Join me and 13 other museums and museum-like private collections in embedding Arthur Jafa’s incredible “Love is the Message; the Message is Death” [2016, ed. 13+2 AP] on my front page for the next day or so.
“I am thrilled for the opportunity, finally, to have as many people as possible see ‘Love is the Message, The Message is Death,’” Jafa said.
Close t0 100K views so far, 300 simultaneous viewers at a time. Masks off and huddle up, let’s get this data to spike. Not that we can watch, collect, or curate our way out of this mess we’re in.
[Previously linked to: https://www.ustream.tv/embed/4222323]
The conversation in the second roundtable organized by sunhaus.us has barely started, and already the fact that most everyone saw the work first on a bootleg, and then marking the change between the first viewing and this moment, and the fear that exists now, is very important.
now 35min in, they’re talking about how this video was originally going to end up on the internet before it was pulled into the art world, and now here it is.
Everyone’s good, but Simone White is amazing, flat out.
I was looking for information on an early Elmgreen & Dragset piece where they laid pristine, white carpet at the entrance to their gallery. But the only Google result was for an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist for their 1998 “Powerless Structures” catalogue. It had been hosted on Nicolai Wallner’s website, but seems to have been taken down after 2016, when they stopped working with him. So I have reproduced it here, for Google’s sake.
The installation I had in mind was for Nuit Blanche 1998, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris. I came for the quick debunking of J freaking R acting all, tant pis, his paper artwork unfurled across the entrance to the Louvre got trampled on, and I stayed for Michael’s story of meeting Felix Gonzalez-Torres and discussing the infiltrative power of Minimalism.
Anyway, it’s wild how not online that 1998 catalogue is. I may have to do a photocopy bootleg version a la Wade Guyton’s Avalanche.
[ONE THING WENT RIGHT IN 2020 UPDATE] When David Hammons’ How Ya Like Me Now?, a billboard-size portrait of a blonde & blue-eyed Jesse Jackson was being installed on a vacant lot in downtown Washington, DC in 1989, Black passersby who first encountered it without the soothing benefit of a museum guide or explanatory text took offense–and then a sledgehammer–to it. That incident and that work are now a major part of Hammons’ story.
Four years later, Hammons again encountered local resistance while installing another outdoor sculpture, which was then vandalized, and later destroyed. It all went down on the bucolic campus of Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
In October 1993 Hammons opened a show, curated by Deborah Rothschild, at the Williams College Museum of Art. Yardbird Suite, the indoor installation of boomboxes in trees playing Jazz was chill. The six-ton boulder placed in front Chapin Hall at the center of campus, with antique fans bolted to the top, was not.
Students began questioning and criticizing the piece as Hammons was installing it. He called it Rock Fan, which only seemed to incense those demanding deeper meaning or significance from this work of art temporarily in their midst. [He also told some agitated students that it was called The Agitator.] In Williams’ hyper-privileged and hyper-collegial culture, every gifted scholar was expected to be able to weigh in on everything. In practice, this meant students commented on Post-It notes on literally whatever poster, building, vending machine, or public sculpture they encountered.
They criticized the site, the title, the fabrication, the aesthetics, the imagined expense, and the disruption. Some complaints were reported in the weekly student paper, The Williams Record. Additional back and forth took place a daily student bulletin, plus the Post-Its. While he was on site, Hammons gave as good as he got.
“You don’t have to make it into some big mystery. Damn, relax. Use your energy on something else besides intellectual masturbation,” he said.
Hammons added that he was primarily interested in confronting and challenging people with images that they aren’t used to seeing or which seem out of place. “I’m in the business of making the invisible visible…Most of your eyes are very weak, so you need to see things you’re not accustomed to seeing so that your eyes get much stronger.” [WR 10/26/93]
In the first couple of weeks, a student or students [I haven’t been able to find yet] surrounded Rock Fan with their own sculptural responses: accordion-folded paper fans glued to small rocks [top]. Then came the painters, dousing Rock Fan with purple paint for Homecoming.
On March 3rd, 1994, David Hammons gave a slide lecture at SFMOMA, introduced by curator Gary Garrels, which ends with Rock Fan[s]:
And this is a piece at Williams College called Rock Fans.
