Images And Ideas I’ve Been Thinking Of

So many projects, so many browser tabs, open for so many months, I’ve gotta clear some of these things out:
warhol_worlds_fair_overpainted.jpg
I’ve wanted to remake the lost/overpainted panels from Andy Warhol’s Thirteen Most-Wanted Men mural for the NY World’s Fair since the Destroyed Richter Paintings days, but now with the comprehensive-sounding show at the Queens Museum opening, I’ve probably got a week to do it. And process it. And put it behind me. Ah well. The show does sound good, though.
folk_art_tables_vf.jpg
Not sure why it didn’t occur to me sooner, but the news this week that MoMA’s started the dismantling of the Folk Art Museum gave me a flash of inspiration: The Williams+Tsien Folk Table Collection. Turn each bronze alloy panel into a unique memento/tabletop. Maybe there’s enough material inside to use for legs, &c., too. I see a couple dozen dining tables, as many coffee/side tables, and a handful of console/sofa tables. An edition of up to 63. They’d be a stunning addition to the finest home, and quite the conversation piece.
williams_tsien_chester_higgins_nyt.jpg
Actually, the inspiration came from Chester Higgins Jr’s photo of Billie & Tod holding architectural fragments. The domestication of architecture.
Primary_struc_photomurals_20140411nyt_conrad.jpg
Also from the Times: Fred Conrad’s great photo showing the use of photomurals to evoke/approximate historical spatial experience at the Jewish Museum’s “Other Primary Structures” show. It’s interesting that they’re angled and mounted on wall-sized panels, not stuck to the moulding-encumbered wall. Makes them a bit more exhibition design and a bit less exhibition, I suppose.
Richter tweeted this the other day, and it’s been nagging at me ever since:


the exhibition of reproductions of paintings, that is, not just paintings based on photographs. Also, of course, the show is at the world’s most intensely named museum, the Topography of Terror.
I’ve reached out to the Topographers, hoping to find out more about how paintings function in an exhibit like this, and how the decision was made to include them as reproductions. But so far I have received absolutely no response. But I did get some screencaps from a YouTube video of the opening, which I can’t find right now:
richter_topography_terror_1.jpg
richter_topography_terror_2.jpg
Hmm, actually the panels look like reproductions of pages of books, not of paintings. Simultaneously more and less interesting.
sf1978.565.jpg
While rummaging around the Met’s collection database, looking for Arthur Vincent Tack info, I Google Imaged up this hard edge painting. Which apparently hadn’t been documented in the color photo era, but I couldn’t find it on the Met’s site.
As I was posting this I realized the filename is the accession number, 1978.565, Larry Zox. 1978’s obviously too old for Hard Edge; the painting’s from 1966, an at once unusual and logical size of 50×100 inches. Untitled (from the Double Gemini Series).
Turns out the Guggenheim has a very similar painting, Alto Velto, from 1969. Color really matters in these jpgs.
Larry-Zox-Alto-Velto-1969-580x388.jpg
Martin Bromirski posted images from a 2008 Larry Zox show at Stephen Haller.

Untitled (UKR-RUS Flag Carpet)

ukr_rus_carpets_yahoo.jpg
I don’t know what’s going on here. This image was the intro for a Yahoo News slideshow yesterday on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and so it doesn’t have any caption or credit line.
At first I thought it was just a graphic of the Ukrainian and Russian flags, but looking a bit longer, I started to wonder why it had these irregular, dingy, textured spots on it. Which would be odd for a CG graphic, but normal for a photograph.
But then what’s it a picture of? A wall? A carpet? Is this a detail from a giant flag mural somewhere? Did someone make a flag-themed rug for some international event? Which people have been walking all over like some geopolitically conflicted Rudolf Stingel installation?
Anyway, the obvious solution now is to make such an installation. I can see a whole series of flag carpets, coming soon to a regionally appropriate biennial near you.

Untitled (290 x 404, After Graduation, 2008, by Richard Prince)

untitled_290x404_gregorg.jpg
Who Owns This Image?
We got this.
Suddenly the New Yorker headline got me thinking, and I clicked on their little jpg of Graduation, and it’s 290 x 404 pixels–and its original title says it’s a screenshot– almost exactly the same dimensions as Untitled (300 x 404), and I’m like, DONE. Frankly I’m kind of embarrassed it took this long.
No need for Chinese Paint Mill; I’m ordering test prints tonight. It’ll be interesting to see what that little jpg looks like at Graduation-size. Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy, 2003) set the maximum for that print, just 30×40 inches. But Graduation is six feet tall, (72 3/4 by 52 1/2 inches, 1.85 x 1.33m). Could be a real mess, but that’s fair use for the rest of us.
Who Owns This Image? [newyorker]
Previously, related:
May 2009
the instigation: West Trademark F@*#(up
the concept: 300×404, the making of
June 2009:
proofs: Richard Prints, Untitled (300 x 404)
June 2010
published: Untitled (300 x 404) @ 20 x 200
the review/thinkpiece: the great debate: the value of greg allen’s untitled (300 x 404) [artfcity]

