Johnson On Johns

Ray Johnson, Untitled (Letterbox), 1964, correspondance with David Bourdon, collection: NGA

 

It’s hard to process Ray Johnson’s work, there’s so much of it. It’s intentionally slight and esoteric. It often feels like a quick visual read. But it can also reward a slower look, even when it’s sort of stuffed and strewn about.

The National Gallery has a 1964 piece, Untitled (Letterbox), which is actually a mailbox stuffed with a few years’ worth of correspondance art pieces Ray Johnson sent to the critic David Bourdon. If I remember the label correctly, the stuff was piling up, so Bourdon got a classic brownstone-sized three-unit mailbox to hold it all.

Ray Johnson drawing & notes on Jasper Johns’ #5 from 0–9 Color, 1960-63, in Untitled (Letterbox), collection: NGA

Anyway, I’ve seen but not really looked at it since it was installed way back before the world ended, but the other day I noticed that unlike other pieces, this was not a Jasper Johns exhibition announcement; it was a Jasper Johns.

And not just any Jasper Johns. This is from 0–9 (1960-63), the foundational series with which Johns began making prints, and with which he began his extensive relationship with Tatyana Grossman and Universal Limited Art Editions. [Though other prints were completed and published before 0–9, I think it was the first one he started.] It’s signed and numbered–and folded up and stuffed in an envelope at some point, apparently.

Grosman wooed Johns to start making prints with her fledgling contemporary foundry by sending him a lithography stone to play with. Over years, Johns worked his stenciled numbers on the stone’s surface, printed some, and then wiped and started drawing and printing again. The sequential prints in 0–9 trace the changes and palimpsests of the process, capturing the lithographic process the way Johns’ encaustic froze the mark of the brush that applied it. This ambitious series was published in three versions: a rainbow of colors, black, and grey.

The print Ray Johnson used here is #5 from C/C 1/10, which means it’s from the first edition of the color set. Johnson took this first print of his friend’s massive project, and started circling and labeling individual lines in the print as “snakes.” Then Johnson signed his name and date next to Johns’. And then he folded and taped it up and mailed it to Bourdon.

Snakes were a thing for Johnson. That same year Dick Higgins published a compilation of his correspondance works from Johnson in an artist book he titled The Paper Snake. But this is ultimately less surprising than his readiness to treat an artwork from a friend like a cigarette wrapper or rubber stamp, as an element of his own production. [Of course, Johnson was friends with Rauschenberg and Sue Weil, too, so he certainly knew of Bob incorporating Johns’ and Weil’s paintings into his own combine. And don’t forget Twombly drawing all over everything. So maybe surprising should not be the word.]

So far two of the three artist proofs of 0–9 (Color) (ULAE 19) have sold at auction: Merce Cunningham & John Cage’s set, in 2009, and last year, the set Johns gave to art historian Robert Rosenblum, who wrote the accompanying text. [Awesomely, on four of Rosenblum’s ten prints Johns inscribed, “Proof to replace stolen.” So keep your eyes peeled for four rogue prints.]

Jasper Johns, 5 from 0–9, 1963, ed. C/C 1/10, collection: MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art has one of each variation, of course, because back in the day MoMA and ULAE made it so the museum could get the first print from every edition they published. And hey, look at that, MoMA’s print of 0–9 (Color) has the same number as Johnson’s. Did someone mention rogue prints? How’d this happen?

 

Everyone Gets A Plinth By Philip Johnson!

Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk being installed by crane at Seagram Plaza, Sept. 1967, image nydn via gettyimages’ horrific website, which literally siphons information away from you, just google it

In the heat of hyping Luis Castañeda’s amazing essay on the history of 60s modernists’ enthusiasm for putting colossal Olmec stone heads on exhibit, I managed to leave out the part about their impact on public art, on the scale of contemporary sculpture, and on the reconfiguration of public space into exhibition space.

San Lorenzo Monument One being installed at Seagram Building on Park Avenue, May 1965, as seen on the cover of Artforum in October 1966

So imagine my surprise when looking for a different image of Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, I instead found this 1967 pic of it being installed by crane on Seagram Plaza, two years after the flying Olmec head made the cover of Artforum. Everyone gets a plinth by Philip Johnson!

The occasion? A 27-work show organized by New York City called “Sculpture In Environment” that temporarily installed contemporary sculptures all over town.

The curator was Sam Green, the impressario/museum director/walker/hustler who singlehandedly dragged all those Agnes Martins out of the catalogue raisonné. The show included Tony Rosenthal’s Alamo, which is still at Astor Place. So temporary is relative.

