For the 30th anniversary of its original installation and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, Public Art Fund reinstalled Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ first billboard work, “Untitled” (1989) at its original site facing Sheridan Square in the West Village. Until today, the Guggenheim also exhibited “Untitled” (1991), a stack sculpture made from 161 unsold prints originally made to support the Public Art Fund project.
This edition of Better Read is the text of the billboard, plus the artist’s statement.
This, the 23rd installment of Better Read, texts that are better read aloud by a computer, was inspired by a @ballardian tweet. It is the table of contents of Simon Sellars’ new sort-of-a-novel-sort-of-a-memoir, Applied Ballardianism, which is out this month from Urbanomic. As I type that out, I fear I transcribed it as Urbanomics. Fortunately, probably no one will listen to this. I should’ve kept my trap shut. [update: I did not.]
The text in this edition is the law, S.188, first sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, who took issue with the commissioning of a $22,400 portrait of an Obama-era cabinet official who stepped down before the portrait was even finished to recover from a severe car accident.
It bans federal funds being used “for the painting of a portrait of an officer or employee of the Federal Government,” and then goes on to specify the Executive and Legislative organizations to which the law applies. There is no specific mention of the law’s applying to the Judicial branch of the federal government, or to unmentioned independent entities like the Smithsonian, NASA, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the Federal Reserve Bank, just to name four that come to mind. But perhaps the ban on any Federal employee is broad enough.
The implications for this law are as yet unknown. Perhaps it will lead to an expansion of photography-based portraiture, including, hypothetically, portraits by artists that rival the expense of paintings. Perhaps artists will create official paintings that are somehow not technically portraits, or at least not representational. Scott Pruitt could be depicted by a painted picture of the $25,000 concrete phone booth he had installed in his EPA office, for example. Or Ryan Zinke could be included as a small but still recognizable figure dwarfed by the active face of a giant, publicly subsidized coal stripmine.
Perhaps artists will paint the portrait for free with purchase of a frame, or a $31,000 office dining set, or a $125,000 door. Perhaps lobbyists, corporations, or others who wish to ingratiate themselves with a government official will donate their extravagantly expensive portraits, or commission them from the official’s dabbling wife. Perhaps painters will donate the portrait to an auction gala for a fake charity run by the president’s family and held at the president’s hotel, and the subject will need to bid his own portrait to a sufficiently high amount that he can keep his cabinet job another year. Or perhaps George W. Bush will paint them all.
This edition of Better Read comprises a found text, the documentation of a fungi specimen submitted to the New York Botanical Society. That documentation in turn comprises several elements: an archivist’s gnomon, a page removed from a mycology guidebook; item labels, notes, and a submission form with NYBG letterhead. They are read from the top of the digitized scan of the specimen record to the bottom.
One thing I noticed, besides the rather remarkable combination of words, and their genesis: after 20 recordings, I only just noticed that Alex, the computer-generated voice, inhales before he starts speaking. Now it kind of freaks me out.
The Hirshhorn Museum offers non-hearing or non-sighted visitors transcripts of audio or video artworks they exhibit. In some cases those transcripts come from the artist or their dealers. For the video art show in the lower level, you can read along for the entire performance of a Polish opera in Jasper & Malinowska’s Halka/Haiti, or [no thanks] all of Frances Stark’s sex chats. [The transcript for Arthur Jafa’s Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, though, only includes the lyrics to the Kanye West song he laid down, not the dialogue in his video montage.] When they don’t exist, though, the Hirshhorn produces their own descriptive, transcriptive text.
Anyway, I noticed the existence of these transcripts while watching Gretchen Bender’s Dumping Core (1984), a rapid-fire, multi-channel video installation that plays out over 13 monitors arrayed throughout a black box gallery.
The improbability of the existence of one of Bender’s major works was already next-level. MoMA apparently helped restore or recover the work, which had only been exhibited as an abbreviated documentation video like my pic above, as recently as 2013. But the idea of a translating a frenetic video wall into a narrative text seemed too intriguing to ignore. And translating that back into an audio experience? If Bender wouldn’t have approved, I think she’d disapprove in the right way.
Everywhere I looked, everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be exactly as it was, with nothing added. It was a new freedom; there was no longer the need to compose. The subject was there already made, and I could take from everything. It all belonged to me: a glass roof of a factory with its broken and patched panels, lines on a road map, a corner of a Braque painting, paper fragments in the street. It was all the same: anything goes.
