Where to even start when I’ve been at it for so long?
which became a thing at an art world’s fair.Continue reading “Wait What? Osaka ’70 Isozaki X Thomas Ruff Japanese Press++”
Where to even start when I’ve been at it for so long?
which became a thing at an art world’s fair.Continue reading “Wait What? Osaka ’70 Isozaki X Thomas Ruff Japanese Press++”
Study for Untitled (Adidas Art Basel), 2017, nylon and ink on Adidas EQT shoe, image: ebay seller miadrian10
Art Basel is suing Adidas for trademark infringement over these kicks. A thousand pairs were given away at a string of branded flashmobs in Miami on November 30th, two days before the opening of the art fair they had no official marketing agreement with. Is there a term for astroturfed flashmobs? Is there any other kind these days? Did you know Adidas been hypin’ kicks at #ABMB since at least 2010? Does a viral flash mob still count if you have to Google it?
Anyway, 2016. According to hype groupies like high snobiety and World Red Eye, a mirror-wrapped school bus drove 48 performance artist/brand ambassador/whatevers around town. Stops included a high school in the Design District, HdM’s parking garage, and some millennial-branded Hilton in South Beach.
screencap from @britneyc0807
They were decked out in #monochromatic reflective gear. They stood in formation, Vanessa Beecroft-style. They did some dance moves. Ideally, their gear did its retroreflective blast out thing when it was photographed.
Then they unloaded their loot, lined it up like a freakin’ Eleanor Antin street team, and, I guess, handed it out to the ‘gramming masses like rations off the back of a UN truck. Then everyone started flipping their swag on eBay. It’s hard to say where the stunt’s brand impact actually landed the hardest: on the 1st-to-know sneaker chasers, the day-of hashtaggers, the eBay resale remoras, or now, on the so-DGAF lawsuit bad bois.
images: ebayseller sorry, lost it
Art Basel is suing over the tongue tags on these free sneakers, and in addition to brand damages, is demanding Adidas destroy all the infringey sneakers it still has. If you budget for ex-post trademark settlements, is it actually a bootleg?
Study for Untitled (Adidas Art Basel), 2017, retroreflective paint and ink on panel, 50x50cm
Untitled (Adidas Art Basel) is a series of 1,000 numbered paintings based on this tongue tag composition, made in various sizes. Or should I say they will be made. Might be. Conceived to be.
Study for Untitled (Adidas Art Basel) photographed, 2017, retroreflective paint and ink on panel, 50x50cm
I know what I’ve written about artists having a successful system, but honestly, it’s debatable whether the world needs 10 more paintings at all right now, much less 1,000. Of these. Can you even imagine having a thousand of these paintings lying around? You literally could not give them away, lawyers or no. Or maybe you can? Just put a few hundred super-shiny posters in a stack and BAM, you’re in Venice.
Ima get to work on one, see if it delivers that retroflective kick the study’s promising. Then I’ll let my estate sort out the rest.
Art Basel is Suing adidas Over its Limited Edition ‘Art Basel’ Shoes [thefashionlaw via artforum, thanks @kyle_petreycik]
Here’s How You Can Get 1 of Only 1,000 Pairs of adidas’s “Art Basel” Limited Edition EQT ADV [highsnobiety]
Adidas Flash Mob in the Miami Design District [worldredeye]
Previously, related: Webdriver Torso as Found Painting System
When Form Becomes Content, or Luanda, Encyclopedic City
Chop Shop installation shot at SPRING/BREAK 2016, in the vault on the 3rd floor of Moynihan Station, image: Tamas Banovich
I am psyched to announce “Chop Shop”, a show of my work at SPRING/BREAK 2016. SPRING/BREAK’s keyword this year is ⌘COPY⌘PASTE, which is probably what gave Magda Sawon the idea to approach me about a project. “Chop Shop” coalesced around several subjects and series that have appeared recently on greg.org: creative destruction; authenticity; artist’s agency; a critique of collectors, the market, and the networks art traverses; and the interactions between our digital, cognitive, and physical experiences.