Para-Real Conversation Really Happening, Wed. Feb 5, 7PM At 601Artspace

2014_01_601Artspace_ParaReal_Richters.jpg
Vic Muniz After Gerhard Richter (from pictures of color) (2001) and Greg Allen Destroyed Richter Painting No.2 (2012, left) and Destroyed Richter Painting No.4 (2012)
I’m really stoked to have the Destroyed Richter Paintings project included in “Para-Real,” an exhibition at 601Artspace, that has been extended until this weekend [closes Feb. 8, cf. Ken Johnson’s review in the NYTimes].
Magda Sawon curated the show with works from the 601 collection and others, and she paired Vik Muniz’s big paint chip Portrait of Betty with one of the Destroyed Richters. I’ve been a big fan of Muniz’s work for years and was particularly taken by his Pictures of Color series when we first saw them in Venice in August 2001. We barely knew how great we had it back then.
But anyway, that’s just one of many interesting pairings of works that examine notions of the real. If you haven’t seen the show already, I hope you’ll put it on your itinerary.
Maybe you should put it on your calendar tomorrow, in fact, say, 7pm, when our rescheduled conversation takes place with Robert Blake, Director of Special Projects at 601 Artspace, Jennifer & Kevin McCoy, John Powers and I. I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks. Months, even.
A round table conversation on Para-Real moderated by Robert Blake and led by Magdalena Sawon with Greg Allen, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy and John Powers
Wednesday, February 5, 2014, 7-8:30p [601artspace.org]

On Untitled (Beauty Love)

There is beauty in this painting. But the beauty is not what makes you love it.
It’s the emotion of what it says, in very simple means about life. And where we all go.
I don’t know why I get chills from Tobias Meyer’s little promo video for Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), but here we are.
I matched the audio to Michelle V. Agin’s photo from the Times this morning.

And then after reading Ian Bogost’s McRib essay again, I realized it was the most persuasive explanation I’ve seen of Auction Week. So

untitled (where we all go)

Mari X IKEA: autoprogettazione by greg.org (2010)

Three years ago, I was thinking about what to do with the posts I’d written about the project I’d begun six years ago. Which I guess means it’s time to release the results.
mari_x_ikea_gregorg_cov.jpg
So here’s Mari X IKEA, a PDF compilation I made in 2010 aboutfmy 2007-09 project to construct an Enzo Mari autoprogettazione table out of Ikea furniture components.
I was not entirely pleased with the way it read all together, and so I didn’t publish it back in the day. But I realize now that my inner archivist and inner editor will never agree on things, and I/we are becoming OK with it. So the tabloid-style publication contains all the original blog posts and images documenting the project, and that includes a fair amount of recapping and repetition. Meanwhile, my inner publicist wants to emphasize that this is not a bug, but a feature, like the catchy chorus of a song.
I’m still quite stoked about the project–and the table, for that matter, which I am using at this very moment–and it continues to influence and inform my thinking about stuff: art, design, originality, authorship, authority, appropriation, systems, craft, utility. So I’m very happy to get information on the project out there in a more easily consumable format.
I should also give a shoutout to The Newspaper Club, the amazing publishing company, then just starting out, where I had originally contemplated printing Mari X IKEA in 2010. This PDF was made using their easy publishing/layout tool. And though I ended up not pulling the trigger on this particular project, they regularly make me want to turn this blog, and many other things, into a newspaper.
Mari X IKEA: autoprogettazione by greg.org, 2010 [PDF, 2.8mb]

