The curators of NIST’s collection of historical and scientific artifacts have thrown open the racks in hopes of crowdsourcing the origins of some unknown pieces.
On top of the list: this brass one foot scale, in a handy, fitted, velvet-lined travel case, which is obviously the inspiration for Walter de Maria’s High Energy Unit [also here]. Love that thing.
Anyway, case closed. What else ya got, NIST?
One Foot Scales: NIST Digital Collections crowdsourcing initiative [nistdigitalarchives]
Do you find yourself wanting to talk about Group Zero, but the only names you can pronounce are Fontana and Klein [and Westwater]? Do you ever call galleries you’re about to walk into, just to hear them say the artist’s name? [I just asked at the desk, it’s von HILE.]
You may be suffering from Gigli Syndrome, a condition where you avoid saying an artist or designer’s name because you’re not sure of the pronunciation. Bennifer can’t cure all possible outbreaks of Gigli Syndrome, any more than Nomi Malone could inoculate us against the dangers of unknowing mispronunciation, Versace Syndrome.
After typing [well, cut-n-pasting] 0100101110101101.org yesterday morning, I realized a universal cure to either condition is impossible. Americans will never switch to Van Gohchhhh, and Thaddeus Ropatch may never give you more than 10% off, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to treat and prevent.
So inspired by my friend Sam, who once helped me avert disaster at Lever House [it’s A-B Rosen, not Abby], and as a tribute to the young artist who once printed up business cards reading, “Ed-werd Rew-shay”, here is a quick roundup of high-risk artworld names and their correct pronunciations by curators, interviewers, and even the artists themselves:
- 0100101110101101.org: zero-one-dot-org [thx their dealer @magdasawon, pronounced sah-vawn, btw]
- Eija-Liisa Ahtila: AY-ya-lisa AHH-tilah [youtube]
- Richard Anuszkiewicz: AN-ehs-KAY-vitch [mike wallace via youtube]
- Giuseppe Arcimboldo: Arch-im-BOLD-oh [washpost]
- Kutlug Ataman: KOOT-loo ATTA-mun [tate channel]
- Huma Bhabha: HOO-mah BAH-bah [public art fund via youtube]
- Alighiero e Boetti: Ali-GYAIR-oh BO-etty [he was just one guy, btw. Stuck the “e” in there himself. moma]
- Carol Bove: Bo-VAY [I called Maccarone to confirm, because I’ve heard people calling her Bove (rhymes with clove) to her face, and introducing her as Bove, for literally YEARS. She is too polite and well-known to deserve this any longer.]
- Eli Broad: rhymes with road [thx @manbartlett]
- Marcel Broodthaers: ooh, a Britdown between BROAT-haus and BROOT-ers, with a bit of long O thrown in. I vote for the latter. [mk-g.org]
- Vija Celmins: VEE-ya Sell-muns [youtube thx @lucretiab]
- Chinati: Chih-NAUGHT-y, not Shih-Naughty or Kih-Naughty. [member since 1994, plus I just called and listened to their answering machine.]
- Wayne Clough: rhymes with rough and censoring stuff. [nyt]
- Dan Colen: CO-lin [via nyt]
- Bice Curiger: short for Beatrice, [Just imagine Che Guevara taking an interpretive dance class: “Be a tree, Che.” and then leave out the “a tree,” cuz you guys are tight.] Koo-REE-gare, rhymes with Care Bear [via youtube]
- Dada: Da-DAH [Marcel Duchamp and Richard Huelsenbeck, both founders of Dada, pronounced it Da-DAH at The Modern in 1961. clocktower.org]
- Walter De Maria: de Ma-REE-uh [youtube w/English accent, thanks judy]
- De Stijl: de STALE, maybe Dutch it up a bit with a little h: ShTALE [youtube]
- Marlene Dumas: Mar-LANE du-MAH [moma]
- Rineke Dijkstra: RIN-uh-kuh DIKE-stra [moma]
- Ekow Eshun, ex-ICA, current (2014) Fourth Plinth guy: Echo Ession rhymes with session [lisson gallery youtube]
- Omer Fast: Homer without the H, not Omar [via @magdasawon]
- Os Gémeos: Ose like dose, ZHEH-meh-ose [coolhunting, alt. pron.: Barry McGee]
- Joseph Grigely: Grig-lee [via hans ulrich (han-ZOOL-rick) at moma]
- Cai Guo-Qiang: Cy, like Twombly, Gwoh, long O, Tsee-ahng, somewhere between a Ch and a Ts [moma]
- Francesca von Habsburg-Lothringen: Hops-burg Lote-ring-en, though I’ve never heard the Lothringen used/said. [youtube]
- Thomas Houseago: House-ago, like it was two words. [public art fund via youtube]
- Pierre Huyghe: I say Hweeg to his face, but I almost hear Peter Eleey say Whee. [thx @analogc]
- Dakis Joannou: DOCK-iss ZHO-new [numu youtu]
- Emilia and Ilya Kabakov: KA-buh-Koff, Ka like Kat [youtube, bonus: Andre Putman: PUT like in Putin, man, rhymes with yawn]
- On Kawara: Own, as in rent-to-. Kawara is his family name, so it’s Kawara On (河原温) in Japanese. [dude, I speak Japanese. 25 years.]