This was protested. For about the last five months, they’ve been protesting this piece on their campus. And so some students made fans out of paper and put these little rock fans around the piece. It’s been vandalized and written about.
When the wind blows, the fans actually move. Someone said, “I don’t care how many fans you put on it, it’s not going to fly.”
And this is after Williams students painted the rock. Someone called me and told me that now they feel like it’s theirs, because they painted it their school colors.
Rock Fan was originally meant to travel to SFMOMA, too, but at some point Hammons decided it would not. He left it at Williams; it was removed in April, during Spring Break. The fans went back to the artist. I haven’t found the rock.
In 1997 Hammons appropriated the Williams students’ response to his sculpture to make a new Rock Fan out of a stone and pleated fabric. In 2004 the director of the Williams Museum found out about it at Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s place, and acquired it for the collection. In 2012 Robbi Behr (’97) designed a Rock Fan-themed coffee mug for their 15th reunion.
[UPDATE] Before 2020 destroys us all, we can at least know that Rock Fan Rock has not been lost, but abides still, and will continue–apparently past the extinction of humanity. Curator Jordan Stein found and visited it during a teaching gig at Williams, and posted photos on Instagram. It was apparently removed to a small hill near the Westlawn Cemetery. A fitting resting spot. Also it is still purple.
Last year I spotted this structure in a front yard in Washington, DC. It is a wedge-shaped cabin [?] made of wood and siding and decking and corrugated plastic. The translucent plastic panel on the angled side facing the house is hinged and often propped open, like a canopy. There is a small platform in front, but I could not see what, if anything, is inside, without going into the yard.
It reminded me, in the accumulation of fleeting instants I’d see it, of Andrea Zittel’s Wagon Stations.
And her Homestead Units.
And her Cellular Compartment Units.
Those Cellular Compartment Units especially stood out for me, as I wondered what this structure could be for, what could be inside. Zittel created a separate space for each, “single human need or desire from sleeping to eating to reading to watching TV.”
I resisted the impulse to declare someone else’s garden folly a work, and nothing I googled ever brought me any closer to finding one of my own, or figuring out what it is.
I happened to drive by the house again recently, and the structure is still there. So I’ve been thinking of it again.
I had three chairs in my house, but only one in my sitting shed in my front yard, Thoreau did not write.
I just need a quiet place to write, but I live on a very busy street with constant traffic.
Anyway, I’ve decided to go ahead, and let this stay as is, as ed. 1. And I am ready to make another. A structure customized for a single human need or purpose. It could be writing, or reading, or sitting, or showering, or pissing. Actually, there’s already a structure for that.
How much sense does this not make? People buy the sheets from Felix Gonzalez-Torres stacks at auction, on eBay, and at various artist book & ephemera dealers, and it just seems…what’s the word here? Hilarious? Sad? Stupid? Embarrassing? Ridiculous? Wrong? Inexplicable?
Well, no. There’s an easy explanation. People sell Felix posters because they want money. And people buy them because they are for sale.
Felix made his first work that includes a stack of paper in 1988, and his first to consist of a stack constantly replenished with “endless copies” in 1989. Then there was a burst of stacks in 1990. By the time of his death in 1996, the artist had produced 47 stacks. Four were declared after his death to be “registered non-works.” One consisted of rubber doormats, which are not to be taken. One consists of an edition of 200 signed, silkscreen prints which together comprise a single stacked work, which are not to be taken. One was an edition of 250 of which 89 were sold separately, and the remaining 161 were sold together as a stack, which are not to be taken. The first one, it is not clear whether they can be taken. One is made of little passport-sized booklets, which can be taken. So that makes 38 stacks made of posters infinitely replenishable with endless copies. Along with a registered non-work stack created with Donald Moffett, three stacks were collaborations with another artist, who provided the image or text: Michael Jenkins, Louise Lawler, and Christopher Wool.
The Felix Gonzalez-Torres catalogue raisonné quotes the text the artist included in the certificates of authenticity for each stack:
A part of the intention of the work is that third parties may take individual sheets of paper from the stack. These individual sheets and all individual sheets taken from the stack collectively do not constitute a unique work of art nor can they be considered the piece…its uniqueness is defined by ownership.
