practice/fair use realization of a Project Xanadu-like networked utopia. I’ll fix them in a minute.]

Then I was critical of the posthumous transmutation of Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque lecture and slideshow, delivered at the University of Utah in 1972, into an acquirable work of art.

The next year, when I discovered—via some snide comments by disgruntled art faculty at my welcome dinner—that my invitation to speak at the UofU had been arranged under the auspices of a visiting artist lecture, I quickly decided to become an artist. I had my younger brother sloppily record my lecture on video, an homage to Alex Hubbard’s drunken bootleg video re-enactment of Smithson’s Hotel Palenque lecture, which was a topic of my talk. [That video, uploaded when YouTube had still time limits, is in eight parts.]

But I also ended the lecture by declaring it a work of art, in an edition, and I sent around a stack of signed and numbered certificates of authenticity for anyone who wanted one. I think I made 100, and got 40 or so back? [Shoutout to my OG collectors, that turned out to be CR-1.]

Relational Aesthetics for the Rich performance, 2010, image via hyperallergic

In 2010 I made a blog post into a slideshow into a performance at Jen Dalton & William Powhida’s #rank in Miami, “Relational Aesthetics for the Rich, or A Brief History of the Gala as Art”, with gift bag editions [on the table above].

brb, have to check and update a dozen dead links.

Richard Serra & Robert Smithson

Robert Smithson and Richard Serra fixing the soon-to-be-Spiral Jetty, 1970.
photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni

I’ll have more to post about Richard Serra in a bit; he was a foundational artist for my world, and I wish his people peace.

In the mean time, nothing quite shook my little art world like finding Kathleen Merrill Campagnolo’s article, “Spiral Jetty through the Camera’s Eye,” in 2010 in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Journal. [Which I see has been subsumed by Chicago and Jstored.] That’s where I first saw this Gorgoni photo of Serra at Rozel Point with Robert Smithson, trying to fix the jetty he’d just built in the Great Salt Lake.

Previously, very much related: The Not-So-Spiral Jetty

Goodbye 2023

I hate that this needed to come back: Gonzalez-Torres Forbidden Colors, 2021 —

NGL, it does not feel like a moment to celebrate, and it’ll take a lot of work for 2024 to not become the biggest dumpster fire yet.

But whether via email, commentary, hyping or buying things, many people have engaged with me, the blog, and the various projects this year, and I’m grateful for all of the thoughtful and invigorating interactions. To close out the year, here are a couple of art accomplishments in 2023 which I found satisfying. They are in roughly chronological order:

Celebrating Ellsworth Kelly’s 100th: EK 10 MAR 23 T [via]
Biggest show of the year: Mural With Girl With A Pearl, obv [via]
Jasper Johns’ Stolen Balls [via]
Meanwhile, in this, year three of me swearing I’m not a dog painting guy: Jacques Barthélémy Delamarre Facsimile Object (D1), ‘Pompon’, obv [via]
Underground Projection Room (for Rattlesnakes), 2023 [via]
Proposed Katharina Grosse (PKG) for Basel, 2023 [via]
The Second Deposition of Richard Prince, 2023—? [via]
Happy Joan Mitchell Season T [via]

The Shekvetili Dendrological Park: Land Art For Oligarchs

Still from Salomé Jashi’s Taming The Garden, 2021, showing a giant tree on the Black Sea en route to Ivanishvili’s private tree zoo. images via a German-titled arte broadcast uploaded to YouTube

In 2021 Georgian filmmaker Salomé Jashi released Taming The Garden, a documentary about the creation of the Shekvetili Dendrological Park. Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Georgian oligarch-turned-politician who minted his $6 billion fortune in Russia, spent five years collecting over 200 old-growth trees from around the country, which he had transplanted in a park of his own design next to his estate on the Black Sea. The park opened to the public in 2020.