Bigger Thinking Needed For Giant Heads

Dr. Matthew Stirling & friends admiring a cast of an Olmec head from La Venta installed at the NGS in 1943, via Historic Images (obv) on eBay, where I (also obv) did not buy it.

First I stumbled across this 1943 photo of a giant Olmec head at the National Geographic Society.

Then the caption says it’s actually a cast of the 20-ton original, which remains in La Venta, Mexico, where Dr Matthew Stirling (kneeling) led the NGS-Smithsonian expedition to document them. Stirling was the leading anglo archaeologolist working on the Olmec, a civilization that pre-dated the much better-known Inca and Maya.

Then while I tried to find out more about casting a 10-foot head onsite in the middle of World War II (turns out the head was one of five uncovered on a 1940 expedition), I stumbled upon Luis M. Castañeda’s extraordinary essay from 2013 for Grey Room, a journal at MIT Press. Castañeda tracks the history of exhibiting Olmec megalithic heads in the modernist North, and their shifting political, aesthetic, and ideological contexts.

Olmec megaliths were shown in the early 1960s at the Petit Palais in Paris; the LA County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; the Mexican Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair–with a pit stop on the plaza of the Seagram Building.

Castañeda tracks the equal interest in the megaliths as exoticized artifacts and engineering mysteries, and how they were experienced, in spectacular motion, temporarily installed in high modernist spaces. Here’s folks discussing the most epic way to transport an Olmec head from its original site in Veracruz, Mexico to the new Mies van der Rohe-designed museum in Houston:

Before they decided to use a trailer, [documentary filmmaker Richard] de Rochemont and [MFAH director James Johnson] Sweeney considered other options. In a June 19, 1962, letter, for instance, de Rochemont wonders whether a helicopter could get the job done more efficiently. In making this suggestion, de Rochemont also makes explicit that the real point of the project was not Figure 5 the head itself but the spectacle of its motion. “I estimate that ‘your’ head,” he writes to Sweeney, “weighs 15 tons… . Biggest known helicopter … lifts 10 tons … Would [Mexican authorities] mind if we cut the head in half?” Although the artistic and archaeological value of the Olmec head was of importance to Sweeney’s exhibition, in de Rochemont’s words, the visual documentation of the massive head’s movement was what truly transformed the film and the exhibition into “an archaeological epic.”

San Lorenzo Monument One being installed at Seagram Building on Park Avenue, May 1965, as seen on the cover of Artforum in October 1966

Also here is one of two Olmec heads being installed on Seagram Plaza, on a base designed by Philip Johnson, on the cover of Artforum, where Irving Sandler writes of the impact of the head on contemporary sculptors.

Most stunningly, Castañeda notes, that almost no one has looked closely at these Olmec sculptures, their genesis and impact, on the work of land artists like Robert Smithson or Michael Heizer. Heizer’s father Robert was a protege of Stirling, one of two US archaeologists who established Olmec studies as a distinct field. By the 1960s Heizer the father had left his research on Olmec engineering techniques and had begun helping his son excavate artworks in the Nevada desert. When LACMA opened Renzo Piano’s Resnick Pavilion in 2010, it was with a show titled, Olmec: Colossal Masterworks from Ancient Mexico, which featured two megalithic heads on cor-ten steel bases designed by Michael Heizer.

Doubling Time, by Luis M. Castañeda [greyroom, spring 2013]

On Some Historical Objects Relating To George Washington

St Paul’s Chapel celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. image: trinitywallstreet

Built in 1766, St. Paul’s Chapel is the oldest public building in New York City and has been in continuous operation for over 250 years. When its sister parish Trinity Church (built 1698) burned down in 1776, St. Paul’s Chapel served as the primary place of worship for the likes of George Washington while Trinity was rebuilt. This august, historic, sacred space contains one of the two earliest public depictions of The Great Seal of The United States, of which visitors to this site have so recently read.

And St. Paul’s Church is also the place where my critique of the impertinent treatment and presentation of The Great Seal gets laughed out of town like a mobbed up president’s stooge claiming attorney-client privilege.

The Great Seal of the United States painting and friends, St Paul’s Chapel c.2013, image: pastinthepresent

Behold the wide shot of the painting of The Great Seal hanging in its original spot, over the Washington Family Pew (reconstructed to some non-original spec, apparently some time after the radiators went in), and sandwiched in between World Trade Center Relief Swag exhibitions made of PVC jungle gym and clip-on tracklights? Are these original, historic exhibition fixtures made by first responders in October 2011?

#neverforget? no problem! what is this? c. 2013, image via pastinthepresent

Is it still there? Because this photo was taken in 2013 by historian/blogger Michael Lynch. So maybe it’s gone? I honestly don’t know whether to scream or ask for their fabricator’s contact info, whether to help one of the richest parishes in the country Kickstart some proper vitrines or take a vow to never show work again without a PVC kiosk.