So these are not artworks. Or, they’re not the artwork. But they are something of value, even though they are free for the taking in an endless supply. And people trying to explain and justify the value–or the price, really–use paradigms that the artist himself critiqued, rejected, and sought, to some extent, to undermine. Sellers, including auctioneers like Wright who know what’s up, invoke an edition model, calling sheets “original” “prints” and “lithos” from “an unknown edition size.” This framing resonates with the investing community that has grown up around mass limited editions from print mills like Murakami and Hirst, Kawsian art toys and artist-designed skatedecks, and even Richter-style “facsimile objects.”
Rago, an auction house whose business is liquidating New Jersey’s vast collections of silkscreen editions assembled in the 60s and 70s, gives the sheets made-up names like “Untitled (water ripples)” and “Untitled (The Show is Over)”, and gooses the provenance with statements like “Created originally in 1993 for the Printed Matter exhibition at Dia.”
One eBay seller’s allusions to photography and rare book connoisseurship to justify a $12,500 asking price for a single sheet because it was taken from “the original piece” during a gallery show “in October, 1991,” have not gone unchallenged:
Please note that I have received some comments about this one… that is, since it was conceived of as an open edition, there are numerous ones out there from other exhibitions, and possibly a reissuance from the estate.
That could be true, however, the original litho is a “first” printing; subsequent printings are of a subtlely diiferent (sp) size, color, paper, etc. This makes the first edition the most coveted, and hence the valuation.
That stack, like so many of Felix’s work, known as “Untitled”, was acquired from that show at Luhring Augustine Hexler by the Walker Art Center. And despite being in a public collection and widely exhibited since its creation, the sheets from the Walker’s “Untitled” are among the most frequently and expensively sold separately. Unusually, the Walker’s description of the piece includes the number taken during the work’s public exhibition in 1999-2001: “approximately 660 posters per month.” Frankly, 8,000/year seems low, unless I were being charged $1,000 for one as an “edition”, in which case it’d be insanely high.
Felix wanted as many viewers as wanted them to take sheets from his stacks for free, but this turns out to be not the same as free to obtain or endlessly available. They’re not all in publicly accessible collections. They’re not always on view, and they’re probably not close by when they are. So the constraints and complications of getting in a room with the Felix stack you want have real costs, and the way we weigh these costs against the desire to possess a thing is called money.
Then there’s the reality of the work itself, the stack whose “uniqueness is defined by ownership.” The artist’s certificates also say “The owner has the right to reprint and replace, at any time, the quantity of sheets necessary to regenerate the piece back to the ideal height.” There’s a concept worth studying in a work doesn’t just exist at various heights, but that depletes and is regenerated. If you find that dissertation, please lmk. What jumps out to me is the apparently fundamental link between uniqueness and authenticity and ownership, and the dependence of that existence on a right, not a responsibility.
For all the freedom and openness and sharing of Felix’s work, it rests on a foundation of rights granted to collectors, not obligations assumed by stewards. The market for sheets is thus the trickle-down effect of these private decisions that make stacks scarce through unavailability.
Could the artist’s wishes be better served by adapting his stacks to the digitized world he didn’t live to see? What if the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation made all of the stack sheets available for download and individual printing? It’d be several kinds of complicated, I know, but it wouldn’t disrupt the existence of “the piece,” the uniqueness of which, remember, is defined by ownership. [Having recently pulled out around 100 sheets I’ve collected over more than 25 years, I can say this is not an obviously great idea; stacks vary in size, paper type, and finish in ways that DIY printouts will inevitably get wrong, and the artist’s generosity for everyone else’s shitty reproduction of his work will be sorely tested.]
Letting sheets loose in the wild will result in large-scale printing and distribution, probably at poster-scale commercialization. But a line in an eBay auction seems to indicate this is already happening.
