AZ Solitude Cabin, 2017

Untitled (AZ Solitude Cabin), 2017, mixed media, ed. 1/2, plus an AP or so.

Last year I spotted this structure in a front yard in Washington, DC. It is a wedge-shaped cabin [?] made of wood and siding and decking and corrugated plastic. The translucent plastic panel on the angled side facing the house is hinged and often propped open, like a canopy. There is a small platform in front, but I could not see what, if anything, is inside, without going into the yard.

It reminded me, in the accumulation of fleeting instants I’d see it, of Andrea Zittel’s Wagon Stations.

Andrea Zittel, Wagon Station, First Generation, 2004, customized by Giovanni Jance

And her Homestead Units.

Andrea Zittel, Homestead Unit at A-Z West

And her Cellular Compartment Units.

Andrea Zittel, Cellular Compartment Units, 2001, all images via zittel.org

Those Cellular Compartment Units especially stood out for me, as I wondered what this structure could be for, what could be inside. Zittel created a separate space for each, “single human need or desire from sleeping to eating to reading to watching TV.”

I resisted the impulse to declare someone else’s garden folly a work, and nothing I googled ever brought me any closer to finding one of my own, or figuring out what it is.

Seating for one? It turns out to be uncommon to see wide shots of the cabinet for Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon. It did not make the trip to the Met Breuer. Are there shots of it empty? image: hyperallergic

I happened to drive by the house again recently, and the structure is still there. So I’ve been thinking of it again.

I had three chairs in my house, but only one in my sitting shed in my front yard, Thoreau did not write.

I’ve passed this writer shack in Salt Lake, hard up against what’s basically a highway, for years. This is like the third or fourth renovation.

I just need a quiet place to write, but I live on a very busy street with constant traffic.

Gehry’s Norton House writer’s nest, on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, but from the back. It’s open to the house. image: thegrumpyoldlimey

Anyway, I’ve decided to go ahead, and let this stay as is, as ed. 1. And I am ready to make another. A structure customized for a single human need or purpose.  It could be writing, or reading, or sitting, or showering, or pissing. Actually, there’s already a structure for that.

 

 

Better Read #024: Betty Stokes Interviewed By Christie’s About Her Cy Twombly

Untitled (Rome), 1980-81, cast in 1990, ed 1/5 sold at Christie’s in 2013

The artist Elizabeth “Betty” Stokes di Robilant was interviewed by Christie’s in May 2013. Stokes was a longtime friend of Cy Twombly. Their story and relationship and collaboration, and her later erasure from Twombly’s official story, is discussed in Chalk, a biography of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin, which was published in October 2018. Rivkin quotes the interview by Robert Brown, which was published on the occasion of the sale of a painted bronze cast of a 1966 [or 1956, or 1959, or 1980 or 1981, or 1990] sculpture Twombly gave to dee Robilant for her 10th wedding anniversary. Twombly later reworked and cast the sculpture in 1990 in an edition of five. Di Robilant’s three children each got one; she got one, and Twombly got one. Ed. 1 of 5 was sold at Christie’s London on June 25th, 2013, for GBP 1.63 million.

Get Better Read #024: Betty Stokes interviewed by Christie’s, [6:52, 3.3mb, mp3]

UntitledICE, 2018

UntitledICE, 2018, paint, plywood, reflective tape, installation shot

Last winter I was visiting museums on the Mall a lot in order to write this review/roundup. It was pretty grim going, and I don’t think I was wrong about the mood.

These black cubes appeared along my drive, and I would take note of them, think about them. They had an eye-catching, out-of-place presence and no discernible purpose, which made them feel  of temporary sculpture. They were also alongside a conduit road whose main feature was not slowing you down on your way, which created a tension, if only for the briefest (passing) moment.

Tony Smith, Die, 1968, 400px image via NGA, because I guess any larger scale would have made this jpg a monument.

They made me think of Tony Smith’s Die, obviously, but if anything, that easy association pushed back against my own doing anything with these cubes. They also made me think, though, of Smith’s massive 1967 sculpture Smoke, which, like so much of his work, first came into being as black plywood.