Laurie Lambrecht, Explosion, Slam, photo composition of Roy Lichtenstein’s Hand Written Word List and comic book clipping source material, made in the artist’s studio between 1990 and 1992. image via lensculture
Why did Roy Lichtenstein make word lists is not really my question. How did Roy Lichtenstein’s word lists end up in the list of his artworks catalogued by the Lichtenstein Foundation?
Both lists date from 1990. The first Handwritten Word List, feels like it fits right in. It appears to be a compilation, or a selection, of the onomatopoetic word graphics Lichtenstein famously adapted from comic books for his paintings. This list appears in at least two pictures taken between 1990 and 1992 by Laurie Lambrecht, a photographer who worked as an assistant to Lichtenstein in his studio. In the composition above, titled Explosion, Slam, it is surrounded by comics clippings. Her account of this time, inventorying Lichtenstein’s studio in preparation for his 1993 Guggenheim retrospective, mentions Polaroids, “bulging notebooks,” and a “scrapbook full of ‘Crying Girls,'” none of which apparently made the leap from archive to corpus that these lists did.
The second, Typed Word List, are all adjectives “of praise,” in an alphabetical order. Did he create it for a work? A series? A lecture? Would he consult the list when artist friends asked his opinion about their show? I mean, you could probably get away with it on the phone, but it could get awkward to use such a prompt in person. [“What’d you think?” (Pulls out list.) “Neato.”]
Or maybe he came up with the list after a heated conversation with Richard Serra, who was like, “You can’t have the verbs, Roy, they’re mine!” And Roy was like, “Fine!”
In any case, they’re both pretty beat up, well-used, and have no discernible aesthetic embellishment. I won’t say they’re not aesthetic, because they are what they are. Download Better_Read_016_Roy_Lichtenstein_Word_Lists.mp3 [2:25, 1.3mb, greg.org] Hand Written Word List, 1990 [imageduplicator.com] Typed Word List, 1990 [imageduplicator.com] Inside Roy Lichtenstein’s Studio, photos by Laurie Lambrecht [lensculture]
Kara Walker, Detail of U.S.A. Idioms, 2017, image via sikkema jenkins & co
It feels unusual to feature a current text on Better Read, but then, these are unusual times.
It strikes me that Kara Walker’s artist’s statement for her current show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. has not been considered in an expanded context. An artist’s statement, in a press release, is already fighting with two critical hands behind its back. Yet the press release is actually the artist’s title for her show. The impetus for writing any of this is presumably well understood, but here, the specific circumstances of Walker’s work, her practice, and the shitshow of a world we’re living in right now should, I believe, upend our complacent expectations.
I myself found it too easy to make quick judgments about these texts and their implications when I saw the ad for Walker’s show in Artforum, which contained the show’s title, which I’d previously ignored, because I’d taken it for a glib press release. I let the order of reception, my own subjectivity, influence my judgment, in ways that I might not have noticed without further, in-depth consideration. And yet Walker had anticipated it all. Download Better_Read_015_Kara_Walker_20170914.mp3 [6:57, 3.3mb, via greg.org] Kara Walker exhibition page [sikkemajenkinsco.com] Sikkema Jenkins’ press release with Kara Walker’s texts [pdf, sikkemajenkinsco.com]
Richard Hamilton invitation with 1951 Technique et Architecture illustration used for Five Tyres – abandoned (1964) and Five Tyres remoulded (1972)
Sometimes I hit a wall while writing, and retyping someone else’s text helps get me going again.
So here is another installment of Better Read, a series of mp3 files from greg.org in which an interesting, under-known, or hard-to-find art-related text is read by a computer.
This text by Richard Hamilton accompanies Five Tyres remoulded, 1972 relief and print edition created with Carl Solway and EYE Editions. Hamilton describes his attempt to replicate by hand a complicated photo illustration he’d clipped from a trade magazine. The image was from the 50s, the project began and was abandoned in 1963, then reinitiated in 1970 with the help of a computer. Besides the obviously interesting insights onto his own process, Hamilton’s text resonates with the history of early Pop, conceptual art, and even appropriation, as well as the inter-relation of art and technology.
Unless you had the portfolio itself, the text was only available in print in Studio International (1972, vol. 183, p. 276). Images of a first draft of the text were also included in a 2014 blog post by Carl Solway about his correspondence with Hamilton. So I’m sure having a computer-generated voice recording of it expands its availability tremendously.