After comparing it to a poster that sold for $750 on artnet, the seller of this $1200 poster “by Christopher Wool & Felix Gonzalez-Torres” notes, “NOTE this is an original edition from the Dallas Museum’s run and not from China.” But something ain’t right. The dimensions of the Wool&FG-T sheet are 37×55, and this one from Dallas is 24×36. Also, there’s a giant border, and it says Dallas Museum of Art on the bottom. Also, the letters don’t line up. Because this is a poster of a painting, a painting [right] the DMA acquired in 1991. Meanwhile, the related painting that became the stack is hanging [left] behind Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. They gave it to the Whitney in 2014.
Isn’t this the real source of the Felix stack flipper problem: hypeboys looking for cheap Wools? And at hundreds to thousands of dollars a pop, wouldn’t YOU set up a #ChineseWoolMill to meet their demand?
If there is such a thing as capitalist karma, it comes in the form of Erika Hoffmann, the Berlin collector who, with her late husband Rolf, bought the Wool/Gonalez-Torres stack. In March she donated it, along with her entire collection, to the Dresden State Art Collection. It will become one of the most public and publicly available stack pieces of them all.
[This writing of this post was delayed several days by the outraged consideration of the vast preceding and ongoing corruption of the president, and it took place amidst the anguished, mounting fury at the systemic policy of terrorizing and torturing children and families seeking asylum from perils that drove them to flee their homes. The solace of art has its limits.]
A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER UPDATE: I swear I wasn’t planning to do this, but then someone on Twitter feared it was coming, and so it had to happen.
“Untitled” (Ross in L.A.) in DC is now on eBay. It comprises an original Felix Gonzalez-Torres offset print acquired from the National Gallery of Art, and a full-scale, signed, stamped, and numbered certificate of authenticity. It is available in an edition of 2.
So imagine my surprise when looking for a different image of Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, I instead found this 1967 pic of it being installed by crane on Seagram Plaza, two years after the flying Olmec head made the cover of Artforum. Everyone gets a plinth by Philip Johnson!
The occasion? A 27-work show organized by New York City called “Sculpture In Environment” that temporarily installed contemporary sculptures all over town.
In 1776 a committee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were charged by the Continental Congress with creating an official seal, a sign of sovereignty and authenticity, for the new United States. Two committees later, in 1782, the primary suggestion from their committee included in the final design was the motto, E Pluribus Unum. Other committees, meanwhile, contributed the eagle, and the use of 13 elements–stars, stripes, arrows, olive leaves–to symbolize the original states in the Union.
The final design was described in terms of its heraldic elements by Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson, and this text remains the law Congress enacted in June 1782. Thomson provided an engraver with a sketch, which was turned into a die and put to use by September.
After his inauguration in April 1789, President Washington asked Thomson to transfer custody of the Great Seal from Congress to the Department of Foreign Affairs. It has remained under the charge of the Secretary of State ever since.
Between 1782 and 1885, four dies were created as replacements were needed, with minor changes or heraldic corrections each time. But since 1885, the die’s design has been fixed. It was installed inside a new press in 1904, and in 1986, the current die, along with a master die from which all future dies may be created, was put into service. An officer of the Department of State uses the Great Seal for 2-3,000 official statements, treaty documents, ambassadorial appointments, and such, per year. It is most widely seen via its depictions on the back of the $1 bill and the covers of US passports.
With this context in mind, I hereby announce a new work, Untitled (Art In Embassies), which went on exhibition this week in some courtyard at the US Embassy in Lima, Peru. It comprises a pop-up The Great Seal step & repeat tradeshow photo-opp backdrop and thirteen folding chairs, arranged in a circle.
The installation is visible in these photos showing the US’ official representative to the Summit of the Americas, a relative of the president with no experience or actual role, who cannot obtain a security clearance because she and her family are under criminal investigation; eleven alumnae of some economic development grant programs of the previous administration; and someone’s tio.
Kenneth Goldsmith announced aarea.co this morning, “One Square Kilometer (for Walter de Maria)”.
Kenneth Goldsmith’s 1×1.jpg at original scale. It’s there! I promise!
It is a 1×1 pixel jpg scaled to 3,779,527 pixels wide–which by common calculations is 1 kilometer of pixels–and 4,320,000 pixels long–which is, by the same calculations, 1.14km of pixels. Ceci n’est pas un square.