But Professor Lynch is not through. He also went to Federal Hall, the site (but not the building) of George Washington’s inauguration on April 30, 1789. I have stood on the porch of Federal Hall. I have seen a musical version of the life of JP Morgan performed on the steps of Federal Hall. I have gone to the gym many times across the street from Federal Hall, but somehow I have never been inside Federal Hall.

Fragment of Federal Hall 1.0 Balcony on view at Federal Hall 2.0, c. 2013, image: pastinthepresent

So I have not known about the slab of the balcony from the original Federal Hall, which is on display there. The National Park Service calls it a balcony, but looking at this engraving of Washington’s inauguration, I might call it a loggia.

Federal Hall, Seat of Congress, 1789 engraving by Amos Doolittle of Washington’s inauguration, image via wikipedia

Anyway, despite being the site of the 1st Congress, the formation of the United States, the adoption of the Bill of Rights, and Washington’s inauguration, Federal Hall went back to being City Hall when the capital decamped to Philadelphia in 1790. And then New York City tore that place down in 1812 when they built their new City Hall.

Pay no attention to the little cart behind the blue curtain. Also, elevator out of service, probably. image: intro-ny

Fragments of the building were saved, including this piece of brownstone from the loggia, which apparently went on display at Bellevue Hospital until it was returned in 1889, for the centennial. And it was given a coat of concrete, so they could carve it. And it was put in a frame on little wheels so it could be rolled around. Oops, it broke. At least now we can see the actual stone under the concrete skin, the part where the concrete repair came off also.

Here is a concrete-coated-and-carved piece of stone which you can barely see the original of, which used to be on the building here, till we tore it down, and anyway, George Washington probably stood on this to found our country. Or near it, it’s really hard to say. But this is how we do, and it apparently always has been.

fragment of the balustrade of the original Federal Hall where G. Washington was inaugurated, painted wrought iron, later oak base, collection: NYHS

Fragments of the building were saved. In a minute I have found another: the balustrade of the balcony where Washington was inaugurated. It, too, went to Bellevue, where it was incorporated into a portico. Perhaps this stone was, too? Anyway, in 1883 the balustrade went to the New York Historical Society, where it remains. [Interesting. A 1917 catalogue of Old New York views distinguishes between the NYHS and Bellevue balustrades.] It is positively lyrical. Was it by Pierre l’Enfant, who was commissioned to renovate Federal Hall in 1788? Yes. It is dated 1788-89. Thirteen arrows. Wrought iron painted yellow-gold. The New York Historical Society was headquartered in Federal Hall in 1809 and took the city’s donation of some of the original furniture.

fragment of a painted silk flag flown at George Washington’s inauguration, Apr. 30, 1789, collection: NYHS

And back to painting. Here is a fragment of a flag flown at Washington’s inauguration. It is about four inches square, paint on silk, with part of the word PRE[sident] visible.

I don’t yet know what to do with this information and these objects, but it must be something.

Previously, related:
Untitled (George Washington’s Coffin), 2016–
This window from Hanford is being sold as ‘Manhattan Project Glass’
The hydrogen gas generators of Prof. Thaddeus SC Lowe’s Union Army Balloon Corps

Of The Great Seal Of The United States

The Great Seal of The United States, painted by an unidentified artist in 1785 for Trinity Church on Wall Street. image: Trinity Church

In 1776 a committee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were charged by the Continental Congress with creating an official seal, a sign of sovereignty and authenticity, for the new United States. Two committees later, in 1782, the primary suggestion from their committee included in the final design was the motto, E Pluribus Unum. Other committees, meanwhile, contributed the eagle, and the use of 13 elements–stars, stripes, arrows, olive leaves–to symbolize the original states in the Union.

The final design was described in terms of its heraldic elements by Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson, and this text remains the law Congress enacted in June 1782. Thomson provided an engraver with a sketch, which was turned into a die and put to use by September.

In October 1785, as the new Constitution was being negotiated nearby, the Vestry of Trinity Church on Wall Street commissioned an unidentified artist to paint one of the earliest public depictions of the Great Seal of the United States. The painting was installed on the north wall of St. Paul’s Chapel above the pew reserved for George Washington’s family. The pew is gone, but the painting (above) remains.

After his inauguration in April 1789, President Washington asked Thomson to transfer custody of the Great Seal from Congress to the Department of Foreign Affairs. It has remained under the charge of the Secretary of State ever since.