In just the last few weeks, the show grew more ambitious and felt like the whole thing might just veer off the rails, but thanks to Magda and her people, the flexible and gracious organizers of SPRING/BREAK, and the expert assistance of some brave painters and printers, it all came together. And it looks absolutely mindbogglingly great, almost exactly the uncanny combination of spectacle, aura, and outrageous WTF? that I’d imagined. And to top it all off, it’s installed inside A GIANT, FREAKING VAULT.
Chop Shop installation shot with Destroyed Richter Grid No. 4, Destroyed Richter Painting No. 8, Shanzhai Gursky Grid No. 1, and Destroyed Richter Paintings Nos. 12 & 11, image: Tamas Banovich
Every work in “Chop Shop” is something I’ve been imagining or visualizing for months, or sometimes even years, but which I had not experienced in person, until now. And this process of conceptualizing something, and then actually realizing it, and then experiencing it, is intensely satisfying to me. I look at tons and tons of art, not only online, but in person, too. And the differences between these experiences and the impressions they leave feel important. So it’s not just a nicety when I say I hope you will be able to see “Chop Shop” in person. [It runs from Tuesday March 1 through March 7.]
“Chop Shop’s” images are appropriated from the old masters, but its processes are lifted from collectors, dealers, and museum shopkeepers. The artwork on view has either already been destroyed, and brought back to life, or it’s about to be chopped up to order, or broken up and parted out.
The show includes: new Destroyed Richter Paintings, which are full-scale resurrections of Gerhard Richter paintings that now exist only in archival negatives or jpgs. Some are of paintings the artist destroyed himself (after photographing them, obv), and some are of paintings that have been destroyed in the wild. In a nod to Richter’s own practice of transforming his paintings into photos, prints, or other media, some of the Destroyed Richter Paintings in “Chop Shop” are printed on aluminum panels. They are literally dazzling.
Destroyed Richter Grid No. 1 A-L, 2016, UV pigment on aluminum, 50x60cm each, unique, image: Tamas Banovich
In another nod-or maybe it’s a critique wrapped up in an homage, it’s really too early to say-to Richter’s own destructive predilections, the Destroyed Richter Grid works transform [the jpg of] a lost squeegee painting into a set of prints on aluminum, which will be sold separately and scattered. Unlike Richter’s Facsimile Objects, which are produced in bulk, these grid pieces are each a lone, unique work, part of a whole that will only be visible together during the show. So Richter’s lost works stay lost, unless or until an enterprising curator in the future tracks all these panels down and reassembles them. And even then, what do we have, but a reconstituted jpg? We go to exhibition with the art we have, I guess.
Shanzhai Gursky Grids are related to the Shanzhai Gursky series, which are produced full-scale from whatever the highest-resolution versions of Andreas Gursky’s images are available at the time. Except in this case, these new works, made for “Chop Shop,” will be themselves chopped and destroyed, with the fragments each constituting a new, unique work. Some are pre-chopped for your convenience, but others will be chopped to order, then properly mounted and framed for posterity. But the sight of these Gursky-looking works hanging, raw and exposed, naked, is just awesome. What a world, they make me think. What. a. world.
Study for Chop Shop Newman No. 1 and Nos. 2-6, 2015, jpg, but oh it’s real now, baby
Which brings us to the centerpiece of the show, Chop Shop Newman Painting No. 1, a full-scale repetition of Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire (1967). It is literally awe-inducing, at least for me, and not just because I made it. [With conservation and materials research by the National Gallery of Canada, sage advice from David Diao, and the painterly talents of Tamas Banovich and Kyle Nielsen.] Newman made the 18-ft tall Voice of Fire to order for the 27-story geodesic sphere of the Expo67 US Pavilion. Chop Shop Newman No. 1 will be cut down into Chop Shop Newman Nos. 2 – ?? during the fair, with dimensions and compositions determined by the connoisseur collectors on a first-come, first-served basis. While supplies last.