The result is a massive, black monochrome, scrollable in a browser window. I don’t know what it is to Kenny, but the gap between the image’s single-pixel essence and its 7-figure pixel scaling is interesting to me.
Also interesting: the original source of the pixel dimensions used for this calculation. Because screen resolution and pixel density will affect how 1km it actually is. Goldsmith’s code for aarea.co currently contains only a Google Analytics script, but perhaps it will some day have responsive scaling, that yields a 1-Km Square on whatever screen or device it is viewed with.
A few minutes after Kenny’s tweeting about it, Mario Santa Maria responded with a link to his project, 1 km Z Lightning: A Tribute to Walter de Maria, 27-07-2013, the day we learned of the artist’s death. Mario takes a square photo of de Maria’s Lightning Field [below] as wide as the browser window and, apparently using the same pixel calculator as Kenny, scales it to 3.78whatever million pixels tall.
Which got me thinking. I mean, repeating the project didn’t require thinking; that came instantly, and it was all I could to do wait a few hours so I didn’t step too hard on Goldsmith’s tweet traffic. And changing my dimensions to an actual square 3.78m x 3.78m pixels was easy, too, and surely such a massive proportional change, of 140 meters, would count as transformational, should Goldsmith ever decide to sue. [Can you imagine how awesome that’d be?]
But what image to use? The immediate answer also feels like the most natural, but it might not turn out to be the best: the 300×404 pixel jpg of Richard Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy), 2003 which I’ve been resizing and printing since 2008. Pixel-level distortion of poor image is my bag, baby. And so I made 1km, an adapted appropriation of Goldsmith’s code (sans Google’s), with my square dimensions and my image. At 1km-sq, one of my pixels appears to be 12,600 pixels wide. Scrolling across the image is like swimming through a gradient colorwheel [What are pixels to a digital fish?]
I’ve toyed around with random image grabbers, which I may use at some point. Or a 1km button, to blow up any image on the site to 1x1km scale. Or I’ve thought of opening it up with an image uploader, but srsly, I don’t want to see your giant Trump and/or porn. [Or, probably inevitably, as Stormy forecasts, both]. But I will change it from time to time to see what other images look like on this deMarian, Goldsmithian scale. For now, I’ll leave it to Kenny to print them all out.
This edition of Better Read comprises a found text, the documentation of a fungi specimen submitted to the New York Botanical Society. That documentation in turn comprises several elements: an archivist’s gnomon, a page removed from a mycology guidebook; item labels, notes, and a submission form with NYBG letterhead. They are read from the top of the digitized scan of the specimen record to the bottom.
One thing I noticed, besides the rather remarkable combination of words, and their genesis: after 20 recordings, I only just noticed that Alex, the computer-generated voice, inhales before he starts speaking. Now it kind of freaks me out.
The Hirshhorn Museum offers non-hearing or non-sighted visitors transcripts of audio or video artworks they exhibit. In some cases those transcripts come from the artist or their dealers. For the video art show in the lower level, you can read along for the entire performance of a Polish opera in Jasper & Malinowska’s Halka/Haiti, or [no thanks] all of Frances Stark’s sex chats. [The transcript for Arthur Jafa’s Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, though, only includes the lyrics to the Kanye West song he laid down, not the dialogue in his video montage.] When they don’t exist, though, the Hirshhorn produces their own descriptive, transcriptive text.
Anyway, I noticed the existence of these transcripts while watching Gretchen Bender’s Dumping Core (1984), a rapid-fire, multi-channel video installation that plays out over 13 monitors arrayed throughout a black box gallery.
The improbability of the existence of one of Bender’s major works was already next-level. MoMA apparently helped restore or recover the work, which had only been exhibited as an abbreviated documentation video like my pic above, as recently as 2013. But the idea of a translating a frenetic video wall into a narrative text seemed too intriguing to ignore. And translating that back into an audio experience? If Bender wouldn’t have approved, I think she’d disapprove in the right way.
I don’t want to steal any of Tulliach’s thunder; only one of the images is in ready circulation online, and they may come from the 1942 report on protecting the patrimony she referenced later. The encasement only gets passing mentions, though, in histories of art preservation in the midst and aftermath of WWII, and I, for one, am psyched to know more.
