I’m slow to realize I’ve only been hyping this on Twitter, but I’m psyched that my essay on Sam Gilliam and his decades-long investigations of abstraction is out now in Art in America magazine.
When the editors asked me all the way back in June, the assignment was to interview the artist in his studio, a regular feature of the magazine. Gilliam had just opened a retrospective in Basel, and was working on a show in LA in the fall. When that show got pushed back, the interview request process got drawn out, and finally, I ended up going to Gilliam’s studio to talk about interviewing him, but very purposefully not interviewing.
He was a gracious and fascinating guy in the middle of a great deal of activity, and we figured it would be best to talk more at length after the show got pinned down. And then the show preparations intensified, and my deadline loomed, and I ended up writing a full-on essay rather than interviewing Gilliam. Which was the culmination of a months-long journey through his work, his career, and his life, digging through archives and clippings files and hours of earlier interview recordings.
My takeaway is utter respect for Gilliam’s work and his practice, which evinces the kind of fierce independence required to sustain six-plus decades of experimentation, only some of which happened in the spotlight of the mainstream art world. I find myself rewriting the essay right now, so just go ahead and read it; I left it all on the page.
In Bruce Hainley’s new essay on Cady Noland [Artforum Jan ’19, too short at 12 pages] I learned that the artist’s mom, Cornelia Langer Noland Reis, was the co-owner with Maria O’Leary of a world-focused jewelry and fashion boutique in Old Town, Alexandria known as Nuevo Mundo.
The image, with caption, at top, is from a 2015 remembrance of O’Leary, who was a life/style icon to the moms and daughters of Old Town. The image above was screencapped from a checklist of Robert Gober’s 2014 MoMA retrospective. It included a re-staging of his 1999 group show for which Cady Noland made Stand-In for a Stand-In, a cardboard version of a stock.
This, the 23rd installment of Better Read, texts that are better read aloud by a computer, was inspired by a @ballardian tweet. It is the table of contents of Simon Sellars’ new sort-of-a-novel-sort-of-a-memoir, Applied Ballardianism, which is out this month from Urbanomic. As I type that out, I fear I transcribed it as Urbanomics. Fortunately, probably no one will listen to this. I should’ve kept my trap shut. [update: I did not.]
I was absolutely floored by this tiny quote from Zora Neale Hurston’s 1928 field interview with Cudjoe Lewis, who was one of the last known survivors of the last slave-ship to come to the United States. He arrived in the US from what is now Benin in 1859 or 1860, smuggled in on the Clotilde at the age of 19. His given name was Kossula.
“I want to know who you are and how you came to be a slave; and to what part of Africa do you belong, and how you fared as a slave, and how you have managed as a free man?”
His head was bowed for a time. Then he lifted his wet face: “Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go in de Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody dere say, ‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’ ”
Hurston spent three months interviewing Kossula, and even longer trying to get his history published. Because of her training an anthropologist she refused publishers’ demands that she rewrite Kossula’s vernacular testimony. 87 years later, it is being released for the first time, and I just bought it.
[This is where I originally expected this quick post to stop.]
Kossula was a leader of the community of Clotilde survivors who after attempting to return to Africa, created a settlement outside Mobile, Alabama called Africatown. In a 1914 book called Historic Sketches of the South, Emma Roche Langdon recounted the stories of the Clotilde’s voyage, the survivors, and their descendants. She spelled his name Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis.
The original was carved in wood, to be cast in bronze. When the bronze bust was ripped off the base and stolen in 2002, the pastor said it had been in front of the church for “about three decades.” Was he off by 15 years, or had it taken until the 1970s to make the cast of Rhodes’ sculpture?
In 2008 a new, similarly shaped sculpture was unveiled, though this picture from a local newscast shows it next to a wall, not on the brick pyramid, because it was installed at the Africatown Welcome Center alongside a bust of John Smith, a mayor of the nearby town of Prichard. The sculptures were donated by two filmmakers from Africa, Thomas Akodjinou from Benin and Felix Yao Amenyo Eklu from Togo, in 2007.