- Paul Klee: Clay [thx paddy]
- Guillermo Kuitca: GYAIR-mo hard G, KWEET-kuh in Minneapolis and Buffalo, anyway. In London, they say KWIT-kah [youtube; publicbroadcasting.net]
- Yayoi Kusama: Yah-yoy Koo-saw-mah. Again, Kusama is her family name, so Kusama Yayoi (草間彌生). [me]
- Wifredo Lam: THERE IS NO L, PEOPLE, NO L!! LOOK CLOSELY. Anyway, it’s pronounced like Wilfredo WITHOUT THE L. [Italian on vimeo, thanks @aljavieera]
- Laocoön: Lay-UH-kuh-wahn, rhymes with go on. [britishmuseum.org]
- Aristide Maillol: My-yole [moma]
- Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle: In-EE-go Mawn-glawn-o O-VA-yay [though the guy at SAIC also says peda-GO-gee, so…]
- Julie Mehretu: MARE-Eh-too [metmuseum]
- Modigliani: Mo-DEE-lee-Ah-nee [metmuseum via youtube]
- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: LAZ-low rhymes with Hasbro, Moley as in holy, Nazh, like gnaws, with a zh on the end [german youtube, but you get the idea. update: But the artist and his family also accept the Americanized “nadgie” new idiom]
- Vik Muniz: Moo-NEES [5min]
- Edvard Munch: Moonk [thx paddy]
- Albert Oehlen: Uhrlen, classic umlaut O [moma]
- Maja Oeri, of the Schaulager: Ury, like Early without the “L”; Show- like shower and lager like beer. moma]
- Meret Oppenheim: Merit [moma]
- Francis Picabia: Pih-CAW-bee-uh [moma]
- Otto Piene: PEEN-uh [german youtube]
- Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo: Ray-Ray-bo-DANG-go, a little like Bojangles [italian youtube]
- Gerhard Richter: For Americans, it’s like the scale. For the Teutonically inclined, go ahead and let’er rip, GAIR-haht REESH-tah [gerhard-richter.com]
- Gerrit Rietveld: two R’s, one T, people. REET like street, feld, like fell down the stairs. [dutch youtube, thanks craig]
- Dieter Roth: Rote [german youtube]
- Edward Ruscha: “(Ed-werd Rew-shay)” [walkerart.org and colette.fr thx @valeriemargolis]
- Anri Sala: ON-ree SAHL-LAH [google video]
- Yinka Shonibare: YEEN-kuh SHOW-nih-Bar-eh [tate channel]
- Alec Soth: rhymes with both [youtube, thx @jenbee]
- Sperone: Spare-ownee [just call, you’ll see]
- Thomas Struth: [SHTRoot, he has never corrected me, but that’s how he says it at the Met]
- Alina Szapocznikow: Ah-LEE-nuh Shah-POTCH-nick-off [UPDATE: this moma audio has it as POTS, but thanks to Rachel Wetzler, we learn that the ‘cz’ combo in Polish is pronounced “CH”, like chalk. cf. a Polish curator’s youtube video. To practice hearing the difference, please listen to this 4-hour symposium at MoMA. Thanks Rachel and thanks Andrew for the suggestion]
- Thyssen-Bornemisza: Tissen BORN-uh-Meesa [youtube]
- Rirkrit Tiravanija: Hans Ulrich says Tier-uh-vah-NEE-juh, and Rikrit says TEER-uh-van-EET. So maybe there’s a reason people just say Rick-rit. hans ulrich at moma; studiobanana.tv]
- Günther Uecker: GOON-ter OO-ker, like a clipped booker [german youtube]
- Ulay: OO-Lie, as in, “Ooh, lie down naked with this skeleton on top of you for eight hours.” [that’s how Marina prounces it, anyway]
- Joep van Lieshout: Yoop fawn LEASE-howt, [dutch tv, whoops, I’ve said van lees-hote to his face, too]
- Danh Vo: Yahn, it’s a “Vietnamese soft ‘d’. [ex. Talking at Walker Art Ctr, via youtube]
- Apichatpong Weerasethakul: A like apple pih-CHAT like room pong WEIR like weird -uh-suh-THA like Thatcher cull like a herd [cannes 2010 press conf]
- Susan Weil: Vay, “like Simone Weil” [Rauschenberg Fndn oral history, page 1] UPDATE: When I met her and mentioned this, she was like, “No, it’s Vile, “like Simone Weil,” and I was like, “Sounds good to me!” So I think it is Vile like Susan Weil.