Ghetto Erased De Kooning Drawing

erased_dekooning_sfmoma.jpg
I’ve explored and written quite a bit about Erased de Kooning Drawing by Robert Rauschenberg & Jasper Johns. And I started to wonder if anyone else had ever erased one, too. If so, who and when, and if not, why?
Was it really a gesture that only needed to–or only could be–done once? Yes, there’s an audacity to Rauschenberg’s gesture, but the work is also, rather definitively, not a destructive act. Rauschenberg correctly saw erasing as an affirmative markmaking technique, one that de Kooning himself used quite skillfully.
So why not do it again?
I think the obvious explanation is that one more erased de Kooning drawing in the world would mean one less de Kooning drawing in the world, and that’s a seen as a problem. De Kooning’s pre-eminent stature as an artist, combined with his being dead, the finite number of works by his hand, the urge to preserve them, the conservation imperative of not making any irreversible alterations to an artwork–and of course, the economic folly of it, it just don’t add up.
On the other hand, it would offer an invaluable insight into Rauschenberg’s own experience and process in erasing de Kooning. Remember how he said it took him a month and a whole bag of erasers or whatever? Now we could find out.
Because Christie’s just posted an online-only auction of de Kooning works on paper collected over two decades by his longtime physician and friend Dr Henry Vogel. There are 33 works in the online Vogel sale, and some of them are nice, and even interesting. Let’s also say that there are several works available whose artistic character, historic importance, and sales estimates completely upend the calculations that have prevented a restaging of Rauschenberg’s act. They are highly erasable de Kooning drawings.
dekooning_scribbles_2.jpg
Lot 10, a diptych, is the first of nine drawings in what me might call de Kooning’s Notepad Series, which juxtapose his expressive markmaking with the rigorous geometry of lined paper:

He drew on everything from bags to grocery receipts, but it was paper–smooth, permanent and hard–that he favored most. Any kind of paper could suffice, even the torn out pages of a notebook, like with these two pieces.

The current bid is $2,600, with an estimate of $4-6,000. [update: sold for $3,250]
dekooning_scribble_1.jpg
Christies’ specialist hints at the mysteries locked into Lot 11, above:

De Kooning often used the female figure as a starting point to explore abstraction, obsessively and tentatively probing the boundaries between the two forms. In drawings like this, only the faintist hint of the female form emerges–and even that is open to interpretation.

The starting bid will be $1,000 against an estimate of $2-3,000. [update: sold for $2,750]
dekooning_scribbles_3.jpg
But the most promising candidate for erasure may be Lot 12 (starting bid, $1,500, est. $3-5,000, [update: sold for $1,875], which not only features images that de Kooning himself crossed out–a double negation!–but which has not only been seen, but commented upon by John Elderfield himself:

“There’s one of these yellow pad sheets where he seems to have drawn a lot of forms and crossed them out,” said John Elderfield, a [sic] former curator at MoMA, describing this piece. “And it’s hard to quite know what he’s up to. […] But with de Kooning, there always is something.”

Just like a palimpsest, there always is something.
Which highlights another major difference between Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing and this, for lack of a better term, Ghetto Erased de Kooning Drawing: you could buy it. Rauschenberg held onto his for decades, until he sold it with a group of foundational, early work, to SFMOMA. But if having an authentic, erased de Kooning drawing of your very own is something you’ve always drramed of, well, the auction ends June 19th. Drop me a line. We’ll make it happen.
Willem de Kooning Works on Paper from the Estate of Dr. Henry Vogel, online auction ends June 19 [christies.com]

Unrolling: Ghetto Gursky Rhein

ghetto_rhein_unboxing.jpg
When I undertook this Ghetto Gursky experiment last week, immediacy felt important: to use just the best image I could find online rather than scanning a catalogue, for example. And printing with the quickest, point&clickiest online service I could find. The constraints would then be the focus: the “accuracy” and veracity of the image that circulates freely [approximated here by resolution]; and the ability to instantly print large-format photos in the dimensions that were once so startling and rare, they were only available to, well, Gurskys.
Literally, though, no sooner did I place my order than I realized this generated complications. Printing at 5×6 feet, the rough dimensions of Gursky’s Rhein (1996), is actually beyond the capacity of most instant printers, at least those of the vanilla consumer variety. [It’s trivial to print a vinyl banner at that size, though, but this wasn’ what I wanted.]
Which is all a long way of saying that the Ghetto Gursky test print just arrived today. It turns out that my immediate vendor choice meant it was printed in California and groundshipped. But it came rolled nicely in a large tube, and it made it perfectly intact. So that’s all good.
First impression: ghetto fabulous. Turns out high-production photography has an uncanny valley effect, too. It’s on thick photo paper, with a nice finish. The colors are true [to the JPG I used, anyway]. Standing in front of/over it, the similarity to a Gursky is surprising.
ghetto_rhein_det2.jpg
Looking closely, though, yields its expected rewards, just the way Hito Steyerl likes it: “resolutely compromised: blurred, amateurish, and full of artifacts.” Without algorithmic smoothing or some kind of image-massaging resolution upgrade, there are pink, pixellated passages in the sky [above].
ghetto_rhein_det1.jpg
And there are a couple of greyish digital artifacts floating in the grass as well. I was going to say that the Ghetto Rhein does not have any of the crisp focus of Gursky’s original, but I don’t actually know that to be true. I haven’t stood up close with Rhein lately, but I’m not so sure that mid-90s C-prints actually have the grainless clarity I see/imagine in my memory. As with Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy) and the life-sized Untitled (300×404) print, I’d really like to see them side by side.
But the other issue, which popped up immediately, by which point it was too late, is mounting. There was no obvious, immediate, self-serve online place for facemounting a print that size on plexi. So now it’s up to me to track someplace down, and get it done. At which point, I’ll be schlepping a 5×6 print around. And soon enough, it’ll be basically 6×7 framed. And then it gets a crate, and then it’ll need a Sprinter van, and then it’s practically a Gursky, alike in every way except its street value.