On his blog Akodjinou honored John Smith for his involvement in the Alabama Benin Trade and Economic Cooperation Forum, which saw Africatown as an historic symbol of reconciliation between the two interconnected cultures.
In March 2011, both sculptures were vandalized, with their heads ripped off. The sculptures were originally described as marble, but from the look of this painted and chipped base, I am doubtful.
The headless busts were still visible in 2016 when Belgian artist Maarten Vanden Eynde visited Africatown. His account is disheartening, if not downright harrowing. Besides the historic cemetery, which is sinking, many of the structures and homes are run down or abandoned, and the area is threatened by surrounding industrial redevelopment. [Tho tbh, it looks kind of typical on GSV from 2011-2017.]
In 2016 sculptor April Livingston launched a GoFundMe to make a new bust, just the head this time, to be cast out of iron. It was bolted to the base in February 2017, when she promised the local news that she could cast a million more. Me, I’m most interested in the history of the previous three.
The editor of Social Medium: Artists Writing 2000-2015, Jennifer Liese, alerted me to Francesca Balboni’s CAA Review of the anthology, which includes a very nice mention of my Erased de Kooning Drawing posts.
For me, however, the good moments outweighed those that were less than stellar. The biggest revelation was Greg Allen’s idiosyncratically obsessive and meticulously researched blog posts on Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (2011–13). Allen seems to answer Mike Kelley’s assertion to artists in “Artist/Critic?” (2001, another highlight) that “historical writing” can no longer be the project only of the art historian, if we wish to “escape the present limitations of critical discourse” (33). Allen’s blog offers an instructive example of the kind of art histories we might pursue instead. Mariam Ghani’s “The Islands of Evasion: Notes on International Art English” (2013) is as incisive as it is readable, as she summarizes and responds to the heated critical debate around Alix Rule and David Levine’s essay “International Art English.” I also enjoyed many of the selections in “Artists Writing as Art,” especially a bureaucratic love letter to the Liverpool CCTV from Jill Magid’s surveillance performance One Cycle of Memory in the City of L. (2004) and the script for Andrea Fraser’s biting institutional critique Official Welcome (2001).
It is still a sufficiently rare occurrence for me to see such reactions to my work, and it has definitely not gotten old, especially on a rough news day. [Are there any other kind lately?] But it also energizes me to be read as in dialogue with Mike Kelley, and to be discussed in the context of such artists and writers as these folks. I still find Social Medium to be an invigorating read, and am still really grateful to Liese for including me in it.
virgil Abloh, J.W. Anderson, Diplo e Ricky Martin erano tutti presenti al progetto di partito di Carsten Höller
Se fossi a Londra intorno al 2008, potresti ricordare Il Doppio Club: un incongruo pop-up a tema congolese, ospitato in un magazzino del nord di Londra. Creato dall’artista Carsten Höller e bizzarramente sponsorizzato da Prada, il club / bar / ristorante temporaneo ha attratto celebrità, modaisti e club per oltre otto mesi. Probabilmente passerà alla storia come la più eccitante esperienza della vita notturna mai vista nella capitale.
L’EVENTO DI APERTURA DI MIAMI DOPPIO CLUB DI PRADA. FOTO: PIETRO BJORK
Quasi un decennio più tardi, Il Doppio Club è riportato in vita per la sedicesima edizione di Arte Basel Miami. Per soli tre giorni, questa seconda iterazione dell’installazione artistica esperienziale ha preso il sopravvento in uno studio cinematografico degli anni ’20 con un’imponente line-up, titolata dalla Principessa Nokia, Metodo Uomo e la Madonna Nera. È stato lanciato con una prestazione di Wyclef Jean, che ha radunato Miuccia Prada, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Chloe Saggio e Ricky Martin nel suo giardino tropicale illuminato al neon.