The counter-die of the Great Seal of the United States, at the Department of State, or it was…

Between 1782 and 1885, four dies were created as replacements were needed, with minor changes or heraldic corrections each time. But since 1885, the die’s design has been fixed. It was installed inside a new press in 1904, and in 1986, the current die, along with a master die from which all future dies may be created, was put into service. An officer of the Department of State uses the Great Seal for 2-3,000 official statements, treaty documents, ambassadorial appointments, and such, per year. It is most widely seen via its depictions on the back of the $1 bill and the covers of US passports.

Untitled (Art In Embassies), 2018, 8 x 8 x 1 ft, inkjet print on fabric, powder-coated aluminum, plastic; ed. 1/3+1AP installation view, US Embassy, Peru, 12 Apr 2018

With this context in mind, I hereby announce a new work, Untitled (Art In Embassies), which went on exhibition this week in some courtyard at the US Embassy in Lima, Peru. It comprises a pop-up The Great Seal step & repeat tradeshow photo-opp backdrop and thirteen folding chairs, arranged in a circle.

The installation is visible in these photos showing the US’ official representative to the Summit of the Americas, a relative of the president with no experience or actual role, who cannot obtain a security clearance because she and her family are under criminal investigation; eleven alumnae of some economic development grant programs of the previous administration; and someone’s tio.

Previously, related:
Untitled (Presidential Seal), 2017, ed. 25+5AP
The Great Letterpress of the United States
How ya like How Ya Like Me Now?

For Sale: Flavin Sketch, Never Realized

Dan Flavin, untitled (to Marianne) 2, 70, executed in 1972, ink and graphite on paper, image via christies 2018

Ciao, come stai? Welcome back from Italy,  untitled (to Marianne) 2!

In 2011 I was puzzled by this Dan Flavin work on paper being sold at Christie’s. It sure looked like a diagram for a light work, and it was described in Leo Castelli’s inventory as such, but one which had never been realized. It ended up in the Tiffany Bell light works catalogue raisonné as a sketch, not an orphaned certificate. [Flavin did not recognize orphaned certificates, or orphaned hardware. If you were missing one or the other, you were SOL and your work was, too.] This work’s inscribed with the date 1970 and “executed in 1972,” which adds to the piece’s excitement.

It found a new home, for £20,000. And now it’s back. Christie’s is auctioning it again, online, this week, as PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION, MILAN. The estimate is GBP 15,000 – 20,000, and I’m sure it’s a bargain at twice the price.

Which is just about what it was estimated to sell for last May in Milan, the first work of Flavin’s ever offered at the illustrious regional auction house of Farsetti Arte, who reports it sold for EUR30,000 [risultati, pdf].

If it did, it probably just got left off the Christie’s provenance by accident. Or if the sale didn’t go through, the IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTOR got to live with it for another year, a privilege that is now being valued, graciously, I’m sure, at around EUR 10,000.

Allora & Calzadilla, Puerto Rican Light, 2015-2017, installation view via dia

Meanwhile, the Flavin world has been a hotbed of discourse. From 2015-17 Allora & Calzadilla installed a Flavin light work in a Puerto Rican cave. The project was a commission from Dia, who published the Bell catalogue raisonné, and it went against the wishes of the Flavin Estate, run by the the artist’s son Stephen.

In her review of this, the third instantiation of Puerto Rican Light, Irene V. Small quoted and, arguably, refuted Flavin: “All posthumous interpretations are less. I know this. So I would rather see it all disappear into the wind. Take it all away.”

Meanwhile the Estate has kept busy by selling posthumous editions of works unrealized by the time of the artist’s death, editions it had once officially declared closed.

Posthumous? Only your dealer knows for sure! untitled (to Harry Coper, master potter), installation view at Vito Schnabel in St Moritz, photo: Kenny Schachter

Vito Schnabel showed some in St. Moritz last season, and Kenny Schachter said there was some vagueness about their status. Nothing mentioned in the press release, except the Gallery’s new collaboration with the Estate, and the light works being described as “proposals”. Indeed!

I would think that in such a dynamic conceptual environment, there must be a way for untitled (to Marianne) 2 to exist as an actual, physical light work. You know what, this is something that’s changed since 2011, too. Now we make things happen! If you buy this drawing, and Stephen won’t make this into a light work for you, I will. I’ve got a “proposal”, so HMU.

UPDATE: Congratulations to the new owner (assuming you paid the GBP18,750, obv). If the Estate is not your thing, drop me a line, and I will make you one of mine.

Online Only, ends 17 Apr 2018, Lot 18: Dan Flavin, untitled (to Marianne) 2 [christies]
Asta Contemporanea, Prato 26-27 Maggio 2017, Lot 503: Dan Flavin
[farsettiarte.it]

Satelloons Over Manhattan

It’s been a while, too long, since I’ve had a good, old-fashioned satelloon post around here, and wow, is this one.