Gursky, Ohne Titel XI

gursky_untitled_xi_vangogh.jpg

The artist blew up the passages by a factor of at least twenty; the paintings’ materiality comes into focus as the surface images lose resolution, further abstracting already cropped and isolated images. That is to say, we can hardly tell what these paintings are “of.”
This diffusion into abstraction seems to operate as a metaphor for the materiality of the photograph, the way that photographic images reveal either grain, in straight photography, or pixels, in digital photography, when sufficiently enlarged.

Katy Siegel, Artforum, 2001, on Gursky’s Untitled XI, 1999, a photo of a detail of a Van Gogh painting, printed at 2.7 x 2m.

Ghetto Gursky

Seeing Brent’s tweet of a Taylor Swift photo yesterday made me finally move on an idea that’s been percolating for several years: the Ghetto Gursky.


The Swift-as-Gursky image is key, in a way. I had kind of a falling out with Gursky’s work in November 2001, when he was shooting Madonna’s concert tour (in LA, on Sept. 13) instead of what I felt he should be shooting: the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
madonna_gursky_sothebys.jpg
Madonna I, 2001, ed. of 2
I’d been morally invested in Gursky’s work [I was not alone at the time] and its presentation as a critique of the globalizing forces and systems in the world, and I’d wanted to see his take on what seemed like the most pressing reality of the moment:

From the first week after the bombings, when I was in full CNN burnout, I wanted writers’ and artists’ perspectives, not Paula Zahn’s. The scale of the debris, the nature of the target, even in wire service photographs, it called for Gursky’s perspective to make some sense of it, perhaps.

Because I realized even then it was an idealistic and presumptuous view of art, and it was based on no actual knowledge of Gursky’s practice of artmaking. But it distanced me from the work, and germinated the seeds of skepticism that had been planted at the end of Peter Galassi’s 2001 MoMA retrospective.
The last gallery of that exhibition featured ever more massive prints, with ever less subtle Photoshop manipulations, culminating in a collage of disembodied CEOs and boards of directors floating against an abstract background. I remember thinking at the time how awful it was, and wondering where Gursky was heading–and whether Galassi had any qualms about showing the stuff.
Gursky has certainly made much better work since, but it stuck with me then how closely linked the impact of his work is to the state of the technological art and the means of production at any given moment. He was a Becher alum interested in exploring the latest developments in large-format photo printing and digital manipulation. The effect and experience of this can be stunning, but it can also be a trap. When you’re selling spectacle and production and wall presence, you have to keep up with the Struths, as well as the dozens of other artists who figure out where the 5-foot wide printers are. And the 8-foot. So there’s that.
gursky_moma_99cent_pop.jpg
99 Cent “Like Warhol, Gursky has succeeded in seducing his viewers with his product.” –Phillips de Pury, Nov. 2006
And then a few years later, while working on a story for the Times, a collector offhandedly mentioned a market for Gursky exhibition prints. Which kind of surprised me. Because now there was a tension between the arbitrariness and fiction of the photographic work’s edition size, and the physical reality of these giant, expensively produced, museum-grade [obviously] objects. And the tension played itself out in, or was really only a problem for, the market, where at that moment, Gurskys at auction were the most expensive photos in the world.
Which is right when I was chatting with another collector in Miami, as we toured the family’s house during an ancillary Art Basel event. Introduced to her as a fellow collector with an interest in photography, she asked, “Do you collect Gursky?” And suddenly Gursky was stripped bare, transformed into [or revealed as, depending on your cynicism] a pure commodity, the apparently socially acceptable way of straight up asking someone their net worth. And of demonstrating your own.
untitled_300x404.jpg
Untitled (300×404), 2009, published in 2010 by 20×200
In 2009, when I printed up copies of Untitled (300×404) using a small JPG of a Richard Prince Cowboy photo, I was interested to see what the difference was between his real, appropriated artwork and the digital image we were “allowed” to access by copyright [and gallery/institutional exercise of control].
The 20×200 editions of Untitled (300×404) got me thinking about how art discourse and the market handle [or don’t] issues of authenticity and copying, where the value lies, and where the attention is directed. And the extent to which money, class, rarity, and luxury color our experience of art, even when we claim self-awareness and critical resistance, and even if the artist seeks to thwart such influences in the reception of her work.
And I thought on the existence of quasi-illicit, out-of-edition Gurskys infiltrating the market in a don’t ask, don’t tell way, ably performing their functions as markers of capital and luxury objects. And how it was acceptable to ask if you collected Gurskys, and even when you started, but not to ask how much you paid, or how big a discount you got, or what number this here Gursky was in the edition.
And I wondered how close you could get to the experience of standing in front of a Gursky, the encounter with the artwork, the image and scale and finish and physicality of the object itself. What would happen to the rest of the experience? Could a Gursky ever generate a genuinely critical encounter of the system that has spawned it, from within that system?
And that’s where the idea of the Ghetto Gursky came from: a full-scale recreation of the Gursky Experience, made with publicly available imagery and publicly available production technology. Which, by the way, has become widespread, if not commonplace, in the decades since Gursky began using it.
What would such a commonly produced object do to the socioeconomic aura of the originals? If a Gursky were a sign of significant wealth and sanctioned taste, what would a Ghetto Gursky be a sign of? Clueless and failed aspiration–the contemporary art equivalent of putting an elaborate copy of Michelangelo’s David by the pool? We can call this the outcome the Carlos Slim. Or would it be a way to show off the modesty of one’s means? The Art Basel cheer of absolutely no one, “Hey, I have five thousand dollars!”
The polarization of the art market is such that a Ghetto Gursky has less justification for existing, and less likelihood of being sold, than a real Gursky. Which seems ridiculous. So I decided to go ahead and make one and see what it’s like.
ghetto_gursky_rhein_thumb.jpg
Rhein, 1996, blown up 4x from a thumbnail for effect
I’ve ordered a full-size print of Gursky’s 1996 photo Rhein, which is being made using the largest jpg version of the image I was able to find online. Then I’ll have it mounted on Perspex and framed, just like his original. This is not Rhein II (1999), which is like 2×3.5m long, and is currently the most expensive photo sold at auction. [An edition of Rhein did just sell at Phillips a couple of weeks ago for $1.9 million, which is not nothing, but still.]
Rhein is only around 5×6 feet, big when it was made, but now, not really, which is kind of the point. It’s also a more manageable size to experiment with. It will fit on my wall and in my car and in my storage. Katy Siegel wrote in 2001 that “”Gursky’s motivation is the masterwork, the valorization of the fetishized object of high art.” A Ghetto Gursky will invariably be as heavy and large and unwieldy and difficult to transport, store, and hang as a real one, which only contributes to its implausibility. Which is kind of the point.