Smoke being built in the Corcoran, 1967, image via Tony Smith Estate

Smith built Smoke in one half of the Corcoran’s atrium while Ronald Bladen built X in the other. Or rather, the Corcoran built Smoke and X for Smith and Bladen. The sculptures were commissions, fabricated by the museum’s carpenters for a three-artist show called, “Scale as Content.” [The third work was Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, which was installed outside, facing the White House and the Washington Monument. The Corcoran ended up owning none of these works.]

construction of Ronald Bladen’s X, 1967, image: royslade.com

Artforum’s retardataire reviewer didn’t like it “as art,” but “Scale as Content” feels pretty on the nose for Smith, who realized Die in six foot steel in 1968 after noodling for six years over a six inch cardboard model. [In 1967 Smith also showed a plywood version of Maze, and published the cardboard version in Aspen Magazine.]

An old photo I have of Broken Obelisk installed for the first time, at the Corcoran Gallery, 1967, via

Anyway, these boxes were not placed where they are for artistic reasons. I finally went to investigate them on foot in January. They’re cover/markers for some infrastructure node, presumably related to the construction staging on the lawn between the Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument. They’re close to crosswalks; maybe they’re hookups for eventual pedestrian crossing signals.

Inside the Black Cube? UntitledICE, 2018, paint, plywood, reflective tape, installation shot

But this is not really the time, and these are not in the place, for benign indifference to the apparatus of the state. In this era of plate readers, wifi sniffers, Stingrays, and ICE raids on pizza delivery guys, these black boxes now feel like–like black boxes. Given what we keep finding out on a daily basis in DC, what could we possibly not know yet? You don’t have to be Trevor Paglen to wonder about the menace of ersatz apparatuses popping up on the major thoroughfares of Washington. Are they some nefarious surveillance system in waiting, or one that’s already at work?

Trevor Paglen, Trinity Cube, on view at SAAM via IG:gregdotorg

The intervening months have also brought Paglen’s Trinity Cube and Rachel Whiteread’s cast voids to town, and so I still pass these cubes and still think. One thing I think a lot about is the point of declaring something a work. Another thing is declaring. Another is a work. Sometimes, during a year of wondering if I’m rationalizing, I wonder if the reflexivity, the impulsion, the emptiness of these things are reasons in themselves. Emptiness as Content.

As Tony Smith said about Die: “This is a complicated piece. It has too many references to be coped with coherently.”

On Meeting Susan Weil

Susan Weil in her studio in Williamsburg, Sept 2018. image: me, via artnews

Though we have emailed several times over the years that I’ve researched her and her first husband’s work, I finally met Susan Weil a couple of weeks ago, and it was awesome. The occasion was the first US show in nearly 40 years of sculpture by her late (second) husband, Bernard Kirschenbaum, which is currently at Postmasters Gallery. Weil discussed Kirschenbaum’s work, and their life together, and her work, and it was great. Our conversation was just published on ARTNews, so go check it out:

[W]e’re used to the idea of calling what he did as sculptural now, because we’ve come through Minimalism, and the artist’s mark, and having things fabricated, but at the time, that was still largely unheard of: that you could order a sculpture. That you could have something fabricated in a shop, and it would be a sculpture. Did he think about that much, or was it not a concern for him?

Well, it wasn’t that way with him, because he wanted to be a part of every step of it. He didn’t order something and then it came. He worked in all the materials, in the actual welding, and finishing, and this, that, and the other. He had to know everything about how things were made. No, he had a beautiful vision.

‘A Beautiful Vision’: Artist Susan Weil on the Work of—and Her Life With—Bernard Kirschenbaum, Her Poetry, and More [artnews]

Poiret Boro

Lot 312: Paul Poiret dress for Denise Poire, c. 1911. Image: Augusta Auctions

Maybe it’s the fragility or the resilience or both, but I find the mends on this 100+year-old, embroidered, blue linen dress that Paul Poiret made for his wife and muse Denise to be very moving.