Arthur C. Clarke & Stanley Kubrick looking through the Questar on the terrace of Kubrick’s CPW penthouse, 1964, image: Kubrick deutsches filmmuseum catalogue via: 2001Italia.it

On March 31, 1964, Stanley Kubrick wrote to Arthur C. Clarke in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka, obv), asking to meet to explore the possibility of working together–and for advice on buying a larger telescope than the Questar model he already had. Clarke responded immediately, and added a visit with Kubrick to his New York City itinerary just three weeks later.

As Michael Benson recounts in his new book, timed to the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the film 2001, Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece, it went pretty well. AND THEN SOME:

After shaking hands on their deal, or at least their intention to negotiate one, Clarke and Kubrick repaired to the patio. They had established a real rapport over the past month, and any guardedness had long since dropped. Both were excited and didn’t mind showing it. It had been a beautiful late-spring day, with temperatures reaching 75 degrees, and was now a perfectly mild evening, with a crescent Moon hanging in a slight haze several degrees above the southeastern horizon. Thankfully the building’s heating system had been switched off weeks before, and the ash-spewing chimney was now silent. To the south, all of Midtown Manhattan was spread out before them, its lights twinkling.

Suddenly they noticed a brilliantly bright, unwavering point of white light rising above the horizon in the southwest.

Continue reading “Satelloons Over Manhattan”

Untitled (Avoidable), 2018–

Each of the five elements in Tony Smith’s sculpture Wandering Rocks (1967) has a name: Smohawk, Shaft, Dud, Slide, and Crocus.

 

Wandering Rocks National Gallery of Art installation view, image via nga.gov

Of the edition of five, at least one Wandering Rocks is installed indoors. The National Gallery’s is on the lawn [above]. The Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park’s, which is the artist’s proof, was previously installed on and around a woodchipped path [below].

Tony Smith’s Wandering Rocks Olympic Sculpture Park 2012 installation view, image via seattlepublicart.com

Wandering Rocks has since been moved.

Wandering Rocks, OSP 2018 installation view, image via: tylergreendc

This installation seems a deliberate mockery of the plaque at the OSP, which is a quote from Smith:

What is my intention? It is a new measure of man, in forms of free space, in terms of space that is defined but not enclosed, in terms of measurable space that flows so subtly into the infinite that it is impossible to know where the boundaries of art and nature lie…”

Placing art is hard. Placing sculpture in public is harder still. So many decisions can detract from the experience of art, or can thwart the artist’s intentions. With close looking and self-awareness, it is often possible to overcome these environmental obstacles and appreciate what the artist has accomplished. Additional benefit can be gained by understanding what the curator’s intentions might have been, too, whether or not they achieve them.

For the experienced art viewer, it is a special challenge to appreciate the work and understand its context while identifying the flaws, errors, or shortcomings that mar its presentation. A wonky spotlight. No benches. Audio bleeding from the video installation two galleries away. One or two of these, we can let slide. When such seemingly avoidable distractions pile up, though, and threaten to ruin an art experience, perhaps a conceptual artistic exercise can help.

To deal with unnecessarily problematic encounters with art, I propose to turn the third most egregious or annoying thing about it into a new work of its own. It may not solve the problems you identify, but maybe you’ll get some relief from art’s power to give significance and meaning to your annoyance. Maybe the thrill of discovering installfails and the interpretative exercise of ranking them will become a reassuring relief, if not a delight, when you look at art.

the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.

Wrote Duchamp, who could not have imagined a work whose form–indeed, its entire existence–is predicated on the spectator’s decision to conjure it through affront.

Now, I don’t want to uncritically gamify your museum visits. Being compelled to contemplate an artwork about your connoisseurship of annoyance could become infuriating if it begins to intrude on. Every. Freaking. Poorly glazed. Painting. In the place. But it could also lead to an awakening, a liberation from the burdens of the imperfections of the external world, which in turn fosters deeper encounters with the art in front of you. Deciding not to conjure the work by deciding not to log more than one or two annoying things in an encounter is a valid, and powerful, option.

Untitled (Avoidable), 2018, dimensions variable, the third most annoying thing about an art installation or encounter, image: tylergreendc

And so in honor of the eagle-eyed spotting of the sprinkler cover sitting in the lawn next to Wandering Rocks, between the otherwise unremarked-upon stanchions and the steel cheese grater fence, I have designated this work Untitled (Avoidable).

May it be ever at your service. Send pics.