Untitled (Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide)

etsg_scr_01.jpg
When I first met Richard Serra in 1994 or so, we talked a lot about the Internet. Soon after, I began trying to imagine what a Richard Serra web project would look like. Given the way his sculptures rather definitively reconfigured the space they inhabited, I envisioned a Serra site as a single, massive, interlaced GIF, that rendered in your browser with excruciating, megalithic slowness, controlling time and processing power as well as screenspace.
etsg_scr_02a.jpg
I mention this now because I think that, after my nearly 20 years online, the Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide page at sewingandembroiderywarehouse.com comes closest to Serra’s work in terms of its spare, dauntless power.
etsg_scr_02.jpg
ETSG is created in Microsoft FrontPage. None of the HTML headings tags are closed, so the text, as Rob at boingboing puts it, grows “inexorably in size until the greatest website in the world is achieved.”
etsg_scr_03.jpg
This kind of webby, self-referential recursiveness is similar to, though the inverse of, Moonwalk, Martin Kohout’s standout YouTube video which was a conceptual standout at the Guggenheim’s YouTube Play competition/exhibition a couple of years ago.
etsg_scr_04.jpg
ETSG‘s scrolling text is also reminiscent of Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman’s 1973 video piece, Television Delivers People.
But of course, it’s all unintentional, even unnoticed. Apparently, the SEW folks say the page renders just fine in Internet Explorer.

Crazy 20×200.com Sale Starts at 4AM EST

20x200_cybermonday.png
20×200.com is starting their WTF Cyber Monday sale early, at 4AM Eastern, with an eye-popping 40% off on prints and frames, as detailed above. The discount ticks down a bit throughout the day, until it reaches a still-totally-respectable 25% off by 4PM.
The discounts apply to orders over $100, so for example a framed 14×11 edition of Untitled (300 x 404), below, would be $111 instead of $185. And one of the five remaining 30×24″ prints, would be $720 vs $1,200.
300x404_framed.jpg
There are, of course, many other excellent prints available, too.
You can’t even get discounts like that at Basel Miami Beach, people. It is serious Crazy Eddie days over there.