The director of the Accademia at the time was Ugo Procacci, and he undertook the massive effort to evacuate what artworks he could from the city, and store them for safekeeping in remote villas around Tuscany.
What’s so great is these forms themselves. They’ve been called silos, but I’d think they have to be solid, more like a cairn. In another context, their form is obviously a lingam; and we all know Michelangelo loved the lingam. But anyway, there they are, in a museum.
It turns out to be very difficult to find out exactly what Michelangelo said, or what Vasari said he said, even, about a statue existing in every block of stone, and it’s the sculptor’s job to free it.
But it could be a sculptor’s job again to remake these forms, with a Michelangelo-shaped void at the center of each one. We can bring these back. And we should.
It could be like Your House, that intricately die-cut book Olafur Eliasson made with MoMA’s library, but out of bricks.
In 1991 the artist David Hammons was invited by Mary Jane Jacobs to create a site-specific work in Charleston, South Carolina for a new, visual arts program linked to the Spoleto Festival. Jacobs had patterned the exhibition, “Places With A Past”, after the Skulptur Projekt Münster. Spoleto founder Gian Carlo Menotti hated the whole thing; the exhibition divided the board and got the director fired (he came back a couple of years later, after Menotti quit), but the show’s art historical reputation has only grown.
That said, Hammons’ is the only one of 61 installations left standing, thanks in large part to his early decision to collaborate with Albert Alston, a local builder, who seems to have maintained and championed the work over the ensuing 27 years.
Hammons and Alston built House Of The Future on a vacant, city-owned lot on Charleston’s segregated East Side using architectural fragments and materials from renovation and demolition projects nearby. It is a 6×20-foot teaching model of Charleston’s signature style, with labels for each component. At some point, a young, local artist used the ground floor as studio space, and Alston oversaw other public programmatic uses. On the back of the House, Hammons painted a quote from African American writer Ishmael Reed:
The Afro-American has become heir to the myths that it is better to be poor than rich, lower class than middle or upper, easy going rather than industrious, extravagant rather than thrifty, and athletic rather than academic.
[Though Reed gets–and takes–credit for the quote, it seems that it actually originates with musician/composer/sociologist Ortiz Walton. Reed quoted Walton’s critical history of cultural exploitation, Music: Black, White & Blue in a 1973 review for Black World Magazine. Reed & Walton seem to have been frequent collaborators and interlocutors, so maybe this is one more of those Hammons/Alston situations. In any case, the quote itself was criticized by some in the community, and it has disappeared and reappeared from the wall of House Of The Future with various repaintings. According to an unrelated 1995 lawsuit by a disgruntled muralist, though, it was integral to the community’s embrace of the installation that helped preserve it after the Spoleto Festival ended.]
At some point after the May 1991 opening of “Places With A Past”, Hammons’ second element was realized kitty corner from House of The Future. America Street is a small, grassy bump of a park on another vacant lot, where Hammons’ iconic African American Flag flies from atop a 40-foot pole. A black and white photo of a group of children looking up, as if at the flag, filled a sidewalk-scale billboard that had previously featured ads for liquor and Newports. From this 1996 account of the Spoleto fallout over “Places With A Past”, it sounds like the works survived some entropy, if not straightup neglect. But both the flag and the picture have been replaced over the years.
I have not visited Hammons’ piece(s), except in Google Street View. The first thing I noticed was they differed in appearance from the historical photos. I realized GSV’s own decade of historical imagery is useful here, for marking the changes this tiny house and its neighborhood have undergone.
Clicking through the changes wrought by time on a piece of Southern vernacular architecture, I immediately thought of the work of my late neighbor, the photographer William Christenberry. He would travel back to his native Alabama year after year for decades, photographing the same houses, churches, and stores, usually documenting their deterioration and subsumption by kudzu.
What I was seeing in Hammons’ and Alston’s piece was the opposite: a structure built from the castoffs of renovation and gentrification, surviving thanks to a small but persistent maintenance effort. And through it all, year in and year out, no matter the storms or racial strife that battered some other flags in South Carolina, Hammons’ star-spangled banner is still there.