The upcoming auction at Augusta features several lots of Poiret from the family, which were originally sold at Druout in 2005. The provenance is topped only by the combination of couture and boro.

Oct. 24, 2018 Lot 312:PAUL POIRET FOR DENISE P. EMBROIDERED DAY DRESS, c. 1911, est $1200-1500 [augusta-auction]

 

 

The Something Of Achilles

Cy Twombly, The Vengeance of Achilles, 1962, Kunsthaus Zürich

I somehow had not seen or noticed this 1962 Cy Twombly painting, The Vengeance of Achilles, in the Kunstmuseum Zürich. And I did not see it–or anything, tbh–at the Pompidou’s Twombly retrospective a couple of years ago. But its mountain-like, or volcano-like, form is amazing. Also it’s huge, three meters tall. Most of those marks are within an arm’s reach, but some of them look like they required Twombly’s full wingspan.

Cy Twombly, Fifty Days At Iliam: Vengeance of Achilles, 1978, at the philamuseum, image via flickr/hanneorla

Then while looking up more information about it, I realized that one of the equally huge paintings in Fifty Days at Iliam, which Twombly painted 16 years later, and which are at the Philadelphia Museum, is also titled Vengeance of Achilles. Aaaannd I guess that is not a mountain.

[10 minutes later update: Wait, what? I go Googling for some vintage Nine Discourses of Commodus reviews, only to find a Twombly biography that quotes the same Menil Collection conservation interview and the same Nicola del Roscio T Magazine profile I’ve had open in my browser tabs for three years? How did I not know this? Because it is brand new, and dropping in a couple of weeks.]

Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly, by Joshua Rivkin, comes out October 18. [amazon]

Yas Regina

Wolfgang TIllmans, Regina, 2002, 136.6 x 206.4cm, ed. 1/1+1AP, est. GBP30-50000, Christie’s London during Frieze Week

I am a bigger fan of Wolfgang Tillmans than of the British royal family, but this is a truly excellent image, and I would definitely like to see it IRL, preferably pinned on my wall. It’ll be sold at Christie’s during Frieze Week.

As a 1/1 acquired directly from the artist, and with no exhibition history, I’d imagine this print has an interesting story of its own.

If I don’t scare up an extraneous GBP 50,000 by next month, perhaps a Shanzhai Tillmans series is in order. Of course, unlike a Shanzhai Gursky, I’m not sure what the difference between a Tillmans and a Shanzhai Tillmans would even be.

Christie’s London Day Sale, October 5: Lot 354 Wolfgang Tillmans, Regina, 2002, ed. 1/1+1AP [christies]

On the one hand, one doesn’t tell an artist what to do

The post I just finished about Cady Noland reminded me of Jasper Johns. First is his only public statement about not showing or reproducing Short Circuit, the Rauschenberg Combine that at the time (1962), still had a Johns flag painting inside it:

Dear Sir:
I’ve always supposed that artists were allowed to paint however-whatever they pleased and to do whatever they please with their work–to or not to give, sell, lend, allow reproduction, rework, destroy, repair, or exhibit it…

Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews

The second, I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it, but it was so vivid in my mind, I figured it could only come from one place: Michael Crichton’s 1977 catalogue for Johns’ retrospective at the Whitney. And sure enough:

He is direct about his work, an area of his life which he jealously guards. Once, at a dinner, a wealthy collector who owned several important Johns paintings announced over coffee that he had an idea for a print that Johns should do. He said that Johns should make a print, in color, of an American map. The collector argued his case cogently. He pointed out that Johns had done other prints in color based on paintings from that period; he alluded to the significance of such a print to the whole body of Johns’ work; he mentioned the opportunities for the sort of image transformation which Johns’ other color prints had explored; and he pointed out the peculiar arbitrariness that had led Johns do to map prints several times in black-and-white, but never in color.

A hush fell over the table. There was a good deal of tension. On the one hand, one doesn’t tell an artist what to do, but on the other hand, the suggestion was not uninformed, and it did not come from a source the artist could casually alienate.