Untitled (NYPD)

nypd_concrete_55th_st.jpg
It’s UN Season in New York, and the streets are filled with people enjoying the sun, and squeezing through these flat-out gorgeous NYPD barriers. Seriously, I mean, Tony Smith, Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Beverly Pepper, Anselm Kiefer, Janine Antoni, Scott Burton, Robert Gober–you see where I’m going with this? I mean, Rachel Harrison–I’d love to make a Rachel Harrison-style version of these. That would be awesome. and so much more manageable, too.
Oh, look, I was right:
ows_concrete_animalny.jpg
Occupy protestors on Sept. 17th in Battery Park, as covered by Bucky Turco at Animal New York
So the next thing would be a Cow Parade-style celebration across the whole city. These barriers could become a vibrant platform for artists the world over, and highly collectible, too. Munny dolls-meets-street security furniture.
I. Am. On it.

‘Domestic Objects’ Opens Tonight, Sept 5 @ Bridge Gallery

And speaking of art and politics….
g-o_orpheus_twice_schem.jpg
I am stoked to announce my participation in “Domestic Objects,” at Bridge Gallery on the Lower East Side. The show opens tonight, Wednesday, September 5th, and runs through October 18.
In addition to my piece, the show includes work by John Powers, Susanna Starr, and Jer Thorp & Diane Thorp. “Domestic Objects explores concepts of our constructed private spaces, belonging, family, domesticity, and material possessions.”
Which seemed to me like an excellent context and time for “Untitled” (Orpheus, Twice), 2012. It’s a piece I’ve actually been thinking about for a couple of years, but this is the first time it will be installed.
I’ve been thinking about art that doesn’t exist, and why not. “Untitled” (Orpheus, Twice), 2012, is a speculation, or a wistful reimagining, of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1991 work of the same title. I’ll probably write more about it later, and how it came to be, but now I’m going to hit the road.
If you’re able to make the opening tonight, it’d be great. Otherwise, I hope you’ll get to see the show while it’s up.
Domestic Objects, 5 Sept – 18 Oct, Bridge Gallery, 98 Orchard St (Del/Ess) [bridgegalleryny.com]

‘Concept By Mercedes’

Untitled
image via 0823n’s flickr
I swear, I’ve tried to keep it all on Twitter, but in the wake of Schimmelgate, I can’t help feeling that the debate over Jeffrey Deitch’s increasingly depressing tenure at MOCA overlooks one of the most damning incidents: Transmission LA: AV Club, the Mercedes-Benz exhibition curated by Mike D that suddenly displaced and delayed the opening of Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon’s Land Art show, Ends Of The Earth.
Maybe it’s been underexamined, misunderstood, or just quickly condemned as a “marketing spectacle.” But I think Transmission LA is actually a show, an unusually pure embodiment of the programming vision Deitch and his patron Eli Broad hold for MOCA, and for art itself. But that means Transmission LA also expands–and complicates–the comfortable moral outrage against Deitch and MOCA; because the forces and assumptions that gave rise to it–art as leisure, entertainment, consumption experience, luxury good and corporate branding project–are already operating across vast swaths of the contemporary art and museum world.
MOCA’s own PR weirdness about its [non-]announcement and the ostensible obviousness of the show’s marketing objectives contribute to an inaccurate perception that Transmission LA was an impulsive, hastily organized, poorly handled, maybe slightly desperate corporate rental deal: that Mercedes and its ongoing lifestyle branding initiative, The Avant/Garde Diaries, swooped in unexpectedly to save the big, hard-to-fund scholarly show set to open in a few weeks by offering a six-figure proposal for a pop-up show “curated” by their aging rapper, if only the cash-strapped museum had a space available for a few weeks.
In fact, as the LA Times’ Mike Boehm reported a couple of weeks after the Mercedes show appeared on MOCA’s calendar, such a mix of “celebrity, fashion and youth culture” were “a key reason [Deitch] was hired in 2010.” Boehm wrote,

Deitch said he helped plan the festival for its sponsor, Mercedes-Benz, including recruiting Mike D as the curator who will oversee its offerings of art, music and food. Admission is free. With Mercedes covering the cost and making a contribution to the museum, Deitch expects it to generate several hundred thousand dollars for MOCA’s more conventional activities, while continuing his populist push.
“We need to build the museum as a social space,” Deitch said in an interview Tuesday at MOCA.

deitch_miked_avclub.jpg
image via Breaking Through – In Preparation for TRANSMISSION LA – AV CLUB
Deitch met Mike D [whose given name is Mike Diamond] in 2010, while participating in a documentary about Jean-Michel Basquiat by the musician’s filmmaker wife Tamra Davis. The Daily Beast, writing about the April opening, said “According to Diamond, Deitch called him a year ago to propose that he curate Transmission: LA and has been very hands-on since.” So Deitch was working on Mercedes’ show at MOCA in April 2011, and no one [sic] knew about it until six weeks before it opened.