Il Prada Doppio Club Miami – in contrasto con la sua edizione originale di Londra – ha una divisione estetica, tra monocromatico e iper-policromatico. Mentre lo spazio esterno sabbioso e il suo palapa bar sono illuminati da neon colorati perfettamente proporzionati, la sezione interna sembra di entrare in un film di Tim Burton – nero, bianco e nient’altro consentito. “Prendo particolare attenzione ai dettagli”, spiega Höller, che aveva incaricato i buttafuori di confiscare le cannucce colorate all’ingresso del secondo spazio, per preservare la sua identità estetica.
VIRGIL ABLOH. FOTO: GETTY
L’artista tedesco nato in Belgio è noto per la natura interattiva del suo lavoro – spesso associato al movimento dell’estetica relazionale – in cui la percezione e il processo decisionale sono centrali. Per il suo sondaggio presso la Hayward Galleria nel 2015, i visitatori sono stati confrontati con una serie di scelte: tra la porta A e la porta B per entrare nella galleria; inghiottire una pillola da una pila sul pavimento o no (pensa Il Matrice blu e rosso); è stato buttato giù dal museo da una delle due gigantesche diapositive attaccate alla facciata della Rivasud (che ha fatto il suo acclamato debutto alla Tate Moderno nel 2006). Lo stesso concetto si applica al club di Miami, dove le persone dovevano scegliere tra due contesti drasticamente contrastanti (sebbene fossero liberi di viaggiare da uno all’altro).
E mentre il “divertimento” gioca chiaramente un ruolo importante nel lavoro di Höller (è in qualche modo sconcertante pensare di essere stato addestrato come scienziato agricolo), Il Doppio Club va ben oltre il puro divertimento. È un viaggio in cui arte, design e musica coesistono.
“IL PRADA DOPPIO CLUB MIAMI”, UN PROGETTO DI CARSTEN HÖLLER PRESENTATO DALLA FONDAZIONE PRADA MIAMI, 5-7 DICEMBRE 2017. FOTO: CASEY KELBAUGH CORTESIA FONDAZIONE PRADA
“A volte vengo a conoscere le culture attraverso la musica”, ci dice Höller, indicando la line-up caraibica e sudamericana del palcoscenico all’aperto (un momento saliente del secondo giorno è stata una performance del locale, 7-pezzo Tallawah Mento Banda ). “Volevo celebrare queste comunità, che sono così centrali nel tessuto culturale di Miami”, continua. Nel frattempo, la musica elettronica pesante ha dominato lo spazio al chiuso, grazie a spettacoli come Mimi Xu (conosciuto anche Coniglio Nebbioso) e il produttore di Chicago la Madonna Nera.
Allo stesso modo, nel 2008 a Londra, il dialogo tra culture occidentali e congolesi è stato al centro dell’attenzione. Höller (che divide il suo tempo tra la Svezia e il Ghana) ha viaggiato in Congo estensivamente negli ultimi 20 anni. Questo interesse, senza dubbio, fu alimentato dalla sua educazione in Belgio, la cui violenta eredità coloniale segnò profondamente il paese centro-africano. “Volevo adottare un approccio più positivistico”, racconta Höller. “Il Congo è un posto enorme. Volevo celebrare quella cultura in tutta la sua vitalità e potenza. ”
HANS ULRICH OBRIST E CARSTEN HÖLLER. FOTO: PIETRO BJORK
Ora, Arte Basel Miami – uno dei momenti più esclusivi dell’agenda culturale internazionale, in cui l’uno per cento affluisce da tutte le parti del mondo – non è esattamente l’ambiente ovvio per un autentico scambio culturale. Quindi, la diversità ha in qualche modo abbandonato l’agenda, a favore dell’esperienza esperienziale glamour e guidata dal marchio? “Tu hai l’intrinseca diversità di Miami, e in più la natura internazionale di Arte Basel”, spiega l’artista. “Era una folla molto variegata, imballata dall’inizio alla fine.”