Previously, slightly related:
On Tomason, or the flipside of dame architecture
Tomasons and Akasegawa Genpei, translated

Better Read #021 – Federal Painted Portrait Ban

Artist Joy Thomas and the John Brysons posing with his official Commerce Secretary portrait, Sept. 2012. image: joythomasart.com

As Artnet reported last week, in the wake of the unprecedented popularity of the National Portrait Gallery’s new portraits of the Obamas, Donald Trump signed a law banning the use of federal funds for painted portraits of government officials and employees. As the Obamas’ portraits were funded with private donations, the law would have no effect.

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.

Download Better Read #021: Painted Portrait Ban [greg.org, mp3, 8:47, 4.2mb]

Not Untitled (Sold Out)

Lots 365, 369, and 388 in Wright20’s art & design sale, 19 Apr 2018

A pre-emptive note: I have seen Carl Auböck’s 1950s-era stone and leather paperweights coming up for auction at Wright20 in a few weeks.

Though they bear a superficial formal resemblance, they do not quality as editions of Untitled (Sold Out).  If you submit them for authentication, please be assured that I have logged their dimensions, patina, and images, and I will know immediately that you did not buy them at a Nordstrom’s Christmas 2016 pop-up shop, so please save me the hassle and you the certain public embarrassment.

19 Apr 2018 Lots 365, 369, and 388: Carl Auböck II, Paperweights, est. $1000-1500 each [wright20.com]
Previously, related but not: Untitled (Sold Out), 2017, Leather-wrapped stone from Nordstrom

You Mean The Hicri Who Hung Out With Jasper Johns?

Hicri brushing Jasper Johns’ cat, next to a Warhol Heinz box, with a monkey in a cage in the background, October 1971 image:Suzi Gablik papers, AAA/SI

Hi, are you or do you know Hicri, the 10 year-old or so kid in the picture brushing Jasper Johns’ cat? With the grape-eating monkey in a cage behind you? If so, I’d love to hear your story.

This was October 1971, Johns had his studio at The Bank, as it was called, a sprawling 1912 building at 225 East Houston St, on the corner of Essex. Artist/writer Suzi Gablik took these photos and captioned them in her scrapbook as Hicri & Jap. Gablik’s scrapbooks are now in the Archives of American Art.

It’s possible Hicri’d hang out there while his mother or some other family members worked for Johns; there’s a snapshot of Hicri in Johns’ kitchen corner, surrounded by the preparations for a meal or a party. There’s a photo of Hicri helping Jap carry stuff to a cab, and it’s labeled “Off to St. Maartens.”

Some folks at the AAA had wondered what Johns’ cat’s name was, and I thought Hicri might know. He’d probably be 57-58 by now. (Hicri, that is, not the cat.) Me, I just wonder what it was like hanging around the studio back then; it seems unimaginable, but probably memorable. So Hicri, HMU.

Continue reading “You Mean The Hicri Who Hung Out With Jasper Johns?”

I See Dead People

Alice Neel, Dead Father, 1946
Dana Schutz, Emmett Till, 2016, image of painting installed at the 2017 Whitney Biennial via Washington Post

A reader, Jon Auman, who is amused by my sense of art mystery, recently sent along a pairing of paintings. He saw Alice Neel’s 1946 Dead Father (above) in the catalogue of a Thomas Amman show in Zurich, and it reminded him of Dana Schutz’s Emmett Till.

For all but a few days after the Whitney Biennial opened, it has been beside The Point, if not impossible, to consider Schutz’s painting as a painting, not as a cultural flashpoint. But Auman’s noticed what I think is a real reference for Schutz, and it’s one that has not been raised or discussed publicly, afaik.

The immediately received and problematic genesis of Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till is the photograph of Till’s murdered body in an open casket that his mother Mamie Till caused to be published to protest his unjust killing. The most widely circulated of those photos was just young Emmett’s face, and it’s reasonable to accept that Schutz’s gashed painted surface was inspired by that picture. But other photos of the funeral reveal that Till’s body, his casket, and his surroundings, do not resemble Schutz’s depiction at all. Her painting is not a documentation; it is her construction. Which, of course it is.

And Neel’s painting of her own father’s funeral is pretty clearly a reference. Unlike her more famous portraits, Neel painted Dead Father from memory, a deliberate remove from experience and observation. Looking for a clean image of it brought up another Neel painting I’d forgotten, which feels even more relevant.

Alice Neel, Death of Mother Bloor, 1951

In 1951 Alice Neel painted Death of Mother Bloor, which shows the public funeral in Harlem of Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor, the revered American Communist organizer and suffragist, who died in the midst of McCarthy’s witch hunts. Like Schutz, Neel cast a sympathetic eye on the historic funeral of a politically controversial figure, and constructed a painting unconstrained by photography’s documentary assertions.