There are so many variables and unknowns, and it’s crazy/fascinating ceding the fate of so much work to the hands of collectors-or to their indifference, if no one ends up caring, or engaging, or liking the stuff enough to take it home, which I suppose could happen. But it’s also immensely satisfying the way this show has me thinking through the systems of art, our expectations for it, and how we experience and value the world around us. So there’s that.
Press release: Magdalena Sawon presents Chop Shop by GREG ALLEN at SPRING/BREAK Art Show, March 1 – 7, 2016 [postmastersart]
SPRING/BREAK Art Show 2016, ⌘COPY⌘PASTE [springbreakartshow]
So slick, you can buy “Chop Shop” works directly online until April 30th! [springbreakartfair]
Who’s Afraid of Red & Blue? About Chop Shop Newman Painting No. 1 et al.
the original blog post, At Home with Voice of Fire
Previously, related: on Reassembling chopped up masterpieces after 500 years
on the still-hypothetical proposition that there is a non-traumatic way to chop up a Barnett Newman
On museums showing reproductions and being like, oh nbd
It was. the. jutes. Stefan Simchowitz just cold chopping up Ibrahim Mahama’s jute sack installations
“The outcome is a painterly concatenation of destructive and creative forces, capital’s relentless churn made both gestural and material.” [mostafa heddaya for artinfo]
“They look modest and a little scared. (Rightfully so: “Voice of Fire” (sic) lost its first chunk to an X-Acto knife on opening night.)” [jillian steinhauer for hyperallergic]
“Allen made an absurdist gesture by offering up fragments of copied masterworks of contemporary art for sale by the square foot, like pizza.” [chris green for afc]
At SPRING/BREAK see @gregorg ‘s brilliant install @magdasawon ; also Caroline Wells Chandler knitted figs on the way pic.twitter.com/gMDUKn2gD8
— Roberta Smith (@robertasmithnyt) March 6, 2016
Fred Sandback installation at Proyectos Monclova, DF, via @monclova
It’s like how when you learn a word you start hearing it everywhere.
Fred Sandback installation at Monclova via Evan Moffitt for @frieze
I’ve been soaking in a lot of red and blue lately.
Gucci S/S17, image via ann_caruso’s ig
Webdriver Torso as found painting system, via
What to do with it? Turn over the decisionmaking to found or chance operations?
Webdriver Torso as found logo system, via
Appropriate? Outsource? Abrogate? Collaborate? Engage? Every strategy has its own context. Or rather, the context is mutable (too).
Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire installed in the space it was created for, the US Pavilion at Expo67 in Montreal, image via jack masey’s book
I made a repetition of Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire recently, with the help of some excellent painters. It’s 18 feet high and 8 feet wide. For now.
Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Fantasia, 1940
At Chop Shop at SPRING/BREAK, collectors will reconfigure Newman’s red and blues to suit their own compositional and spatial needs. The results might be Newmanesque, or they might be something totally different.
Study for Chop Shop Newman, 2016
I was psyched to write about it, but now I’m kind of unnerved to see what people will actually do. What if they chop up the whole thing and cart it home? In big pieces or small ones? A lot or a little? What if they do nothing? Alan Solomon called Voice of Fire “virtually unsalable.” We shall see, but I think I have solved that problem.
previously: Webdriver Torso As Found Painting System
The late Danish artist Albert Mertz spent decades working with what he called “The Red-Blue Proposition.”
Mertz died in 1990, and was reincarnated as a YouTube video uploading quality assurance tech at Google Zurich.
Albert Mertz, ‘Watch Red-Blue TV,” Jan-Mar 2014 [tifsigfrids]
image of unidentified installation via art blog art blog
Previously, uncannily related: Webdriver Torso as Found Painting System
What you need is a system. To keep you going, to avoid artist’s block, to keep the pipeline filled.
I think Lewitt’s cubes were less a system than an idiom. Flavin’s fluorescent tubes, too.