Indipendentemente da ciò, Il Doppio Club sarà probabilmente ricordato come la cosa più bella che è successo a questa edizione di Arte Basel Miami. E, chissà, potrebbe anche creare un campo in una città vicino a te in futuro: “È certamente una possibilità”, dice Höller, che ritiene che gran parte del suo lavoro possa essere concepito come un doppio club. Si spera che la prossima tappa duri abbastanza a lungo per segnare davvero la coscienza collettiva locale.
“IL PRADA DOPPIO CLUB MIAMI”, UN PROGETTO DI CARSTEN HÖLLER PRESENTATO DALLA FONDAZIONE PRADA MIAMI, 5-7 DICEMBRE 2017. FOTO: CASEY KELBAUGH. CORTESIA FONDAZIONE PRADA
previously, suddenly related: Rem Casafresca
Everywhere I looked, everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be exactly as it was, with nothing added. It was a new freedom; there was no longer the need to compose. The subject was there already made, and I could take from everything. It all belonged to me: a glass roof of a factory with its broken and patched panels, lines on a road map, a corner of a Braque painting, paper fragments in the street. It was all the same: anything goes.
Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery), title page, 2017, 34-page pdf Untitled (Mnuchin Gallery) is a 2017 work comprising a 2012 technical paper by four economists in the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Analysis. The paper explained a revision to the Treasury’s methodology for analyzing the impact of corporate income taxes on companies, owners, and workers. It did this by examining the type of income (capital or labor/wage) and the distribution of those income sources across the entire taxpayer population. It was found, for example, that the top 1% of households accounted for 49.8% of total capital income, but only 11.5% of labor income.
The purpose of the study was to understand the impacts of tax-related policies and forecasts more accurately, and in greater detail, in the hope that more accurate data will lead to better-crafted policy and legislation.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has spent several months making claims about lowering corporate income tax rates that are directly contradicted by the findings of the study, and the calculations of Treasury Department’s career economists. So he had the study removed from the US Treasury website, and a spokesman has disavowed the methodology as “the dated staff analysis of the previous administration.” No alternate methodology or analysis has been offered.
Steven Mnuchin, like his father Robert Mnuchin, was a partner at Goldman Sachs. Like is father, he collects modern and contemporary art. One Mnuchin is in the business of conferring relevance on objects by exhibiting them, the other by suppressing and disappearing them. This work is a family reunion of those two tactics. Untitled_Mnuchin_Gallery.pdf [34pg, pdf, via wsj]
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]
When I saw a 2-year-old book titled “Volume 13” I realized I had no idea how much the Gerhard Richter Archive has been publishing. Or what. And at the moment, it turns out to be non-trivial to find out.
They are not all published in English, or in every market, so they are called, variously, Schriften des Gerhard Richter Archiv Dresden, Band whatever, Writings of the Gerhard Richter Archive Volume whatever, and Publications from the Gerhard Richter Archive Dresden, Volume whatever. Yet specific web searches prove insufficient. And the Archiv’s director Dr. Dietmar Elger is himself too prolific and accomplished to be of much help in narrowing things down.
Somehow I can find no single list of titles*, so I have made one here. I expect it will be rendered obsolete some day by a database update to the artist’s website. Or by a page compiled by the archive itself.
Until then, though, a seemingly brazen SEO ploy feels right at home on a site that, at one point, literally published a weekly index of New Yorker Magazine articles because the New Yorker did not. So greg.org is proud to present The Compleat Publications from the Gerhard Richter Archive Dresden, in chronological order.
Ah, I think I see the problem. Schriften des Gerhard Richter Archiv Dresden; vol. 1
Sechs Vorträge über Gerhard Richter. Februar 2007, Residenzschloss Dresden (2007, Walther König, Köln)
Documentation of a six-lecture symposium organized on the occasion of the artist’s 75th birthday.
ISBN 3865602991 amazon [us] | amazon [de] | gerhard-richter.com Publications from the Gerhard Richter Archiv Dresden, Volume 1
I’ve recently enjoyed and been enlightened by Martin Herbert’s new collection of essays, Tell Them I Said No published by Sternberg Press. Herbert considers ten artists who have left the “art world” and how. I put that in scare quotes because some artists stop making work, while others stop showing it, and others refuse to perform as public figures discussing or representing their work.