In the spirit of Christenberry, I decided to make some historic GSV printsets [prints of screenshots; GSV is a screen medium] of Hammons’ and Alston’s House Of The Future and America Street. I’ve followed Christenberry’s format, but I’m skipping the traditional photographer’s approach of making editions of a bajillion in a thousand sizes. Each set of 7-9 images is printed small (8×10 in.), in an edition of 2, plus 1 AP: one for you, one for the museum, one for me. Because srsly, why overthink it? If anyone actually wants to buy them, I turn into some kind of crazed Amazon artworker pick&packing prints all day? Hard pass right now, thanks. If you don’t move in time to get it, just make your own.
There’s a Michael Snow photography retrospective opening this weekend at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and in sync with that, Tyler Green has an interview with Snow on this week’s Modern Art Notes podcast. It’s a great discussion with a great artist about a highly anticipated show. So definitely give it a listen.
There is much of Snow’s influential avant-garde film work available for viewing online, including an excerpt from his extraordinary 1970-71 film La région centrale, and the entirety of his breakthrough 1966-7 film Wavelength. [The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” is audible in one short cut of the 42-minute film, so it’s not embeddable.] Wavelength caused an immediate sensation when it was screened by Jonas Mekas, and at the 1967 Knokke-le-Zoute Experimental Film Festival in Belgium, which it won. It consists of a single fixed camera shot of a loft, edited from 14 3-minute rolls of 16mm film, which zooms inexorably toward a photo of the sea, which is mounted between two windows.
It’s as much about the passage of time as anything, it seems, or of seeing time pass. Snow shot it over a week in December 1966 with help and cameos from friends and family. Watching the film again today, I suddenly wondered where Snow made it.
Anyway, when they say anything at all, most references to Wavelength just say it was shot on Canal Street. Some say it was in an “80-foot loft.” The awnings partially visible mid-way in the film weren’t much help. So I drove up and down Canal Street on Google Street View trying to match the windows, with no luck. Then I found a 2007 interview Snow gave to Border Crossings Magazine, where he notes that screening Wavelength led to meeting Steve Reich, who turned out to live right around the corner from where Snow had shot Wavelength: at 300 Canal.
So there you go. 300 Canal St is a 5-story commercial building sandwiched between Pearl Paint and Broadway post office. It’s more like 25×60′. For years it had fake purse stores on the ground floor. In the most recent GSV imagery [Jan 2013], the storefront is empty, with no entrance to the upper floors. Because it’s on the back, where it’s known as 63 Lispenard St. There are two slapdash, sheetrocked 650sf 1BR apartments/floor. Here’s what the set of Wavelength looks like now:
Pretty grim. The original Great Art In Ugly Rooms. Though it probably does have heat now. And maybe the picture hanging between the windows is the current residents’ nod to their loft’s important avant-garde history.
Jerry Saltz tells Artinfo a few of his least-favorite art world things, including:
an endless stream of art-school-trained artists trying to crawl up the asses of Andy Warhol, Richard Prince, and Gerhard Richter in order to stake out a microscopic piece of insular, already-approved territory
Alright, I’ve looked into it and talked to some folks, and while I was and am right to be incredulous, I now feel a little better about Gerhard Richter’s Strip series of digitally printed works Marian Goodman is showing in Paris [above].
So I talked with some Richter collectors, some people who have seen the work in person, either in Paris or elsewhere, and some folks at Marian Goodman, who thoughfully listened to my grave declaration that “I have some real issues with these works,” and gamely engaged it, almost as if a real sale were hanging in the balance, which, obviously, it was not.
The easiest and best first thing to do: ignore Buchloh. I started reading his catalogue essay, and just decided that his ruminations on the implications these digital prints under plexiglass have for the history of facture would just piss me off, so I set it aside for another day. Ultimately, the way I’ve come around to the work, or at least come to see it as credible, is by considering it within Richter’s own practice and history, not as a dubiously hyped innovation of global import.
Invariably, in every conversation, the first reply to my skepticism about these giant pixel extrusions was, “Have you seen the book?”