Residents of a Georgian village follow their tree as it drives out of town in Taming The Garden, along a route with probably 90% fewer infrastructure hassles or regulatory hoops to jump through than that rock had to face on its way to LACMA

In her film, Jashi follows several trees as they are removed from the village s, farms, and forests where they’ve been for centuries. She records the resignation and loss of the locals, as well as the surreal transport of the uprooted trees along rural roads, and on barges. The filmmaking is quietly powerful, with dramatic images that only reveal the project’s traumas and absurdities and slowly.

NO SPOILERS but Jashi’s quiet revelations of the sheer artificiality of this ostensibly idyllic natural landscape are amazing

A 2022 dispatch from Ivan Nechepurenko in the New York Times, with striking photos by Daro Sulaukari, reports that around half the trees arrived by sea, and half by truck. The entire project cost Ivanishvili “tens of millions” of dollars, which seems like a pittance for what he did and what he got.

Robert Smithson’s Floating Island, 2005, image via NYT

Why, in 2005, when Nancy Holt authorized Floating Island, a previously unrealized project of her late husband, Robert Smithson, it cost $250,000 to drive a single barge around lower Manhattan for a week.

A miniature version of The Gates chasing a miniature version of Central Park, by, as it turned out, Bruce High Quality Foundation and Robert Smithson, respectively, as captured by Ian Adelman in 2005 in the NYT

I guess I should be more shocked, surprised, dismayed, whatever that Land Art, created in opposition to the collector-pandering commodification of the gallery system, has been so thoroughly subsumed by the billionaire class. But then again, Double Negative was produced and owned by a 3M heiress who donated the first version of Lightning Field, realized on her New Mexico ranch, to the foundation started by the oil heiress which built the permanent version. And which now manages Spiral Jetty. And of course, it was New York’s own oligarch-turned-politician Michael Bloomberg who made Christo & Jeanne Claude’s Gates happen. And the industrialist with the private museum has taken on the care and funding of City. Is Land Art actually about real estate and power? Always was.

“For me, a floating tree was a symbol of power, of desire, of wanting something at any cost,” Ms. Jashi told the NYT. If Land Art can accommodate the Department of Defense’s creations at Dugway Proving Grounds, the cost-be-damned symbolic gestures of a tree-obsessed oligarch should fit right in.

Getting Smithson’s Number

Sometimes a volcano’s just a volcano, but probably not here: Robert Smithson, Buried Angel, 1962, oil on canvas, 125 x 125 cm, sold at Christie’s in 2008

Today is the 50th anniversary of Robert Smithson’s death, and an occasion to revisit Zack Hatfield’s Artforum review of Suzaan Boettger’s biography of the artist, Inside The Spiral: The Passions of Robert Smithson.

Hatfield reminded me that in addition to Smithson’s almost mystical Catholicist early days, Boettger goes deep on his interest in numerology. And she looks closely at Smithson’s early work, only some of which has been shown before. Which reminded me of a wild group of works sold a few years ago—wow. it was 2008—by the family of George Lester, a diplomat/collector/dealer who invited 23-yo Smithson to stage a show in Rome in 1961.

Robert Smithson, Two Frogs Guarding The Palace, 1962, gouache, oil, ink and collage on paper, 24 x 15 1/4 in., sold from the Galleria Lester archives at Christie’s in 2008

The Holt/Smithson Foundation helped organize an exhibition at MACRO in Rome of work from this largely unknown period, and noted that Smithson traveled to Italy in 1961. It just closed in May 2023.

The metric dimensions of Buried Angel, the canvas up top with an angel buried in jumbles of numbers and letters, make me think it was painted in Europe. The dimensions of the fantastical collage, Two Frogs Guarding The Palace, meanwhile, could go either way.

In his 1972 AAA interview with Paul Cummings, Smithson described the work from this period as “phantasmagorical drawings of cosmological worlds somewhat between Blake and…oh, a kind of Boschian imagery…They were sort of based on iconic situations…They dealt with explicit images like, the city; they were kind of monstrous as well, you know, like great Moloch figures.”

Point is, I think I really need to read the book.