It’s a very thoughtful group of essays about a fascinating and challenging group of artists who, it turns out, are engaging with art and artistic practice entirely on their own terms. The artists are Agnes Martin, Albert York, Charlotte Posenenske, Stanley Brouwn, David Hammons, Lutz Bacher, Christopher D’Arcangelo, Laurie Parsons, Cady Noland, and Trisha Donnelly.
A couple of excerpts from Herbert’s introduction:
As performed today, [self-detachment] pushes against the current in an epoch of celebrity worship and its related feedback loop, increasingly universal visibility and access. A big part of the artist’s role now, in a massively professionalized art world, is showing up to self-market, being present. On all channels, ideally: see how, aside from all the photo opportunities, far-from-digital-native figures take to social media or splash themselves when possible across magazines (which grander galleries now produce themselves) or collaborate with fashion designers, all gates open.
In such a context of hectic short-termism and multiple types of oversharing, some kind of voluntary retreat, some respect for the Joycean triumvirate of silence, exile, and cunning, might constitute a vanguard, if a difficult and apparently suicidal one to countenance today since it seemingly requires earning the right to leave.
None of this, meanwhile, has transpired in a steady-state art world. Rather, the urge to pull back, where felt, echoes changing conditions over decades, from the swing toward dematerialization and its intersection with critique, to art’s transmogrification into a backcloth for the power plays of the prosperous.
Each case Herbert examines is particular; he does not try to force artists’ experiences and choices into an over-arching historical analysis. But as I found myself nodding along in recognition and admiration for these artists, I came to feel a case being made against the structures of the market- and celebrity-centered art world we’re soaking in.
This multi-faceted questioning reminded me of another paradigmatic challenge, posed by Helen Molesworth in the Dec. 2016 issue of Artforum. Molesworth asks why shock, countering shock with shock, and a strategy of épater le bourgeoisie persists as the dominant mode of modernism and the avant-garde:
Must meaning be predicated on shock? Why was a cut or a break always required for something to be historically serious or significant? Why couldn’t continuity or gentleness, even, be imagined as a hermeneutic of radicality? As someone with a nascent interest in domesticity and the quotidian, I felt that shock didn’t help me understand much of anything.
Molesworth goes on to discuss powerful examples of engagement, listening, connection and self-reflection as alternatives to the received models of attention-grabbing spectacle and an ever-intensifying cycle of shock and desensitization. In a similar way, while the artists Herbert discusses don’t show a singular path out of the current hall of mirrors, they remind us of the overlooked potential of engaging art with questioning, silence, and refusal. Who could refuse to buy Tell Them I Said No at Amazon for like $24? [amazon]
It’s been a hard season to think of positive things, and sometimes looking back, it’s been difficult to see how or if things mattered at all. But I also look back at the year with immense gratitude, both for the opportunities I’ve had, but also for the people who helped make them possible. I’d probably still be doing a lot of what I’m doing here if no one else was paying attention; that’s how it often feels, actually. But I’ve come to know that sometimes people do take an interest in what I’m doing, whether writing, research, criticism, or artmaking, and they respond to it, react to it, challenge it, run with it, join in on it. And it makes it interesting, better, and more meaningful, and it is nice to feel that. But there are also things, some of my greatest, favorite things, that would not have existed at all without the interest, effort, and support of others.
So I’d like to give some specific thanks to some of the many people who engaged with and supported my work in 2016. Without them, these things I am so proud of would literally not have happened.
Magda Sawon suggested we do a proposal for SPRING/BREAK. “Chop Shop” began as a glib sendup of Simchowitzian cash&carry speculecting. But in the last few weeks before the show, it grew exponentially in scale, which forced some real thinking about its meaning and ambition. With Ambre & Andrew’s flexibility, and the extraordinary efforts of Magda’s posse, Chop Shop somehow became what supposed to not be: a Basel-ian boothful of investment-grade masterpieces. [Some of which are still available, btw. Get in now at 2016, pre-boom prices.]