- Ai Weiwei (艾未未): Eye way way, family name is Ai [paleycenter.org]
- Rachel Whiteread: reed, not red [moma]
- Witte de With: VITT-uh de VIT [dutch youtube]
- David Wojnarowicz “(pronounced voy-nah-ROH-vitch)” [PPOW, his dealer since 1988]
- Lisa Yuskavage: Yuh-SKA-vedge, sounds like savage [youtube, thanks john]
Some build on each other; once you know Bas Jan Ader [Boss Yan Adder], you can do Jan Dibbetts, Jan Schoonhoven [Skoon-ho-ven], Christian Jankowski [Yan-KOFF-ski], and so on. If your favorites aren’t on the list, please feel free to send them along.
Grain Edit has some truly spectacular gouache/lithograph-based advertising work done for the late TWA by the late David Klein. It’s one truly beautiful poster after another, starting with this piece featuring the Gateway Arch.
Tyler Green just got back from St Louis, where he was blown away by Saarinen’s arch, and rightly so. It is a sculptural and engineering marvel. Seeing as how I’d just loaded up the ol’ blog here with shiny stainless steel sculptures by Walter de Maria, Tyler put forward an interesting idea, namely that there might be some significant-but-under-acknowledged [or under-examined] connection between Saarinen’s arch and de Maria’s own truly great addition to the shiny, dropdead gorgeous Western Sublime, the Lightning Field. Very interesting.
Meanwhile, for my part, I realized that I might have been inadvertently quoting a Klein myself. Because way back when I was still a hardcore suit and setting up private equity funds for whichever giant retailers, I had a crazy idea to make some paintings [I know, right?] of Times Square, where all the billboards were replaced by floating, perspectival parallelograms of solid color.
At the time I was thinking Malevich, especially the photo of the gallery installation of his paintings with that one square black one tucked up into the corner. As I describe it, it probably sounds a little Mehretu-ish, but she wasn’t on the scene yet.
But as I look at it in my head, I recognize it now as the billboards in David Klein’s New York TWA poster–which has been in MoMA’s A&D collection for over 50 years. It’s like I’m running a private install of fffound! in my head, and it takes this long to figure out where all the images actually come from.
David Klein Vintage TWA Posters [grainedit.com]
Fly TWA, David Klein, 1956 [moma.org]
David Klein Art [davidkleinart.com]
See what happens when you just ask? My posts the last couple of days about [mis]remembering Walter de Maria’s 1966 stainless steel sculpture, High Energy Bar/ High Energy Unit, is shaking loose some interesting bits of information on the work and the burst of popularity of “multiples” as a democratic, anti-elitist, market-thwarting strategy for artmaking in the 1960s. [I’m sure there are enough unsupported assumptions packed into that sentence to make a whole CAA-ful of art historians’ eyes bleed, but whatever, close enough.]
First up, de Maria discussed High Energy Bar with Paul Cummings in 1972, in his interview for the Smithsonian Archive:
WDM: …But I mean there’s some relationship between being able to go smaller and smaller through the electron microscope and at the same time still not be able to see all the galaxies in outer space. But I do think that in ten or twenty years somebody will say, well, that’s a minimal situation, or that’s a minimal or that’s minimal art. I think that that will stand. The point was that in the development of these boxes and rectangles it wasn’t just making another piece of geometric sculpture, because there’s been a lot of geometric sculpture in the last fifty years, but of the relationship between this angle and that angle or this box and that box or even David Smith’s last sculptures, you know, the boxes and cubes which in a way was a sort of three-dimensional cubism some sixty or seventy years later, fifty years later, or whatever. But, it was the idea that you could take a perfect cube, perfect rectangle such as the high energy bar, the perfect rectangle and, well, I’ll show you a high energy bar in a moment, and the notion that its ideas and its lines were so perfect and so perfectly composed and self-contained that it was perfectly satisfying to look at that one object as a sculpture without having it confused with a lot of needless relationships. It was perfectly focused on itself and implied a lot more than it was.
PC: You still make those, don’t you?
WDM: The high energy bars, yeah. I’ll make those all my life.
PC: It’s an open-ended multiple.
WDM: That’s right, and I didn’t like the word “multiple.”
PC: Did you think of them in those terms?
WDM; Well, I would say when I started making them in ’65, ’66, the ideas of multiples was just growing about that time and I thought that if a person accepted the idea of a multiple that it should be open-ended, because why, if you have mass-produced technology, why should you limit it at fifty or a hundred or two hundred, because the technology is inexpensive to make . . . .
PC: You have to want that limitation.
WDM: Yeah, and so I sort of thought if I ever did that that probably multiples should be completely continuous.
So yeah, “make those all my life,” but I also like that part up top about these perfect, reference-free metal objects and the once-future convergence of science and minimalism. The latter, of course, feels like validation of what I already think, and the former seems completely undermined by his sculptures’ formal similarities to objects like the Meter–though the PKU’s conceptual conceit that a kilogram is equal to itself does kind of close the loop nice and tightly.