Johns listened patiently. “Well,” he said finally, “that’s all very well, but I”m not going to do it.”

“Why not?” asked the collector, a little offended.

“Because I’m not,” Johns said.

And he never has.

Now I want to read this whole book again.

Here Is What A Copy of Cady Noland’s Log Cabin Looks Like

Not A Noland: new Log Cabin under construction, KOW Gallery, Berlin, Apr 2011

This is the first view of the log cabin formerly known as Log Cabin [actually, we learn, it was called Log Cabin Facade], a 1990 sculpture by Cady Noland, which the collector, Wilhelm Schürmann, left out in the mud for ten years, where it rotted, and then he had the whole thing refabricated without the artist’s consent or consultation, and then he flipped it, and the new buyer factchecked it, and found out the artist was very much not into it, and so he returned it, and had to sue for a refund, but got it. And during that whole process, no images of the remade sculpture [sic] ever surfaced.

How hot is it in Berlin in April? Performative homesteading by art handlers installing a pseudo Log Cabin at KOW

But since then, Noland herself has filed suit claiming copyright infringement in both the US and Germany, and a violation of her moral rights under VARA, by the collector and dealers involved in destroying the original, and making and publishing and selling an unauthorized replica. And that lawsuit is where these images come from, from an exhibit in Noland’s attorney’s most recent memorandum [filing no. 79] arguing for the continuation of the case and against the defendants’ motion to dismiss it.

The finished infringement: the replaced Log Cabin

I’m reminded of this today because KOW, the gallery in Berlin where Log Cabin [sic] was unveiled in 2011, has a sleek, new website, with extensive documentation of the show–except for one, giant, contested thing.

The memo in the court case includes some other notable information, not least of which is a five-page affidavit by none other than Cady Noland herself. A sworn artist statement, if you will. It should go in the canon, so I have uploaded it here [pdf].

Noland talks of conceiving, designing, and realizing the artwork, Log Cabin Facade, in New York City “in or around 1990,” and traveling to Germany “to examine and approve the Work” as installed at Max Hetzler gallery. She “was not aware of the sale to Defendant, Wilhelm Schürmann, until August 1991,” she affirmed.

“Sometime around the mid-1990s…Schürmann sought permission to display the work outdoors…I agreed…At the same time Schürmann agreed with me the Work should be stained a dark color for ‘aesthetic reasons.'”

“At my request Schürmann had the work stained a dark shade of brown, I color I specifically selected and mandated. The stain [was]…basically a pigment, not a wood preservative,” the artist attests.

Log Cabin, aka Log Cabin Facade, aka a new derivative work, a Dark Shade of Brown version of Log Cabin Facade, now (also) destroyed

Noland continues to explain her expectations about Schürmann’s care for the work, which is the basis for her position about its damage, his its purported conservation, and refabrication. But these particular issues of timing and staining are important in new ways. They appear to this non-lawyer to be crucial to Noland’s invocation of VARA rights, which only apply to work made on or after the date the 1990 law went into effect, or which was made before the law went into effect, but which was only sold afterward. That date is June 1, 1991.

“Oh, the timeline sounds complicated and possibly contestable!” you say. It is not. Or rather, it is not important, because Log Cabin Facade is not Log Cabin Facade, but Log Cabin Facade (2). In the memo, Noland’s attorney explains that, “When the original natural wood color of Log Cabin was stained dark, Noland created a derivative version of the work,” which is “fully protected under [VARA].”