But that is not Deitch’s only involvement in Mercedes’ branding activities. In December 2011, two months before Transmission LA was announced on Mercedes’ site, and 3.5 months before MOCA’s involvement was revealed publicly, Deitch made a an Avant/Garde Diaries video at Art Basel Miami Beach, along with Theaster Gates.
Ironically, considering the criticisms leveled against him now, Deitch’s role in the video is to provide gravitas and historical context. Specifically, it was to anoint The Avant/Garde as the rightful heirs to the “the avant-garde,” aka the world Deitch had come up in, the “small community” that was “the art world” in “the early 70s.” In other words, exactly the kind of intergenerational baton-passing that 90’s veteran, Deitch collaborator, and Avant/Garde-ist Aaron Rose called for in his recent defense of Deitch’s MOCA mission. [It’s not really relevant, but the video includes Deitch fluff-flubbing Gates’ affiliation with the Art Institute, instead of the University of Chicago.]
In his curator’s statement in the “official Audio-Visual Club zine“ [pdf], explaining how the whole thing came together, Mike D reflects some of Deitch’s curatorial light:

When Jeffrey Deitch first approached me about doing this show, the assignment was more simple. It was to pick 10 or 11 artists that I found inspiring, or was inspired by. I quickly, however, spiraled out of control.
I decided to be a bit more ambitious and go for a complete sensory experience inclusive of food, coffee, books, film, and many multi-media installations.

…I realized the theme had emerged: this notion of how visual art is informed by and inspired by music, and how that then turns back to music. after that, I knew that we also had to have a musical component to the exhibition with DJ nights, performances, etc. to complete the circle.
the food and coffee elements were conceptualized with Jeffrey originally because I thought of the project as two-fold. One is that LA is all about car culture. the tricky thing is to get people out of their homes, so you need to check multiple boxes off in one day and destination. the other is that we’re trying to create this all- encompassing sensory-rich environment.

“Pick 10 or 11” “inspiring” artists, add coffee and a DJ, crank “everything up to 11,” and you have “the new MOCA,” as Mike D put it on a MOCA blog, “a 21st Century institution that redefines how contemporary art is presented in a cultural context.” Which is modulated a bit from the way he described the show in April, before the Schimmel hit the fan: a “grown-up theme park, a Six Flags for adults.”

In The Avant/Garde’s preview for the show, “TRANSMISSION LA: AV CLUB Concept by Mercedes Benz [! -ed.] Curated by Mike D”, Diamond’s fragmented, aphoristic narration has been edited together to sound like nothing so much as International Art English, spoken with a recovering rocker patois:

Installations cranking everything up to 11…musicians…visual artists…trying to break it up…so that’s not a typical white wall, concrete floor kind of gallery experience.
An experienced curator would have said, ‘There’s no way this is going to be possible.’ But I didn’t know! [muffled laugh of whoever he’s talking to] So I just kind of like…’Do it!'”
Experiential, mind-altering fun? Like, my dream of what my house might be like. Like a fantasy of what it would be if you came over. Why don’t I meet you, we’ll have a cup of coffee, I have the big, old Tom Sachs sound system, and we’ll play some music on that.

The museum is transformed, the literalization of a dreamscape, where your fantasy of hanging out at your favorite musician’s house comes true.
Untitled
Image via 0823n’s flickr
And right in the middle of the show, waiting to upend your “gallery experience”? The 2013 Mercedes CSC, or Concept Style Coupe. Bet you didn’t expect that!
Deitch’s show, conceived by The Avant/Garde Diaries, which he has been consulting for, and organized by the inexperienced guest curator he picked, and with his intimate involvement, turns out to be more than a crankin’ exploration of “how visual art is informed by and inspired by music”; it’s also one step–sandwiched between “leaked” PR photos and an official unveiling at the Beijing Motor Show–in the highly orchestrated marketing campaign for the launch of the new, mid-sized version of the CLS 4-door coupe.
avant_garde_white_guys.jpg
Which is not to imply that The Avant/Garde Diaries was created by Mercedes just to launch one new mid-market sedan; it’s really a platform for shifting the cultural perception of the Mercedes brand itself. Taken as a whole, The Avant/Garde’s Diarists appear to be rebellious, creative, successful, in their late 30s and early 40s, prone to wearing large plaid, white with a token Asian–and almost exclusively male. It’s an aspirational lifestyle profile from which you can neatly reverse engineer the Mercedes driver profiles the company’s trying to counterbalance: suburban yoga moms, Orange County realtors, Hamptons d-bags, and unsettlingly blingy black folk.
notcot_mikemerc4.jpg
diptych via notcot
It’s also an attempt–and in Transmission LA’s case, a literal one–to make peace with a generation and culture which once considered Mercedes Benz as the contemptuous Other, the target of their scornful, youthful mischief, and to bring them–and their upscale families–into the corporate fold. And so a rapper who once encouraged his fans to turn stolen hood ornaments into necklaces is hired to make official versions for the Brand Communications team and party VIPs. And is provided with giant, authentic Mercedes logos to scatter about the galleries, and to dangle from gold chains on the front of the museum.
Mike D has traded up
image via shapthings’ flickr
[No doubt too late disclosure: I just sold one of our Mercedes; I trust the one that’s left is so boring as to be aspirational to no one.]
And this is all of a piece, not just with Deitch’s strategy for MOCA, “guest curators” and all, but with his conception of art and its role in the culture. Speaking to Mike Boehm in March, Deitch cited the fundraising difficulties faced by academically focused shows like Ends of the Earth:

It’s much easier, he said, to raise money for shows by popular figures, “where collectors are excited about the artists and brands want to be connected to the artists’ image. Fundraising for historical shows with great artists who don’t include today’s art-world stars is a great challenge.”

It’s a sentiment that comes up in The Avant/Garde Diaries’ latest video featuring 90s magazine photographer David LaChapelle and Berlin dealer Reiner Opoku, aptly titled, “Reinventing Yourself”:

[Opuku]: I’d say recently, we see a lot of need for certain brands–or the desire for brands to work with creative people. First of all, you have to find a language between these two: between the creator and the brand. Therefore you need people in between, who, let’s say, orchestra [sic] the whole enterprise, the whole idea.

LaChapelle’s reboot as a fine artist began, as you might guess, with a 2005 sideshow/”retrospective” at Deitch Projects. It’s all enough to make me wonder how deep and ongoing Deitch’s involvement with Mercedes’ marketing is.
More importantly/depressingly, it makes me wonder if there really is anything to be done about it. Transmission LA includes several artists I actually like, respect, or at least take seriously. Even Hans Ulrich Obrist has done a video for the Avant/Garde Diaries [which rather succinctly demolishes Aaron Rose’s defense of MOCA in the name of forgetting the irrelevant past. Count me as Team HUO on this one, obviously.]

Here’s Peter Saville shooting down the fantasy of a contemporary avant-garde in–what else?–his video for The Avant/Garde Diaries, titled awesomely, “Disco Ball of Everything”:

This last decade, we’ve had a broadly pluralist culture. Basically, we have a kind of, entirely multi-track system. The system has evolved to encompass all forms of provocation. We’ve entirely commercialized–and commoditized–life culture. It’s perfectly understood now that you will dress any way you like. You can have dance music with rock music with classical music. All of these genres in a multi-faceted, contemporary kind of reality. Like a kind of disco ball of everything.

If only Saville would curate MOCA’s show.
Meanwhile, museums seemingly not in peril have negotiated far-ranging sponsorships with car companies, from VW’s multi-year deal with MoMA and PS1 to BMWGuggenheim’s globehopping program on urban design. But MOCA’s Mercedes tie-up doesn’t remind me of these more traditional underwriting agreements. The closest analogue I can think of is YouTube’s complicated content/sponsorship/museum rental relationship with the Guggenheim for the YouTube Play Biennial in 2010. [For Mercedes’ part, nothing beats Arne Quinze’s Uchronian campaign at Burning Man for the 2007 Lexus LS460 for inspiration in developing a long-term, stealth co-optation of a non-commercial art context for a car launch.]
Is MOCA really only guilty of indelicate execution? Are the differences between Deitch’s boundary blurring antics and the rest of the art/museum world’s stimulation-seeking, crowd-pleasing, and corporate sponsor-pleasing differences of kind, or merely of degree? These are questions I’ve been grappling with as MOCA’s credibility has been disintegrating in front of me.
On the one [personal] bright side, it makes me feel slightly better, more aware and critical, and slightly less implicated, to have made this giant, blingy sculpture, which is now hanging in my living room:
mercedes_moca_inst1.jpg
Untitled (MOCA Mercedes, after Mike D), 2012, ed. 10
Like the Thomas Hirschhorn chain sculptures which were its inspiration, this is made from cardboard, aluminum tape, gold foil, and packing tape. As such, it’s designed to last just long enough to serve its purpose, to be considered, favored, consumed/shown, and flipped a few times at auction. Anything longer than that will be a problem for the conservators, assuming such a position exists in the museum of the 21st century.
This one, I think I’ll keep for my self, but I suppose I’ll make a few more. The price’ll go up after Deitch leaves, with the increase going to MoCA.