Anyway, onward and upward with the arts. From a reader far more learned than myself on these matters, Kathleen Campagnolo, who is just finishing her PhD on the 1960s sculptures of Walter de Maria, and who apparently has a Google alert set for all mentions of “High Energy Bar -triathlon,” comes this:
the artist’s statement from “3 → ∞ : new multiple art,” a 1970 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, which included Virginia Dwan’s example of High Energy Bar, No. 53:
High Energy Bar
Work on the High energy bar began in 1965. A summation of my minimal investigation in sculpture going back to 1961/62 – the nature of the rectangle.
First bar issued in 1966.
This is my answer to the multiple – not a multiple. I detest multiples (in art).
Differs from most multiples in several respects:
1st) Infinite edition – not limited. I shall make them all my life.
2nd) My personal connection with each bar. With each bar is issued a certificate.
I collect the following information:
Name of owner
Number of bar
And after no. 50 photograph of owner.
3rd) Bars are not transferable. The bar always belongs to the person who gets it first, i.e., if after a person dies the bar were ‘given’ to someone else – that new person would have the first person’s bar – he would not have the bar for himself, i.e., it would not be his bar.
Records of the owners of the bars are kept in a Swiss bank. Needless to say the ownership of all bars is known only to myself and never divulged.
I love it, and not just because that last part, about the bars being non-transferable, makes me feel like I was kind of right all along. If anything, this just adds a new desirability factor to the High Energy Bar secondary market. They’re like Friends of Walter trading cards. Now it’s not just a question of how low the edition number is, but who the
first only true owner is/was.
Also, Swiss bank!
You should be able to buy the catalogue for Three To Infinity: New Multiple Art more cheaply than these Amazon dealers [amazon]
After blogging about it the other day, I thought it was high time I get the real story on the mysterious Walter de Maria stainless steel edition I’d been watching for all these years, the one which has never come up for auction or resale because the artist engraved a restriction on the work itself that it could never be resold for more than $100.
So I called the collector, Charlie Cowles, and asked him about it. Which I probably should have done years ago, because I remembered the work completely wrong.
The piece is actually titled High Energy Bar, and the only thing engraved on it is the title, the artist’s name, and the date, 1966. And a copyright notice, because I guess that’s how they used to do it back then. [Any questions, just ask Robert Indiana what he thinks about it.] But a $100 resale restriction? Charlie said he’d never heard it.
That’s when I realized what had actually been engraved where. Turns out when I’d asked about the piece 15+ years ago, Charlie had explained that he’d gotten it in 1967 from de Maria’s Los Angeles dealer, Nicholas Wilder for $100, and that because it was an unlimited edition, it’d never sell out. That price number and the idea of perpetual availability had lodged in my brain, and over the years, had gotten conflated with the object itself.
Once I figured out the mystery of High Energy Bar, I realized examples of it have been shown and sold all over the place throughout the years. [Though Betty Freeman had one, too, it wasn’t included in the Christie’s auction of her collection.]
The most recent instance pretty much pokes a hole in my market-proof $100 de Maria delusion. In May, a High Energy Bar belonging to the late gallerist Eva af Buren was sold in Stockholm. It went for 220,000 SEK, nearly USD31,000, and more than ten times the pre-sale estimate.
af Buren’s de Maria, which she acquired in 1969, was no. 49 of what the certificate calls “an infinite series.” Not only is the certificate required “in order to be operative and authentic,” but the certificate–depicted below, and let me state for the record, that is one of the snazziest artist certificates I’ve ever seen–“will be incorporated as a part of the whole work of art, to be known as the High Energy Unit.”
Interestingly, though there are hundreds of mentions of High Energy Bar, there were only two mentions of the “complete” piece, High Energy Unit. [It makes me start to wonder about the underappreciated existence our poor certificates must lead, even as they’ve become so important to the authenticity and integrity of the work. Is anyone else making sexy artist certificates–or art about certificates, even–that remain ignored or unknown by everyone but the work’s purchaser? Will an artist make a work whose aesthetic or artistic payoff is actually the [secret] certificate itself? If you have or know of any awesome certificates languishing in any file cabinets out there, by all means, let me know.]
Next step is to check with de Maria and see if these High Energy Bars are still available, or if the series’ infiniteness has become, like infinity itself, more of an abstract concept. It makes me wonder what number it’s reached. And what it sells for.
It could be possible that even if the work is still available from the artist himself, collectors could put a premium on vintage examples with low numbers and historically interesting provenance. Like how On Kawara’s older date paintings sell for significantly more than newer ones, or how Flavins with “vintage” light fixtures sell for more than those with replacements. Frankly, it seems like a valuation system that’s explicitly at odds with the artist’s concept of the work itself. And maybe it’s something that the market will slowly process and correct for as conceptually driven work becomes better understood.