Book deals come and go, but Jennifer Liese and her colleagues at Paper Monument offered what bloggers need most: a good editing. When PM first asked to include my 2+ years of posts about the history of Erased deKooning Drawing in their anthology Social Medium, I frankly thought they were nuts. But Jen’s vision and thoughtful editing helped me see my own writing and ideas anew, and she enabled them to reach people in an amazing, new context. I’ve never felt prouder of my writing than to have it included among the great work of so many artists who influence and inspire me already.
Mark Leckey and John Garcia included my work in shows that were totally fascinating and different from anything I could have imagined, which let me think about it and the world it inhabits in a new way. Having my satelloon sculpture be subsumed into Leckey’s autobiographically inspired installation at MoMA PS1 turns out to be a rare privilege, to be able to help realize, almost literally, someone’s memory.
And Garcia’s inclusion of the Madoff Provenance Project in his show about context’s impact on art at To___Bridges___ not only gave it a challenging context, it pushed me to figure out ways to make the project visible and understandable beyond its datalayer. This in turn helped me see how my work connects to, and was informed by, artists of earlier generations. [In this case, there’s an obvious shoutout due to Mel Bochner and his Working drawings and other visible things on paper not necessarily meant to be viewed as art, a project whose title has long resonated with my own ambivalence about calling myself an artist or what I do art.]
Sarah Douglas and Andrew Russeth at ArtNews invited me to write about one of my favorite, all-consuming blogtopics: the disappearance of the Johns flag in Short Circuit. And recently Eric Doeringer and I had a great public conversation about his work, and the early Johns/Rauschenberg era that I continue to find engrossing and misunderstood.
Collectors and supporters who engage in the oddball, time- and space-limited art projects I proposed around here literally made them happen. In the crazy-skewed art world of the moment, lowering the stakes and making and trading art for two figures feels refreshing. And most awesomely, these projects have been a catalyst for connecting with some inspiring people who share some interests, and who introduce me to their passions and practices, too. [I hope 2017 lasts long enough for me to do a book version of eBay Test Prints, btw.]
Most of all, I have to thank my wife, who is my smartest, most skeptical, yet most tireless supporter. She is so deeply disapproving of my #andiron-style art designation practice it is not even funny, but she also sees me wrestling with it myself and taking it seriously, so she does, too. And anyway, at the very least, when I’m dead and gone, and she doesn’t have to deal with a storing or tossing a studio or warehouseful of objects, she’ll come around. So thank you, and thank you all. I hope we all get through 2017 and beyond to do this again.
I’m kind of giddy even to type this, but I will be in a panel discussion this Sunday to talk about Social Medium: Artists Writing 2000-2015, an anthology published by Paper Monument and edited by Jennifer Liese. And yes, that means that I have an essay in the book. Technically, it’s a revised version of the series of blog posts I wrote between 2011-13 about Erased de Kooning Drawing, but it still feels unreal to me that it’s actually happening.
The talk will be held in conjunction with the preview of the book at the NY Art Book Fair Classroom, PS1, 3pm. Also in the discussion, which Jen will be leading: Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Josiah McElheny, John Miller, and Mira Schor. I mean, right? You should come back to NYABF just for these people.
Later I will write more about the anthology, which looks amazing; with 75 artist writers, it’s easily 15x as amazing as our 5-person panel will be, and the official launch next month at The Kitchen should be great too. But for now, the point is, I am stoked for Sunday. Social Medium: Artists Writing 2000-2015, published by Paper Monument Oct. 20, 2016 [papermonument] NY Art Book Fair | The Classroom [nyartbookfair]
examples of Taliesin Square Papers from the Frank Lloyd Wright Library at Steinerag
Welcome to Better Read, an intermittent experiment at greg.org to transform art-related texts into handy, entertaining, and informative audio. This text is excerpts from a pamphlet essay by Frank Lloyd Wright, “In the Cause of Architecture: The “International Style” (Soft Cover), published by Taliesin Fellowship in February 1953. It would be the last of what were called the Taliesen Square Paper Series. The editorial was republished in the July 1953 issue of House Beautiful magazine with the title, “Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up.” Wright was 85 years old at the time, and he hated hated the International Style.