Shapes from Maine, 2009, image: petzel.com
Allan McCollum’s got a few systems going. Systems are his medium. Define some parameters, calculate the total set, start producing, and don’t stop till you–or your market–drops. The Shapes Project, started in 2005, has 31 billion possible permutations, enough for everyone ever to be born on earth to have one. Personally, I’m largely unmoved by McCollum’s results, but I respect their jawdropping systemic integrity.
But On Kawara’s Today Series, now that’s a system I can get behind. It’s a bonus when your system is conceptually tight, also when it can carry you out of this world.
As that Kawara link above mentions, Hirst’s spots are also a system, which operates autonomously and, he’s even hinted, which could continue posthumously. [Kawara’s date paintings and Hirst’s spots were up in NYC at the same time in 2012, and Karen Rosenberg said one series was about time, and the other was about money. I love that.]
Anyway, you want to make sure you don’t get trapped by your system. Flavin had a helluva time with that, especially towards the end. So keep enough irons in the fire, throw a system or two into the merchandise mix. Like Richter’s new Strip paintings; he’ll be able to pull those off the printer till the very last. And he could leave the print queue open in his will, even. [I wish him all the continued health and happiness and look forward to seeing his show at the Beyeler.]
One would want a system to be ambitious, to stake a large claim, but to be doable, sustainable, saleable over the course of its realization. When Bruce High Quality Foundation announced their project to recreate all 17,000 objects in the Metropolitan Museum’s antiquities collection in Play-Doh, it seemed daunting. I guess you could say they’ll probably have product available as long as they’re able to keep selling.
Danh Vo, We The People, 2014 installation at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Public Art Fund, image: James Ewing
Danh Vo’s We The People project to recreate the Statue of Liberty as 250 separate panels, meanwhile, has a finite end, even though the ridiculously awesome scale of the project seems impossible. On a purely physical object level, this has to be one of my favorite art undertakings ever, a confluence of abstraction & representation, metaphor & literalism, presence & absence. As soon as I get to Vo’s pieces on view in City Hall Park and Brooklyn, I’ll try to write more about it.
From Kawara [solo] to Hirst [factory] to McCollum [vector files] and Richter [digital] we can see a diminishment of the artist’s hand in inverse proportion with the expansion in scope, approaching capitalist nirvana, an industrial-scale infinity.
This is all nice and terribly important, but it’s also prelude to what might be the most ambitious readymade art generation system ever, which I’m totally calling dibs on: Webdriver Torso.
Webdriver Torso is the largest of at least four related YouTube accounts which have been uploading randomly generated videos [the pace is currently two videos ever 8-12 minutes] since mid-2013. Webdriver Torso has nearly 80,000 videos now; on all four accounts there are more than 130,000 videos total. Webdriver Torso’s channel now has more than 38,000 subscribers. Where a few weeks ago, almost all the videos had zero views, or maybe one, now videos of seemingly nothing immediately get several dozen views. [The other channels still have mostly zero views.]
Since being discovered and publicized a few months ago, various websites have speculated on the purpose and origin of Webdriver Torso, calling it an alien communications tool, or a crypto-spy numbers station, or a test channel for some video software developer. The most persuasive explanation I’ve seen so far is Italian blogger Paolo B.’s theory that the Webdriver channels are connected with a YouTube uploader development initiative for 3D videos or multiple videos, run out of Google’s Zurich office.
Each video is eleven seconds long and contains ten slides, each with a composition of blue and red quadrilaterals. That’s 1.3 million possible compositions, with more being added at an average rate of one every six seconds. And they all look more or less like a Malevich, or Lazslo Moholy-Nagy’s Telephone Paintings.
So obviously turn them into paintings. It seems impractical to sort through all the videos, looking for some “best” composition. Better to stay true to Webdriver Torso’s random nature, and grab a few. Or even grab one and use it [all], make nine paintings at a crack. Or maybe use the slides in the most recently uploaded file from the moment you make a sale, or the moment you place the order with Chinese Paint Mill. Then it becomes an indelible, but meaningless, marker, an index of its own creation. Like On Kawara’s date paintings, they can be made in various sizes. Maybe you get a giant hard edge monster to anchor an important wall. Or maybe you get a smaller, complete set and grid them up, a la Olafur.