And speaking of conceptually loaded minimalist objects of precision-crafted metal, here are a couple of early Walter de Maria works I was looking at a few months back:
Betty Freeman bought Melville [1967, above] in 1968. It’s a polished, book-sized tablet of stainless steel engraved with the opening lines from Herman Melville’s 1857 novel, The Confidence Man:
At sunrise on a first of April, there appeared, suddenly as Manco Capac at the lake Titicaca, a man in cream-colors, at the water-side in the city of St. Louis.
His cheek was fair, his chin downy, his hair flaxen, his hat a white fur one, with a long fleecy nap. He had neither trunk, valise, carpet-bag, nor parcel. No porter followed him. He was unaccompanied by friends. From the shrugged shoulders, titters, whispers, wonderings of the crowd, it was plain that he was, in the extremest sense of the word, a stranger.
As Christie’s noted when they sold Melville last May [$266,500, including premium], de Maria began producing industrially finished stainless steel sculptures in 1965, with the aid of collector Robert Scull. In 1966, he made Instrument for LaMonte Young , a 3 x 5 x 36 aluminum box with contact mics and an amplifier built in to pick up the sound of a metal ball rolling along inside the channel. Freeman picked that up in 1970. [And Christie’s sold it for $80,500.]
The early de Maria metal sculpture I’ve been most interested in over the years, though, is a little, 1-ft metal bar, an edition, which is engraved with a restriction that it can never be sold for more than $100. I first saw one in a collector’s loft in SoHo around 1992, and I’ve waited ever since for one to turn up for sale somewhere. So far, no. Go figure.
The contemporary art world’s three most [only?] prominent Mormon artists are Wayne Thiebaud, Paul McCarthy, and La Monte Young. Of the three, I’d have to say Young is at once the least well known, the most highly influential, and, surprisingly, the most intrinsically Mormon in his work and outlook. I suspect that most people who know Young’s work–and Young himself, for that matter–would agree only with the middle statement.
Young is best known for his minimalist musical compositions, which use extended harmonic tones to explore concepts like time and duration. His work sits alongside other major music figures like John Cage and influenced younger minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Philip Glass. Technically, because he composes music, and because his greatest prominence comes from the minimalist classical music world he helped pioneer, you could argue Young’s not really an artist artist. He certainly doesn’t sell art in galleries for six and seven figure prices like Thiebaud and McCarthy. But Young does make and show work. For decades he has collaborated with Marian Zazeela to create light and sound installations that would be recognized as art in any contemporary art world sense of the word.
But that’s not all. By Young’s account, he was instrumental to the founding of Fluxus and conceptual art and Happenings as well. Young and Zazeela operate the Mela Foundation in Tribeca, which hosts performances and sound pieces in Dream House, an immersive, meditative light installation created by Zazeela. Like other permanent downtown art esoterica–i.e., Walter de Maria’s Earth Room and Broken Kilometer—Dream House has been supported by and/or affiliated with the Dia Center.
Young is also very clear about the Mormon environment in which he–and his work–developed. Most interviews with him include the story that the first sound he remembers was the drone of the icy wind whistling through the cracks in the wall of his Mormon farmer family’s log cabin in Idaho. From this mixture of elementalism and nostalgia, Young created music that aspires to the eternal, using just-tones and intervals that are some greater, universal, divine truth.
Almost every reference to spirituality in Young’s work is not to Mormonism, however, but to Indian music. Since the 1960’s Young and Zazeela have been both disciple and guru for the propagation of Indian sitar music, with its accompanying drones, tones, and ragas.
But a doctoral candidate and musicologist named Jeremy Grimshaw, who is also LDS, has made a highly persuasive study of La Monte Young’s concepts of the divine, time, and the nature of heaven, which grounds them in esoteric but orthodox Mormon doctrine. Grimshaw quotes Young on the just-intonation system he employs:
“The sensations of ineffable truths that we sometimes experience when we hear progressions of chords and intervals tuned in just intonation, may indeed be our underlying subliminal recognition of the broader, more universal implications of these fundamental principles.” In short, Young believes that intervals based on the harmonic series resonate with the macrocosm in a way that irrational intervals cannot. “When I hear intervals in equal temperament, it’s like they remind me of the truth,” says Young, “whereas when I hear intervals in just intonation, it’s as though I’m hearing the truth.”
In 2001, Grimshaw published a paper called “The Sonic Search for Kolob: Mormon Cosmology and the Music of La Monte Young” in the musicology journal repercussions. It’s available via the Internet Archive.] Heady stuff.