“The book” is not the slim exhibition catalogue for Goodman’s show, which reproduces 14 examples of Strip, and edition of 72 unique digital prints [53x105cm, mounted on Aludibond] which were chosen from 4,096 possible strips by “chance operation”; as well as the much larger [160x300cm, plexi] works made by combining “selected” strips. [There are also the oil-poured-on-glass Sindbad pictures, but whatever. Off topic. I just want to contrast the different processes, one clearly Cageian, one clearly not, that went into making works out of the system Richter devised.]
And that system is what’s only really expressed fully in “the book.” Patterns. Divided – Mirrored – Repeated, the massive artist book [41x27cm, 520 pages] published by Walther Koenig in an edition of 800+50, is overwhelming. It consists of 221 spreads showing strips from each of the “twelve stages of division” being mirrored and repeated. I found myself constantly turning back to the key, a diagram of Abstraktes Bild CR724-4, the 1990 squeegee painting which is Richter’s “ready-made” source overlaid with the division and subdivision matrix used to generate the strips. I should have snapped a photo of it, but instead, I’ve simulated it here by hand, with only six divisions, instead of Richter’s twelve:
The exponential increase reminds me of the old illustrations of a nuclear chain reaction, which is kind of relevant; Richter has printed digitally manipulated photos of atoms taken with an electron scanning microscope, like his Strontium photomural [below] at the deYoung in San Francisco. Richter conceives of a similarly infinitesimal division continuing here, too, and he apparently only stopped at 4,096 0.8mm-wide strips because the next level of would require magnification to see.
Strontium 2004, 910x945cm, CR888, image via gerhard-richter
Before seeing Patterns, I originally thought these Strips were just pixel-wide extrusions. They are not. The wider, lower-order strips clearly show the mirroring and repeating. Here’s a detail from the cover of Koenig’s 2011 catalogue [pdf] and an unsatisfying page shot from inside. I’d say these are from the 256 and 128 divisions, respectively:
Even on the 2,048 division strips, you can still see the pointy, mini-Rorschach forms. And yet all the stand-alone editions and works came only from the 4,096 level. Which I assume means the static/boring horizontal stripes running across the larger prints should vibrate up close with nearly invisible mirrorings. And since no one has mentioned it, and everyone’s first and last resort to the book instead, I’m going to assume that effect is either not evident, not successful, or not compelling.
This is not the first time Richter has undertaken a photographic dissection of a painting, of course. He reworks reproductions of his paintings for editions all the time. [He also cut at least one squeegee painting into pieces, which were sold separately, but that’s another story.] His most closely related experiment dates from 1978, where he took black and white pictures of an abstract painting, Halifax, which he used in a photogrid, 128 Photographs of A Picture, and in several artist books, beginning in 1980 with the edition that inspired the title of this post,128 Details From A Picture (Halifax 1978) I.
Unlike the computational precision that generated Strips, Richter took the 128 Halifax photos “from various sides, from various angles, various distances and under different light conditions.” And yet the end result of both is an apparently randomized, disorientated view of deracinated fragments. A nod to photography’s mechanical “magnifiying vision,” but also a deliberate and thorough sandbagging of its objective, informational idiom.
128 Details from a Picture (Halifax 1978) II, 1998, offset prints, image via gerhard-richter
For years, I’ve loved the Halifax photow way more than the painting. Richter’s expedition across the surface of the painting turns it into a landscape, which his images don’t even pretend to map. Richter must like them, too, because he’s kept reissuing them over the years as new booksandeditions.
So already in 1978, Richter demonstrates there is no way to reconstitute the image of the original painting from the distorted, incomplete photofragments. Not news. But that might be fine. I bet you could reverse engineer a pretty reasonable approximation of 724-4. Or at least an actionable one. Or an interesting one.
And I would bet that, if you fed a hi-res photo of Halifax and the 128 photos into a computer, it would now be possible to crunch the images and solve the puzzle. Not only could you identify all the parts in the photos, analyzing the light angles and camera distances in a 3D animation program should reveal Richter’s position, sequence, and the path he took as he wandered around the painting with his camera.
Richter was able to stay a generation or so ahead in his flight from intentionality, but it seems to have caught up with him.
Previously: Gerhard Richter Strip Show
Similar but not related: Marion Thayer MacMillan’s Water Pictures