Richard Hamilton, Dimensional Data, screen print on mylar, 60x85cm, from Five Tyres remoulded (1972), via swann
The Mellow Pad, 1945-51, by Stuart Davis, co-founder of the American Artists Congress in 1936, image: whitney.org
This edition of Better Read features a speech delivered by Michigan Republican congressman George Donderos on the House floor on Tuesday August 16, 1949 titled, “Modern Art Shackled To Communism.” I came across quotes and excerpts from this speech while researching the American Artists Congress, the group that brought Picasso’s Guernica to the United States for a fundraising tour in 1938.
Dondero made several fiery speeches against modern art during this, the McCarthy era, repeatedly accusing modernism and all its subsidiary “isms” of being a vile foreign-led Communist plot to destroy American art and values.
Near as I can tell, this is the first time Dondero’s complete speech has been available outside the Congressional Record, which turns out to be a lot harder to get ahold of than I expected. I am currently preparing a compilation of all Dondero’s art-related speeches, and the responses they engendered from the accused, the threatened, and even, surprisingly, the nominally allied. Because even I have a hard time listening to a robot for 26 minutes, the complete text of Dondero’s speech is included after the jump. Download Better_Read_013_Dondero_Communist_Shackles_20170417.mp3 [26:49, 39mb, mp3 via dropbox greg.org]
Reading a Dan Graham interview transcript about magazine articles as artworks, and contemplating the [so far] failed campaign for Giant Meteor ’16, I thought of Mel Bochner’s and Robert Smithson’s In The Domain Of The Great Bear, published in the Fall 1966 issue of Art Voices. This edition of Better Read is two excerpts from that work, which I imagined as a diptych.
PDF scans of In The Domain Of The Great Bear can be found in various places online [pdf]. The version I like is on Mel Bochner’s own website [pdf], because it preserves the appearance of the work as originally published. Bochner spoke about Domain at a 2005 Smithson symposium at the Whitney Museum. I was at that symposium, but the New York-centric historian who said visiting the Spiral Jetty site doesn’t matter, the film is enough, and Nancy Holt’s nonchalant comments about adding more rocks to the Jetty have obliterated all other memories of that day. Fortunately the talk was later adapted as “Secrets of the Domes” and published in the September 2006 issue of Artforum. serendipitous update: I happened across the John Wilmdering Symposium at the NGA from last Fall, where art historian Justin Wolff talked about Rockwell Kent’s End of the World lithographs, which were made for Life Magazine. For a story, though, about a very popular program at the then-new Hayden Planetarium, where scientists would speculate on the many ways the earth could be destroyed. So this was not just Smithson; it was a Hayden thing. Great [End] Times. [oh, spoiler alert?] Download Better_Read_012_Bochner_Smithson_Domain.mp3 [9:36, mp3, 13.8mb, via dropbox greg.org]
Forrest Bess, The Asteroids #3, 1946, oil on canvas board, via Phillips Collection
In 2014 the Phillips Collection received eight works by Forrest Bess from Miriam Shapiro Grosof, including a set of four paintings titled, The Asteroids (1946). They depict a dream Bess had, and the ceramist Arlene Shechet has put them on view for the first time as part of her museum-wide project, From Here On Now. [The other Bess paintings can be seen in the (Part 2) video here.] Shechet has made work in response to particular works and spaces at the Phillips, and has reinstalled at least five spaces, to absolutely riveting effect.
Shechet’s ceramic and cast paper sculptures are variously abstract and referential, and are accomplished on their own, but as catalysts for and participants in dialogue with works from the collection, they appear essential. Shechet has chosen and placed extraordinary works, which should be familiar, but which all feel like revelations, in a way that makes the Phillips spring to life. I’d say she should curate the entire museum, but many of the galleries Shechet did not curate also vibrate with unexpected and fascinating paintings of all eras, from Bonnard, to Ryder, to Robert Natkin? Somehow, yes. With a tribute show of the late William Christenberry’s work and Jacob Lawrence’s Toussaint L’Ouverture prints, I’d say the Phillips is the most unexpectedly awesome show in town right now.
Now on to Bess. Download Better_Read_011_Forrest_Bess_The_Asteroids_1946.mp3 [dropbox greg.org, 3:10, 4.5mb] From Here On Now, by Arlene Shechet, runs through March 7, 2017 [phillipscollection.org]
Sturtevant’s Vertical Monad, 2008, installed at Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London
In case the last Better Read was too mainstream podcasty for you, here are the first few pages of Spinoza’s Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata, in Latin, which Sturtevant included in her 2008 installation Vertical Monad, read by a computer. Better_Read_Sturtevant_Spinoza_20160610.mp3 [dropbox greg.org, 35Mb, 24:28]
A couple of days ago I received a check. Actually, The Jetty Foundation, of which I am the president, received a check. It was from the State of Utah for fifty dollars, an overpayment of a filing fee for annual withholdings taxes.