Here’s Walter De Maria describing his early land art work, Las Vegas Piece, to Paul Cummings in 1972. According to the Center For Land Use Interpretation, the piece is off Carp/Elgin Road in the Tula Desert, one exit north of Double Negative‘s Overton exit on I-15. The work is now “apparently” lost:
it takes you about 2 or 3 hours to drive out to the valley and there is nothing in this valley except a cattle corral somewhere in the back of the valley. Then it takes you 20 minutes to walk off the road to get to the sculpture, so some people have missed it, have lost it. Then, when you hit this sculpture which is a mile long line cut with a bulldozer, at that point you have a choice of walking either east or west. If you walk east you hit a dead end; if you walk west you hit another road, at another point, you hit another line and you actually have a choice. At that point you decide which way to go and so forth, then you continue, you walk another mile and at another point you walk another half mile so and at a certain point you have to double back. After spending about four hours, you have walked through all of the three miles of the thing and you would have gotten your orientation because the sun will also be setting in the west and this is lined up so that all the lines are either east-west or north-south. Now I did this piece in 1969 and I haven’t done an article on it because I didn’t find a way to photograph it properly. You can only photograph in multiple views, you know, like this is looking east and this is looking . . . .
PC: A satellite shot.
WDM: Well, that’s true, but that’s a different experience because that’s an experience like a drawing but this is an experience at ground level, it’s a different experience.
PC: How wide are the lines?
WDM: Ten feet wide, eight or ten feet wide.
PC: And they are how deep?
WDM: Oh, it’s about a foot deep, two feet deep and about eight feet wide. The point I’m making here is that the most beautiful thing is to experience a work of art over a period of time. For instance, architecture we know has always thought about this. You go into the palace, you go into the house, you experience the different floors, you sit in certain rooms for certain amounts of time and when, after an hour or half hour or four or five hours you walk out again. You’ve experienced all of the proportion and relationships; you’ve experienced something over a period of time. Well, most sculptures have always been confined to being a single object, no mater what the style of configuration — expressionist or figurative, whatever.
PC: You look at it from this point and that point.
WDM: You look at it and maybe walk around it and, basically, let’s face it. How much time does a person spend with a piece of sculpture? An average of perhaps less than one minute, maximum of five or ten, tops. Nobody spends ten minutes looking at one piece of sculpture. So by starting to work with land sculpture in 1968 I was able to make things of scale completely unknown to this time, and able to occupy people with a single work for periods of up to an entire day. A period could even be longer but in this case if it takes you two hours to go out to the piece and if you take four hours to see the piece and it takes you two hours to go back, you have to spend eight hours with this piece, at least four hours with it immediately, although to some extent the entrance and the exit is part of the experience of the piece. So what happened, though, which was very interesting in connection with the idea of theatre or film is that to build one of these pieces becomes a major logistical economic undertaking. Like if a person wants to make a movie, we all now that it takes sixty or eighty thousand dollars to make a feature film of any kind, black and white, not too much original music and not too many name stars, and it takes four or five hundred thousand dollars to make any medium size picture and a million to two million dollars to make any decent type of major film. Well, the notion that maybe a piece of sculpture might take an investment of forty or fifty thousand dollars and . . . but when it’s finished, it gives the person an experience with could take him several ours or several days to experience is something I’ve been fighting now for the last four years, starting now the fifth year.
The comparisons to architecture and cinema are both eye-opening. Minimalists like Judd and Flavin spoke of sculpture as space, but De Maria’s talking about sculpture as time. Which is worth remembering when you sign up for a 24-hour stay at the Lightning Field.
I started poking around a bit on the making of story of Michael Heizer’s Double Negative. I’d known that it was commissioned by Virginia Dwan, the incredible gallerist who was also behind Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Here’s a bit of her story from Michael Kimmelman’s 2003 visit with her:
She contracted him to do a work. He disappeared. Months later it was done. ”Double Negative” is a 1,500-foot-long, 50-foot-deep, 30-foot-wide gash cut into facing slopes of an obscure mesa in Nevada, a project that required blasting 240,000 tons of rock. ”It cost under $30,000,” Ms. Dwan says, ”pocket change for art today. I saw it only after it was finished. That’s how I operated. If I believed in the artist I trusted him.”
Then I came across an interesting 1972 Smithsonian interview Paul Cummings with Heizer’s earthwork colleague, Walter De Maria, two artists who romanced the desert together. I love the unselfconscious references to Kerouacking and creating an art movement. No way you could pull that off today:
WDM: Well, I drove across the country with Mike Heiser who I had been spending a lot of time with in ’67. So we had this chance to have the great American Kerouac experience of driving, you know, drive, drive and it never stops and four or five days later you can make it if you drive night and day. When I had first driven the country in the summer of ’63 from New York back to California, it was the most terrific experience of my life, experiencing the great plains and the Rockies, but especially the desert, you know. No, I would say the drive through Nevada in ’63 was the first time I was in the desert. And that memory was to come back in the crisis. Where is the best place in the world? It’s what I saw in Nevada. So it was a chance to go back to the desert for a second time and this time to start going out there often. We met flyers and we learned what it was like to fly small planes and drive trucks on these dry lakes and stuff.