A web storefront that offers paintings in only the compositions from the last few minutes of uploads wouldn’t just reward quick purchase decisions: it would demand it. Out with this fair-wandering nonsense of, “Oh put it on hold for me, I’ll let you know.” and in with Buy It Now. Of course, what’ll happen is that someone will sit there and hit refresh all day, in eternal hope that the next batch of nine will have the Webdriver Torso Mona Lisa in it. [Just a second, gotta check Twitter.]
Ooh, tmpK89znn, which just went up, has some really nice ones in it:
Let’s see how those turn out.
A timeline of Webdriver Torso [botpoet via @soulellis]
the truth about Webdriver Torso [ventunosu21]
photomurals and satelloons to the left, painting to the right. image: USIA via Jack Masey’s book, Cold War Confrontations
With Barnett Newman in the air recently, I began looking back through the greg.org archives, and I found this 2009 post about the art and space objects at Expo 67, which is a great read, if only for the smackdown delivered by NY Times critic John Canaday.
I was already into satelloons and photomurals and World’s Fairs as odd, underconsidered contexts for art when it registered that Alan Solomon had curated a whole painting show for the US Pavilion in Montreal. He basically asked all the artists for work that could be hung vertically, would hold up visually in a giant geodesic terrarium, and would pretty much only be seen from an escalator. And that’s what he got.
Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire is there in the upper right corner, looking really small between the Lichtenstein and Johns’ Dymaxion Map. Which just goes to show you, because here it is in the National Gallery of Canada, which bought it in 1989.
A work of confounding scale. And not without its charms. It’s not my favorite Newman, but I like Voice of Fire. It looked great in Ann Temkin’s Philadelphia retrospective. And last night, I wondered what it’d be like to live with. Because at 8′ x 18′ it is pretty unwieldy. In principle it’d be nice to have 20’+ high space at home to hang it freely. But that kind of room is really a gallery, even if your breakfast nook is just through the door.
So barring that, you could turn it sideways, which is how Newman painted it. If 12×25 is too long a run of uninterrupted wall for you, though, you’re stuck. And so I wondered about cutting it down.
We sure don’t cut up paintings into saleable parts like they used to. Like they did with altarpieces [hello, Piero at the Frick] where everyone on his Grand Tour got to take home a panel or predella.
Even barely a hundred years ago, Manet’s heirs were chopping up the uncomfortably political Execution of Maximilian into more marketable groupings. And look, now most of it’s in the National Gallery [of England].
I’m not saying there’s no contemporary precedent: Gerhard Richter cut a squeegee painting into 64 little ones. And this BMW Rauschenberg campaign reminds us that Aaron Young painted dozens of panels at once at the Armory that one time, with the motorcycles.
I’m just saying maybe it’s not enough. We could do more. I understand Voice of Fire is very well known in Canada, and that the National Gallery’s purchase of it was controversial. So should Canadians ever face an arts crisis where, say a Taliban- or ayatollah-style regime takes over that is decidedly unsupportive of the kind of painting Newman practiced, I’d think cutting it down and dispersing the painting would be far better than burning it. Or bombing it, Buddhas-of-Bamiyan-style, out of existence.
Or maybe it’s just the populist thing to do. Voice of Fire would suddenly be much easier to display in a modest home. Or several, actually.
To start, you could cut it two ways: in quarters [above] or in slices [below] slices. Each approach yields four attractive, wall-filling pieces, each 4×8.5′, that preserve the original proportion while making a rich, full allusion to Newman’s overall composition. Reassembling such a group for an exhibition 500 years from now would be trivial.
You could also cut it into 8 pieces, roughly 4×4, almost easel-size. Voice of the Fireplace. But then it seems like you’d be losing a lot to the stretchers. So, what, you’d mount the pieces? Frame them? I imagine you’d get a mix of decor decisions from the various owners. Which, yes, no, I haven’t thought through the pricing and sales strategy yet. This is really just starting out.