Mortal Coil: Resurrecting Robert Smithson [artforum]
Buy Suzaan Boettger’s Inside The Spiral: The Passions of Robert Smithson at Amazon [amazon]
Lots 233-37: From the Archives of the Galeria George Lester, Rome [christies]
Rome is Still Falling: Nov. 22 – May 23 [holtsmithsonfoundation]
So much here, so much not: Oral History interview with Robert Smithson, 1972 []

Underground Projection Room (For Rattlesnakes)

Robert Smithson, Underground Projection Room (Utah Museum Plan), 1971, graphite on paper, 9×11.75 inches, lot 145 @ LA Modern, 21 June 2023

According to the friend of my mom’s whose family used to own the ranch land on and around Rozel Point, the basalt-strewn hill above the Spiral Jetty is full of rattlesnake dens. I don’t know if Robert Smithson knew this when he picked the site, but I doubt it. He was more focused on the scenic qualities: the pink salt water of the Great Salt Lake, and the collapsed oil derrick a little further along the shore.

I’ve thought about it a lot, though, especially when I think about Smithson’s original plan to show the Spiral Jetty film on a continuous loop in an underground screening room on the site. A sketch for that idea (above) will be sold next week at LA Modern auction house.

Which is as good an occasion as any to propose that Smithson’s idea be realized. For the snakes., Study for Underground Projection Room For Snakes, 2023

As half the human population on earth knows, tiny flatscreens are a thing. And so is solar power. Smithson’s film, Spiral Jetty, is 36 minutes long and can easily fit on a micro SD card that plugs into an Arduino-compatible 60×94 pixel TinyScreen+, which can be lowered into the snake den.

The TinyScreen+ next to a US quarter, $39.95 at

A small solar panel on the surface, connected to a battery connected to the Tinyscreen down below will keep the movie streaming endlessly, or until the heat death of the planet, whichever comes first. Before installing them for the snakes, I think I need to make a small edition of prototypes first. And to start by extracting out my copy of the film from the not-solid-state external drive. Fingers crossed that this project isn’t over before it starts

One Acre And Dia Mule

Last Sold: 8/6/2018, Zestimate®: None, Zillow screenshot

Until 2018 Edisto Island meant one thing in the contemporary art world. Then after, it meant another. Or rather, it meant two things. On August 6, 2018, Cameron Rowland bought an acre of land that had once been part of an enslaver’s plantation; then was part of a “forty acres and a mule” Freedmen’s reparations order; and then was almost immediately repossessed by the former enslavers. Rowland bought the land and placed restrictive covenants on its deed that remove any use or monetary value. The land and the deed constitute their work, Depreciation, and Dia just announced stewardship of it.

The work comprises the land and the deed, but that is not all. Depreciation is owned by 8060 Maxie Rd, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation Rowland established to execute the work. The company is named after the land’s address on a road named after the enslavers. Rowland maintains the corporation, and thus ownership of the work, and has put it on extended loan with Dia.

Continue reading “One Acre And Dia Mule”

Here Are The Coordinates For Michael Heizer’s City

 38°01'59.5"N 115°26'37.0"W 
a screenshot of the googlemaps image of the above coordinates, which is where the label for michael heizer's city used to be until aug. 22, apparently. maybe just not going is the best flex at this point.

Which has apparently been removed from Google Maps? [h/t @bbhilley]

Previously, related, from 2005 (!): Earth Art via Satellite
cf. Peter Morse’s early roundup of looking for Earth Art via Google Maps [ link]
2002: arguing with the guy who wrote for Artforum about not being able to find the Spiral Jetty [sheesh, I was insufferable, but so was everybody else. 2002 really was another internet country.]

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 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 [, 2015]
This Land is Their Land [caa journal, 2013]

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

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]

Double Double

One of them, anyway: Michael Heizer Double Negative, 1969, south side, where the calving of boulders and sediment is becoming significant. image: August 2016,
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

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. 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 [mp3, 41min, 59mb, via dropbox]

Sforza, Heizer. Heizer, Sforza.

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]