We had a lot in common; we knew the whole situation so that gave us something to talk about and from that point it became interesting that he would change from shaped canvas painting to sculpture, and I was at the point of changing from steel sculpture into the land sculpture. So it was a move that we both wanted to make at the same time. We have both been developing the land sculpture simultaneously since that time, five years ago, just about until today. We’re really starting the sixth year. I mean, you know, we did it. It’s something that two people could do that one couldn’t, really, create a movement, because if one person does it, it is almost an eccentricity, but if two people are doing it and then they influence two others or three. It takes no more than three or four or five people to make a movement and then those people of course can have a hundred or two hundred or five hundred or a thousand following them. But the key idea is to develop two or three people. But it’s not necessary, sometimes three or four or five people could be working simultaneously. Like this guy Richard Long was working in England, walking around in the fields in ’68 also. That was completely independent simultaneous development…
The mention of flyers and deserts reminds me of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, which I’ve been watching lately. James Turrell is another flyer–and land art biggie, what with the Roden Crater and all. Don’t think I’ve heard much mention of that. Of course, there was Smithson and The Plane, but that wouldn’t be till ’73. Anyway, here’s more De Maria on one paradox of land art:
We’ve fought a lot of the same people; we’ve shared some of the same patrons, the same gallery like Dwan, Frederich for a while in Germany. Now he has another gallery. And all of our same problems remain, like to make earth art exist in the face of a lot of the same structural problems that still exist. Galleries are not set up to back major sculptures.
WDM: There’s nothing set up to sell major sculptures. Museums do not commission major sculptures, even though they go off and spend five million dollars on an old painting. And not only that, a lot of people don’t believe that it really exists. There is still a lot of misconception that it exists only for the photograph and not for itself. It’s so far away that maybe everyone in the art world knows about our sculpture but not even one thousandth of one percent of a person has ever seen one of the pieces with is a very interesting conceptual and visible aspect of something that is massive. So, with all of these confusions and contradictions still inherent in the work, one could see another five years of good problems and hopefully some good solutions coming up. [emphasis added]
And it turns out that De Maria created his own trench-in-the-desert land art in 1969, Las Vegas Piece, which is just up the road from Double Negative. Or should I say “road.” CLUI says it’s located on Carp/Elgin Road, which, according to my father-in-law’s GPS navigation, is the same dirt road that passes alongside Double Negative.
De Maria talked about Las Vegas Piece in the Smithsonian interview. But when he reports Dwan’s account of visiting it, it is Kimmelman who waxes a little romantic:
It consisted of dirt paths he cut into the Nevada desert, going nowhere. In my mind — maybe Walter would say this is untrue — the desert setting, the heat and sun and emptiness were so important to the work because you were made to feel absolutely alone. First, it was a safari to find it, and when you did, you were separated from everyone else if you wandered down the paths, because the land was uneven, although it looked flat from far away, so you would find yourself on the far side of a rise, alone in the desert.
”I love the sense of isolation and solitude. But at the same time Walter’s art almost pushes a spectator away, as if he’s saying, ‘Stay back.’ ”
And so it goes that the foreboding environment of the desert itself moves to the foreground of the land art experience. It’s part of the mythology and story of the piece, told and retold without firsthand confirmation by the 99.999% of art world citizens who don’t actually go. Like this NY Times travel article starring Dave Hickey and his wife as daring land art tour guides:
Mr. Hickey’s wife, the curator Libby Lumpkin, had suggested that Chris and I drive into the desert to see Michael Heizer’s earth art piece from 1969-70, “Double Negative” (doublenegative.tarasen.net). A work I was curious to see, it was famously hard to find. She had us meet her at the Las Vegas Art Museum, where she is the consulting executive director, to get directions.
She warned us to take plenty of water. People had died, she claimed, after losing their way on Mormon Mesa, where “Double Negative” is carved. The Internet directions she’d handed us turned out to be more precise on paper than in the featureless landscape. After driving an hour and a half northeast to Overton, we followed a dirt road up the side of the mesa.
Rocks on top threatened to puncture the oil pan on the Neon, so I parked. We stumbled around, visoring our hands against the sun. Nothing in sight looked like art.
We flagged down two cars but no one had ever heard of the work. Discouraged and clueless, we were heading back to the city when we saw an S.U.V. The driver, an elderly man from Overton, had been to “Double Negative.” He pronounced it a “tax dodge,” but agreed to lead us there anyway.
Now I want to go back and see what’s up with De Maria’s Las Vegas Piece, but not only is CLUI’s coordinate map hopelessly vague [“The site is 37 miles down the road, off another small trail.”], not even they can be bothered to confirm its continued existence. All they say about it is, “Apparently, no longer visible.”
Can I just say, I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t know what’s left to accomplish? I mean, how can I top the thrill of getting to write for Cabinet Magazine? I just don’t know.