When it was publicly announced in March 1990 that the National Gallery of Canada had purchased Barnett Newman’s 1967 painting, Voice of Fire for $1.8 million (Canadian), there was an immediate press and political uproar that so much public money would be spent on what seemed like so little. A conservative MP, who was also a pig farmer, challenged that anyone with “a couple of cans of paint, a roller, and ten minutes” could make Newman’s 18-ft tall bands of red and blue.
Greenhouse owner and house painter John Czupryniak’s wife Joan, upon seeing the news reports, told him, “Hey, anyone could paint this, even a painter.” And so he did.
Mr. Czupryniak studied reproductions of Voice of Fire and because he was unfamiliar with canvas painting techniques, he built up a 16×8 panel of plywood, and made a full-scale replica of Newman’s work. He struggled with the title before arriving at Voice of the Taxpayer.
Then he offered it for sale. The government price was $1.8 million. For you, though, or any Pierre off the street, it was just $400, the cost of time and materials. Almost immediately, Voice of the Taxpayer became part of the art controversy. The picture of the Czupryniaks posing with the [for sale] painting was published in The Ottawa Citizen.
In the art world’s critical self-examination of the Voice of Fire controversy, noted art historian Thierry du Duve published an essay, “Vox Ignis, Vox Populi,” in the Montreal art journal Parachute which focused on Mr. Czupryniak’s response. It is awesome:
Like many avant-garde painters, Czupryniak paints against. A transgressive gesture along the lines of Dadaism, Voice of the Taxpayer assumes its full significance only in diametrical opposition to the tradition it attacks. A postmodern parody of modernism’s celebrated flatness, Voice of the Taxpayer is a quote, a pastich that appropriates the work of another, empties it of its meaning, and presents itself as a critique of ‘the originality of the avant-garde and other modernist myths.’ Better still, in its abstract guise Voice of the Taxpayer is a real allegory of the art world as institution, neither more nor less than Courbet’s L’Atelier du peintre. Is it a bad painting? No it is bad painting, if you get the difference.
It is actually a subtle and refined conceptual piece whose feigned innocence makes the emperor’s new clothes visible to all. The “indispensable vulgarity’ (Duchamp) of its title provokes the return of the repressed of the sole ‘convention’ that modernism forgot to deconstruct, the money of the people on whose back the elite builds its culture. In short, Czupryniak has got it all: he is more provocative than Rodchenko, more sarcastic than Manzoni, more strategic than Buren, more political than Haacke, more nationalist than Broodthaers, more demagogical than Koons, more neo-geo than Taaffe, all this with Duchamp’s caustic humour, and sincere to boot!
It is an epic of art criticism. Or maybe Parachute was punked by the theorist’s smartalecky brother, Jerry du Duve, I can’t quite tell. Whichever du Duve, he, too, expressed his doubts:
The critical interpretation of his Voice of the Taxpayer which I gave above is perfectly plausible, and that’s what worries me. A perverse and cynical art historian, I would have appropriated Czupryniak just as he appropriated Voice fo Fire. I would have taken a painter and made him into an artist, an ‘artist in general.” But I am not interested in defining an artist in this way.
Oh wait, never mind! Du Duve suddenly flips [“I only played at being cynical to show you how absurd it is.”] and makes an argument for Voice of the Taxpayer based not in cynicism, but in sincerity. Czupryniak “emulated Newman by simulating him just as Newman had emulated Mondrian by painting against him.” In fact, Voice of the Taxpayer embodies what du Duve calls “the fundamental ethical meaning of the ‘reductive’ aesthetic governing Voice of Fire, as well as all great modern painting” [italics in the original, bold added because, holy smokes!]: painting that demonstrates its true universality precisely because “anyone can paint this, even a painter.”