I could not find print copies of either of these publications available anywhere. Library holdings of House Beautiful are spotty and incomplete. When I tried the authoritative-seeming, five-volume Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, I also came up short. There are only five copies of Vol. 5 (1949-1959) listed in libraries in the US. How could this be? I ended up buying a used copy for a couple of bucks from Goodwill in Michigan, which turned out to have been deaccessioned by the library in a federal prison. Anyway, the text comes from there [pp. 66-69].
I wanted to find this text because it is the source of two popular zingers from Wright: the great opening line, “The ‘International Style’ is neither international, nor a style,” and saying supporters of modern architecture are not only totalitarians, fascists, or communists, they “are not wholesome people.” This line came up, for example, in a recent Atlas Obscura article about Hollin Hills, a nice but innocuous mid-century modernist subdivision near Washington DC.
I wanted to see the fuller context of Wright’s criticisms, partly because one of the objects of his scorn, the MoMA-affiliated architect Philip Johnson, was actually a Nazi and an aspiring leader of US fascism at one point. [I’ve come to think Johnson recognized the disadvantages of political affiliation for his real interest: himself and his career, and that his devotion for the rest of his life to establishment power was quite sincere, but that’s not the point right now.]
The main reason is because Wright’s communist and anti-modernist bogeymen sounded familiar, like they might resonate with the conservative or rightist campaigns against everything modern, from abstraction to Brutalism to Post-Modernism, to Tilted Arc to the Culture Wars, Wojnarowicz, you name it. Wright’s architecture has been generally assimilated into our historical narrative, but, I thought, it’s come at the cost of our understanding of the political context in which he created it, and from which he attacked those who didn’t ascribe to his own views, or pursue his particular agenda.
Anyway, Wright’s text is after the jump, or you can listen to the text read by a robot. better_read_frank_lloyd_wright_intl_style_20160505.mp3 [dropbox greg.org, 18mb mp3, 13min or so]
I was going to post an actual review of Kenneth Goldsmith’s new book, Capital, then the attacks in Paris happened. And then I thought I would write about Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, which served as inspiration for Goldsmith’s compendium. But I found the texts about Paris that fascinated Benjamin to be completely unhelpful for the situation I was in. I lived and worked between New York and Paris for several years until 2000. I embraced the 1999 edition of The Arcades Project as a map into my adopted city. And now that map felt out of date.
This is all too much information, though, for what I have decided to do, since no one really needs my warm take on a book that is, by design, nearly unreviewable, about a city, New York, that is equally impervious to encapsulation.
So here is a mashup of Capital and The Arcades Project, excerpting texts from whatever page I turn to, in turn. Benjamin first, p. 306:
Baudelaire’s fatalism: “At the time of the coup d’état in December, he felt a sense of outrage. ‘What a disgrace!’ he cried at first; then he came to see things ‘from a providential perspective’ and resigned himself like a monk.” Desjardins, “Charles Baudelaire,” Revue bleue (1887), p. 19.
Baudelaire-according to Desjardins-unites the sensibility of the Marquis de Sade with the doctrines of Jansenius.
Americans looked on with wonder and asked him what the name of the food was that his chef was preparing. His answer was “Chop Suey” which meant that it was a combination of mixed foods. He explained that it was a meal consisting of bean sprouts, celery and Chinese greens, plus amy more vegetables, with a touch of meat, usually pork. The guests begged him to let them taste it. They did. Immediately they clamored for more. Overnight, Chop Suey won widespread popularity.
Chinese residents in New York soon found a new field of endeavor open to them. They opened restaurants and called them “Chop Suey Houses.” Many of these original Chop Suey Houses still exist.