Ella Reeve Bloor funeral, August 1951, photographed for LIFE by Bernard Hoffman

In 2012, Dana Schutz talked with Jarrett Earnest at length about her painterly influences, or artists she admires. A lot of what she sees is construction. She doesn’t mention Neel, but I think it’s worth asking.

At Least 3 Kilometers For Walter de Maria

Kenneth Goldsmith announced aarea.co this morning, “One Square Kilometer (for Walter de Maria)”.

Kenneth Goldsmith’s 1×1.jpg at original scale. It’s there! I promise!

It is a 1×1 pixel jpg scaled to 3,779,527 pixels wide–which by common calculations is 1 kilometer of pixels–and 4,320,000 pixels long–which is, by the same calculations, 1.14km of pixels. Ceci n’est pas un square.

Screenshot of Kenneth Goldsmith’s aarea.co, One Square Kilometer (for Walter de Maria), 2018

The result is a massive, black monochrome, scrollable in a browser window. I don’t know what it is to Kenny, but the gap between the image’s single-pixel essence and its 7-figure pixel scaling is interesting to me.

Also interesting: the original source of the pixel dimensions used for this calculation. Because screen resolution and pixel density will affect how 1km it actually is. Goldsmith’s code for aarea.co currently contains only a Google Analytics script, but perhaps it will some day have responsive scaling, that yields a 1-Km Square on whatever screen or device it is viewed with.

Screenshot of Mario Santa Maria’s 1km Z Lightning: A Tribute to Walter de Maria 27-07-2013

A few minutes after Kenny’s tweeting about it, Mario Santa Maria responded with a link to his project, 1 km Z Lightning: A Tribute to Walter de Maria, 27-07-2013, the day we learned of the artist’s death. Mario takes a square photo of de Maria’s Lightning Field [below] as wide as the browser window and, apparently using the same pixel calculator as Kenny, scales it to 3.78whatever million pixels tall.

Mario Santa Maria’s source image for 1 km Z Lightning, probably originally taken by John Cliett

Which got me thinking. I mean, repeating the project didn’t require thinking; that came instantly, and it was all I could to do wait a few hours so I didn’t step too hard on Goldsmith’s tweet traffic. And changing my dimensions to an actual square 3.78m x 3.78m pixels was easy, too, and surely such a massive proportional change, of 140 meters, would count as transformational, should Goldsmith ever decide to sue. [Can you imagine how awesome that’d be?]

Untitled (300×404), 2008, after Richard Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy), 2003

But what image to use? The immediate  answer also feels like the most natural, but it might not turn out to be the best: the 300×404 pixel jpg of Richard Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy), 2003 which I’ve been resizing and printing since 2008. Pixel-level distortion of poor image is my bag, baby. And so I made 1km, an adapted appropriation of Goldsmith’s code (sans Google’s), with my square dimensions and my image. At 1km-sq, one of my pixels appears to be 12,600 pixels wide. Scrolling across the image is like swimming through a gradient colorwheel [What are pixels to a digital fish?]

greg.org/1km, currently Untitled (300×404), 2009

I’ve toyed around with random image grabbers, which I may use at some point. Or a 1km button, to blow up any image on the site to 1x1km scale. Or I’ve thought of opening it up with an image uploader, but srsly, I don’t want to see your giant Trump and/or porn. [Or, probably inevitably, as Stormy forecasts, both]. But I will change it from time to time to see what other images look like on this deMarian, Goldsmithian scale. For now, I’ll leave it to Kenny to print them all out.

Previously, related:
Lightning Field Notes
Read Between The Lines: Walter de Maria’s Las Vegas Piece
bigblack.tif (After Wade Guyton)

 

Gursky Street View

Andreas Gursky, Utah, 2017, at the Hayward Gallery, London, thru Apr 2018

Whether it heals all wounds, time does cool all hot takes. When the Gursky show opened at the Hayward Gallery in January, I was immediately set off by this kicker from Laura Cumming’s review in The Guardian:

But the show’s masterpiece is unlike almost anything Gursky has made before. It is a new work, a single shot of some prefab houses skimmed on a mobile phone while driving through Utah. The photograph registers the speed of the car racing through the landscape – and modern life – in all its random glitches and blurs. At the same time, the houses look perilously ephemeral against the ancient mountains behind them. This fragile little thing, a spontaneous and disposable shot, is enlarged to the size of a cinema screen – a monumental homage to the mobile phone and the outsize role it plays in depicting our times.

Not just Gursky using a phonecam, but Gursky doing something new? Now that is news.