Du Duve then considers at great length how Mr. Czupryniak’s pricing scheme deftly maps out the incongruities between artist and painter, value and worth, elites and the public, boss and laborer, exploiter and exploited. Every dollar between $401 and $1.8 million, he writes, accrues to Newman’s status as an artist as perceived by the cultural elites–and as extracted by them for their own aesthetic pleasure from the unappreciative public [the Taxpayers] who got stuck with the tab.
I’m surprised du Duve doesn’t mention it, because I can’t stop marveling at how Mr. Czupryniak’s project maps so closely with Newman’s and the creation of Voice of Fire.
Newman, a celebrated artist was invited by his government, to make a work almost to spec, for which he received $423.60 to cover the cost of materials. But not his labor. Instead, his contract with the USIA guaranteed him full control over the painting’s “equity,” which his wife went on to monetize rather successfully. I guess we should add Voice of the Shareholder to the chorus.
What is the fate of Mr. Czupryniak’s historically important masterpiece? Did he sell it? Did he keep it? Does it still exist, perhaps turned into a red and blue storage cabinet in the nursery? In 20 years, no one seems to have asked, so I have put in a call to find out. Stay tuned.
Thierry du Duve’s “Vox Ignis, Vox Populi” was reprinted in the 1996 anthology, Voices of Fire: art, rage, power, and the state. Buy it from Amazon, or try to read the essay in Google Books’ preview mode.
[image right of Ivan Chermayeff’s Newmanesque flag panels in Buckminster Fuller’s US Pavilion at Expo67: Mark Kauffmann for LIFE]
Speaking of National Gallery of Canada upheavals, Walrus Magazine, late-career post-minimalist kitsch, and Blake Gopnik:
In March 2010, Walrus celebrated the 20th anniversary of longtime NGC contemporary curator Brydon Smith’s purchase of Barnett Newman’s towering 1967 painting, Voice of Fire for $1.8 million, which was apparently a lot of money, even in Canadian. The announcement [of the price] set off a political firestorm of conservative, populist wrangling and hearings. It was Canada’s own homegrown version of the American Right’s culture war on the NEA, the NGC’s most famous controversy.
Well, famous in Canada, anyway. As Greg Buium noted in his article, “Firestorm”:
Internationally, the affair caused barely a ripple. Art in America published a short news story. Blake Gopnik, chief art critic at the Washington Post, was then a doctoral student at Oxford and only heard about it from his family back home in Montreal.
And here I am agreeing with Gopnik again! Awkward! Newman painted Voice of Fire for “American Painting Now,” Alan Solomon’s exhibition in the Buckminster Fuller dome at Expo 67. Which I wrote about and dug into rather deeply last October. I even quoted from Voices of fire: art, rage, power and the state, a 1996 anthology of the controversy, and yet I’d forgotten it until reading Buium’s piece. [Maybe it’s just me.]
According to Smith’s account of the making of, Newman’s painting, 8×18′ high instead of 8×18′ wide, Voice of Fire was designed to Solomon’s request for “very large,” vertically oriented paintings able to “hold their own” in a “soaring airy structure” and amidst a lot of visual “competition,” and which, because of the steady movement of crowds through the pavilion, “visitors would not be able to spend long periods looking at.”
Smith also wrote about having spontaneous discussions with Annalee Newman about her husband’s “concern at that time about the undeclared war in Vietnam,” a concern which hovered over the entire pavilion project. Co-editor John O’Brian quoted Solomon as saying, “Given world conditions at the moment, [the plan is] to soft sell America rather than show our muscle.”
Yeah, capitalism, but I’ve always thought Voice of Fire was the best painting of Newman’s weakest period, the hard-edge acrylics, which filled the last big gallery of Ann Temkin’s Philadelphia Museum retrospective. [Hold on, I’m trying to forget that triangle-shaped canvas all over again.]
A late-period acrylic, made to order by an ambivalent artist for a drive-by spectacle designed to distract from the war. With stripped-down, hard-edge abstraction that provides the perfect symbol for anti-intellectualist critics of the art world’s shenanigans. It all sounds like a prime candidate for Blake Gopnik’s Kitsch You Didn’t Think Of! list.