I’ve had a puppydog crush on Cabinet since Issue 3, where they interviewed John Cliett about the implications of his definitive/exclusive photos of Walter deMaria’s Lightning Field. Then there was the magazine’s plan in 2003 to lease the ten tiny, lost slivers of surveying-mistake-generated land that Gordon Matta-Clark once bought from the New York City government for his unrealized project, Reality Properties: Fake Estates. What began as an offhand bemusement grew into an exhibition at the Queens Museum and a book–and an important contribution to the resurgence of Matta-Clark’s influence on the art world. It can be self-conscious and super-nerdy, but the magazine consistently finds overlooked and convincing perspectives on the culture and art taking shape around us.
Whenever I read it, I was never able to imagine how to write one of those Cabinet essays. What offbeat subject did I have a slightly too obsessive familiarity with that a dozen art history phd’s didn’t already turn into 300-page dissertations? Then guest editor Jonathan Allen and Sina Najafi emailed me out of the blue, asking if I’d like to interview Scott Sforza about stagecraft for the special issue on Magic. Uh, YEAH.
Sforza never came to the phone, though, so instead, I ended up with an attempt to put a bit of political and visual context around the exercise of control of the vantage point. I also threw in some discussion of the impact of the switch from binocular [eyes] to monocular [camera/lens] vision and the construction and interpretation of media images. For good measure, I connected some dots from Sforza to Andrea del Pozzo to the spiritualist photographers of the 19th century to Jan Dibbets to Michelangelo Antonioni. Susan Sontag and Gilles Deleuze provided much of the theoretical seasoning, along with a rather candid Karl Rove, circa early 2001. To top it off, there are the incredible anti-Sforzian photographs of GWB’s visit to Monolia shot by Iwan Baan.
I tell you this now because the article isn’t online, so you should all go re-up your subscriptions pronto so you can read it. I still can’t believe it’s there.
Cabinet 26: Perspective Correction: The beguiling stagecraft of American politics [cabinetmagazine.org]
[via land+living]In the wake of Google Maps’ release, a few sites have started collecting coordinates and satellite images of various earth art works, including Spiral Jetty, Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, James Turrell’s Roden Crater, and Walter deMaria’s Lightning Field.
Here’s my own contribution, a Google Map view of The Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX. You can see Judd’s large concrete sculptures lined up in the field, the twin barrel vaulted warehouses with milled aluminum boxes inside, the arcing row of converted barracks-installations, and the Judd-altered gymnasium on the left.
Looking for Earth Art With Google Maps [petermorse.com.au]
Monumental Land Art [daringdesigns.com]
Chinati Foundation [chinati.org]
Arnolfo di Cambio et al, Basilica di Santa Croce, 1294-1442 [img via]
As the Artforum.com discussion of Nico Israel’s Spiral Jetty travelogue turned from my smug fact-checking to the romanticisation of contemporary art, E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View popped into my head. Just as Forster’s English followed Baedekers around Italy–from this altarpiece to that fresco, from Firenze to Rome to Venice to Ravenna–a Contemporary Art Grand Tour has taken shape where Artforum pilgrims can demonstrate their faith.
Donald Judd, Untitled, 1982-6 [image via]
In addition to Spiral Jetty, the CAGT includes: The Rothko Chapel; Walter deMaria’s Lightning Field; Michael Heizer’s Double Negative; Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation; James Turrell’s work-in-progress Roden Crater; the Guggenheim Bilbao; and my own heretical favorite, Richard Serra’s Afangar.
With Merchant/Ivory’s version of ARWAV firmly entrenched in my own movie worldview, I saw a vision of a hipster artist roadtrip remake. Sort of Basquiat meets Thelma & Louise, with Reese Witherspoon as Helena Bonham-Carter, Josh Hartnett as Julian Sands and Daniel Day-Lewis as, well, himself.
ANYWAY, it turns out the fashion world’s own Forster, English Vogue-er (and faux twin) Plum Sykes, may beat me to the intersection of Art & Film. Hintmag.com leaked the outline of Sykes’ book, Bergdorf Blondes (which just got picked up by Talk/Miramax Books for $625,000, not including movie rights).
The hot narratrix (calls herself “Moi”) dates, gets engaged to, and breaks up with the hot it-boy painter “Dan” (“Our heroine consoles herself that there is one thing worse than being disengaged to a person in a GAP ad, and that’s being married to someone in a GAP ad.”) [NB: Sykes dated, etc. painter/Gap ad star Dam(ian) Loeb.]; receives confidence-boosting advice as she pines for the hot LA filmmaker (“You are not superficial, you just look like you are because you wear a lot of Gucci.”) ; and hightails it home to En-ge-land, perchance to marry the Earl-next-door (“after bonking at the SoHo Grand”). Sounds pretty much like my movie idea.
Should I go ahead and develop it? Or would it be like when there were those two Dalai Lama movies out at the same time?