In addition to the phone and all its quotidian implications, what caught my attention was the subject: Utah. I had, just a couple of weeks before, driven along the very road in southern Utah as Gursky. I was also in the middle of a two-month mess on my server, which necessitated rebuilding my blog and its underlying software and databases. But that could wait until I identified the precise stretch of highway Gursky had captured. So I set out again, on Google Street View.

From the geology and the development, it was possible to narrow down the site of Gursky’s photos to the roads around Zion National Park, and east from Zion and Kanab, toward Grand Escalante and Staircase National Monuments. The sections of this rural, two-lane highway with guard rails and fresh blacktop were even fewer. And none of it matched.

This section of Utah is very sparsely populated, and very few roads cross it at all. So the options dwindled very quickly. But on the road between St George and the border-straddling polygamist towns of Hildale, UT and Colorado City, AZ,  I recognized the striated mountain range immediately. But there were no houses at all.

outside Hildale, UT, image: gsv

Which, two things: it’s now obviously a composite. But before that, those poles. Gursky’s original image is full of blurs and artifacts, including what are apparently some disembodied pole fragments. These artifacts, coupled with the disparate blur on houses, patios, guard rail, etc., led me to assume Gursky had experimented with an iPhone’s panorama feature from a moving car. That he was exploiting the stitching algorithm of the phone, a source of found digital manipulation.

Google Street View saw what Gursky saw, or vice versa

But of course, this turned out not to be the case. What hit me during these first few days was that this Gursky was being presented as a single image when it was now obviously a composite.

And so I set out to find the site of the other, lower half. Which, with every Streetviewed mile, was turning out to be an entirely fictional, constructed composition. While trying to rebuild my webserver I wandered the highways again, finding this or that house; meanwhile the more accurate version of Gursky’s process emerged: that he’d taken photos with a phone, and then returned to reshoot sites with his regular camera, and–like always–he just fixed the whole thing in post.

So my Gursky bust turned into a Guardian factcheck. And I was left dissatisfied, again, by Gursky’s view, even as I grew intrigued by Google’s. I found myself indexing the differences: vantage point, height, date, blur, glitch, and stitching. I imagined Streetview’s rooftop, panoramic compositor, and Gursky’s passenger driveby–which turned out to be a tripod on the shoulder. And I tried to imagine what it’s like for a maker of ambitiously scaled images to work in a world where giant companies are constantly taking a picture of the entire earth. Maybe the better digital analog for Gursky’s practice isn’t Google at all, but etsy.

Gursky Street View, v.1, 2018 –

In good etsy form, I have knocked off Gursky’s image by collaging the elements I’ve found. If/as I find more, I’ll add them until…until what? I don’t know, I guess until it’s done, or I get bored. If you see something say something.

Interest In The Medium: SUPERFLEX On Canvas

SUPERFLEX on Canvas, 1995, image via: superflex.net

In 1995 SUPERFLEX, they write, “was invited to participate in a painting exhibition (Painting after Painting), although they had never shown any interest in this medium. Fascinated with the International Klein Blue (IKB) they worked with several specialists in painting methods. No one knew how to copy Klein’s method of fixing the pigment to the surface of the painting, so SUPERFLEX went ahead with their own attempt, resulting in an orange painting entitled SUPERFLEX on Canvas.”

Which is relevant because the vaunted patent Klein was awarded for IKB related not to the color, or the pigment itself, but to the binding of the medium to the pigment. [Also it was not really a patent, so much as a registration, and it never had any applicability outside France. What matters now is trademark, and the Klein estate’ll getcha.]

The polyvinyl acetate that paint store chemist Edouard Adam paired with Ultramarine Blue pigment to create IKB is called Rhodopas M60A, and is sold by Adam Montmartre, the family’s fourth-generation paint shop, as Médium Adam 25.

All of which SUPERFLEX probably figured out by 2013, because that’s the date on the SUPERFLEX on Canvas, now happily available in an edition of 3, in “Whatever Works,” their career-spanning show at 1301PE, their longtime Los Angeles gallery.

SUPERFLEX on Canvas 1995/2013, Dry orange pigment, polymer medium on cotton over plywood, 78.35 x 60.24 inches, Edition of 3 (now) and The Campaign (which used to be called Meetings, apparently), 1994, installed in “Whatever Works” at 1301PE through last week.

I heartily support their sustained or renewed interest in the medium.

SUPERFLEX: Whatever Works, 19 Jan – 3 Mar 2018 [1301pe]
SUPERFLEX on Canvas, 1995 [superflex.net]

Previously, related:
SUPERFLEX’s Hospial Equipment: Context is Everything
I Copy Therefore I Am SUPERFLEX
Faux Sol Mio: SUPERFLEX/ FREE SOL LEWITT
International Jarman Blue