And yet he left it off. With such political savvy I predict a bright future in Canadian art politics for Dr. Gopnik.
How to account for my dogged fascination with the temporary/permanent, futuristic/historic paradoxes of Expo art and architecture?
Buckminster Fuller’s 20-story Biosphere was far and away his greatest single success and the hit of the most successful modernist world’s fair, the Expo 67 in Montreal. And yet how little did I consider what was in it: a giant exhibit of the movies; The American Spirit, an exhibit of NASA satellites and space capsules; some crafts or whatever, and American Painting Now, 23 huge paintings commissioned by Alan Solomon from a “Who’s Who of modern art,” including :
James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. Their works illustrated trends such as abstract expressionism, op, pop, hardedge and geometric art. Like the space component, this part of the American exhibition was truly spectacular. The works, gigantic, simple and colourful, paid a vibrant tribute to the creative vitality of artists who now count among the great masters of 20th century painting.
Uh, and from Fuller, too, from the looks of that giant Dymaxion Map right there.
From a 1996 book on Voice of Fire, Barnett Newman’s own 17-foot tall contribution, we learn Solomon requested that the artists [all male?] “contribute paintings that are (a) large in scale and (b) vertical in format.”
I want to quote “Exorcism in Montreal,” the April 30, 1967 review by NY Times critic and famous Newman nemesis John Canaday, in its entirety, but I won’t:
Here we have the same old clique of names that have been handed the favors regularly in Venice and everywhere else on the circuit. A natural response to the list is “Oh, no, not again!” There is that tiresome Barnett Newman, who this time turns out three vertical stripes in two colors–but they are 17 feet high. There’s Jim Dine, with nothing but two big slabs of enameled canvas, in two flat colors, bearing in one corner a notation as to the brand of paint used–and the panels are 35 feet high. There is Roy Lichtenstein being Roy Lichtenstein again, but now 29 feet high.
There are all the rest of the club, not including some whose work was not fully installed on press day, and some whose work seems to me to have more substance than the ones listed, for instance James Rosenquist’s colossal “Firepole.” I have chosen the most vacuous because in this setting even they are part of a genuinely spectacular show fulfilling demands that could not have been met by any other kind of painting.
The dimensions given above tell that the paintings, most of them done for this spot (what other spot could hold them?), are gargantuan…they are played against strips of sail cloth in heights up to that of a 10-story building. It is as if the whole water-treading esthetic that they represent had been originated and sustained by some genii who knew that one day a form of painting bold enough and shallow enough to supply enormous bright banners for this pavilion would be necessary.
And then there’s Canaday’s assessment of the NASA artifacts, which basically hits it home for me with the art/science beauty paradox:
…since technology is creating the most beautiful objects today, and the most imaginative ones, Apollo might also be thought to have added one more muse to the group that he has always chaperoned.
Of course, there is no separating the fascination of the Apollo Command Module as a scientific object from its quality as an esthetic one, with its self-generated form and its patina burnt into it during the minutes of its descent rather than by centuries of weather, but it is a beautiful object all the same–inherently beautiful, and no other word than beautiful will do–as well as an historical monument with emotive associations And that is what great works of art used to be.
Ah, so it’s just the domes and the satelloons.
Update: From Architecture & Nature (2003), more details/corrections on who showed what: Kelly had a 30′ canvas, no title given. Robert Indiana, Cardinal Numbers. At just 13’x15′, Robert Motherwell’s Big Painting #2 was anything but. Lichtenstein: Big Modern Painting [sensing a theme here?] Helen Frankenthaler was The Woman Painter. And the Dymaxion Map was by Johns, “a small [sic] token to his friend Fuller’s desire to have the map be the centerpiece of the pavilion.”
Interior images of Biosphere, the US Pavilion at Expo 67 from The Dixon Slide Collection at McGill University. [mcgill.ca]
Q: was this the Ellsworth Kelly? [no, see update above]
Previously: Hmm. That satelloon & command module show was so good, they used it again at Expo 70 in Osaka.