[I created The Jetty Foundation as a not-for-profit corporation in 2011 in order to bid on the lease for state-owned land underneath Spiral Jetty. Though the Foundation’s bid was not accepted, the terms we proposed ended up getting baked into the renewed lease the state signed with the Dia Foundation, so that was nice.
The Jetty Foundation was not party to any of the negotiations or activities of Dia and its new local Utah partners, and has had no formal activities since 2011. Recently, though, I have discussed making a publication of historical documents related to the Jetty and its site. And also the feasibility of conducting open-access conservation surveys. For these possibilities and any others, that might arise, I have maintained the corporate entity in good standing. Corporations are people, too, after all.]
Alas, this corporate person does not have a bank account, and cannot sign over its check to me, the president, who paid the fee in the first place. And it seems kind of ridiculous to set up a corporate bank account solely to deposit one check.
I considered offering the check as an artwork, a unique work on paper, whose worth might surpass its face value. I thought of copying it a bunch of times as an edition. I half-joked on Twitter of just gathering a bunch more money for the Foundation, enough to make opening a bank account worth the effort. Well, no one’s laughing now.
greg.org is pleased to announce A Very Special Episode of Better Read, an adaptation of Chris Burden’s 1979 radio work, Send Me Your Money, benefitting The Jetty Foundation, as re-performed by a robot.
[Just as I am not interested in the various art student re-performances of Burden’s more physically extreme early works, the several other human re-performances of Burden’s Send Me Your Money kind of bored me. I did find it interesting that the robot voice cut nearly fifteen minutes off Burden’s time, even after I tried to manipulate its pacing. But It was listening to a pledge drive on a local public radio station tonight that sealed the deal; this is audio vérité.] Download Better_Read_Jetty_Fndn_SendMeYourMoney_20160513.mp3 from dropbox greg.org [mp3, 41min, 59mb, via dropbox greg.org]
examples of Taliesin Square Papers from the Frank Lloyd Wright Library at Steinerag
Welcome to Better Read, an intermittent experiment at greg.org to transform art-related texts into handy, entertaining, and informative audio. This text is excerpts from a pamphlet essay by Frank Lloyd Wright, “In the Cause of Architecture: The “International Style” (Soft Cover), published by Taliesin Fellowship in February 1953. It would be the last of what were called the Taliesen Square Paper Series. The editorial was republished in the July 1953 issue of House Beautiful magazine with the title, “Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up.” Wright was 85 years old at the time, and he hated hated the International Style.
I could not find print copies of either of these publications available anywhere. Library holdings of House Beautiful are spotty and incomplete. When I tried the authoritative-seeming, five-volume Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, I also came up short. There are only five copies of Vol. 5 (1949-1959) listed in libraries in the US. How could this be? I ended up buying a used copy for a couple of bucks from Goodwill in Michigan, which turned out to have been deaccessioned by the library in a federal prison. Anyway, the text comes from there [pp. 66-69].
I wanted to find this text because it is the source of two popular zingers from Wright: the great opening line, “The ‘International Style’ is neither international, nor a style,” and saying supporters of modern architecture are not only totalitarians, fascists, or communists, they “are not wholesome people.” This line came up, for example, in a recent Atlas Obscura article about Hollin Hills, a nice but innocuous mid-century modernist subdivision near Washington DC.
I wanted to see the fuller context of Wright’s criticisms, partly because one of the objects of his scorn, the MoMA-affiliated architect Philip Johnson, was actually a Nazi and an aspiring leader of US fascism at one point. [I’ve come to think Johnson recognized the disadvantages of political affiliation for his real interest: himself and his career, and that his devotion for the rest of his life to establishment power was quite sincere, but that’s not the point right now.]
The main reason is because Wright’s communist and anti-modernist bogeymen sounded familiar, like they might resonate with the conservative or rightist campaigns against everything modern, from abstraction to Brutalism to Post-Modernism, to Tilted Arc to the Culture Wars, Wojnarowicz, you name it. Wright’s architecture has been generally assimilated into our historical narrative, but, I thought, it’s come at the cost of our understanding of the political context in which he created it, and from which he attacked those who didn’t ascribe to his own views, or pursue his particular agenda.
Anyway, Wright’s text is after the jump, or you can listen to the text read by a robot. better_read_frank_lloyd_wright_intl_style_20160505.mp3 [dropbox greg.org, 18mb mp3, 13min or so]