So Schürmann bought Log Cabin, which became Log Cabin Dark Shade Of Brown For Aesthetic Reasons, which he left outside to rot, and then threw into the wood chipper after replacing it with a brand new log cabin facade made in the (unpigmented) style of the original Log Cabin, which copyright and VARA he and his dealer friends viol–no, it was the original work’s copyright but the derivative work’s VARA. (Doesn’t the derivative get its own copyright?) What happened to Log Cabin [below] when Noland had it stained into Log Cabin DSOBFAR? Was it destroyed? Are we now bereft of two Log Cabins, with only the current log cabin, which is either a “refabrication,” a “reproduction,” or “a copy [that] was not authorized by Noland,” aka, “a forgery,” to remind us of our loss(es, which we didn’t know we’d lost until now?)

putting the OG in Log Cabin since in or around 1990: Log Cabin Facade installed at Max Hetzler in 1990

But no, this is not about you or me, but about the artist, whose work suffered neglect and destruction at the hands of those entrusted with its care, and whose wishes and intentions no one seemed interested in finding out until someone’s $1.4 million was on the line. The artist who now has “a gap in her artistic legacy” because “the original Work is no longer a part of [her] artistic body of work.” To which I would add, sadly, neither is the derivative.

And while there are many possible artistic strategies for authorizing, reauthorizing, declaring, or reconceiving the Work and preserving or increasing the Value in ways that many people, with much experience and insight, would be all to happy to elaborate upon, the simple fact remains that it the artist’s call, not theirs.

“I said the provenance for the sculpture must now include the name of the conservator because the work was not mine alone,” said the artist in her affidavit.  Also, “I feel very strongly that the unauthorized copy of Log Cabin robs my Work of a quarter century of history and denigrates my honor and reputation. The Log Cabin that I created does not exist.”

Noland is actively pursuing a lawsuit that makes an affirmative argument about her work and her artistic decisions that confronts cultural, market, and legal presumptions of what art is and what an artist does. And here at the end of this post, I’m deciding maybe it’s more interesting to consider the implications of Noland’s actions as they stand rather than to game out scenarios for her like an armchair lawyer–or an armchair artist.

Social Violence, Cady Noland & Santiago Sierra, 30 April – 29 July 2011 [kow-berlin.com]
Previously, related: Why Wasn’t Cady Consulted?
Attributed to the Cowboys Milking Master

Know Hope: The Good Machine No-Budget Filmmaking Commandments

Good Machine producer turned Amazon Studios producer Ted Hope gave a boost to a classic post on his blog about no-budget filmmaking, and it’s worth a boost here, too. He developed the tips list with his GM partner James Schamus, and it holds up.

8. Write for a very limited audience – your closest friends. Do not try to please anyone – crowd pleasing costs.

I recently listened to my first director’s commentary in a long time, and was struck by the director’s awareness of giving advice to filmmakers, as distinct from just telling production stories or even discussing craft. But it oddly felt like the kind of conscious narrowcasting Hope mentioned.

13. Make the most of a day’s work. It’s easier to get a commitment for one day than it is for a week. Exploit people’s willingness to give a day.

I get the point, but I’ve grown wary of that word, exploit. If you’re bartering your time and project for theirs, fine, but it just feels important to respect people’s labor, not just their time.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking of filmmaking more lately for a variety of reasons, and this is a good thing to read.

The Good Machine No-Budget Film Commandments [hopeforfilm]

More, Please, About Lorenzo Cremonini’s Palazzina Corticella

Lorenzo Cremonini’s Palazzina, c. 1970s, via gmaps

It will give you a clue about how old the folder is if I tell you my collection of riot gear photos is called Kiev Shields. Alas, it is ongoing. And this report about Bolognese police with clear plastic shields facing off against housing rights activists led me to this rundown of the various empty buildings in Bologna that have been occupied by squatters and protestors, including the amazing modernist house? above, on via Corticella.

the via Crespi side of the Palazzina, with that great face, and before they installed the horrible external AC units. I mean, come on. image via gmap

The information on it is maddeningly slight. It is apparently from the 70s, and by the architecture professor Lorenzo Cremonini. It has three levels above ground, plus at least a garage below. It is 200 m^2, around a 60/90/50 split, and from the outside, it feels too proscribed to be anything other than a house.

the rear facade, with its own giant sunset? sunrise? image via gmap, obv

It is apparently privately owned, so though it has been a library in recent years, then a daycare center/preschool, it was not a public building. While it was for sale for many years, it was empty when protestors briefly occupied it in March 2016. As of this past spring, it apparently houses a co-working space called Voxel.

o ti amo, palazzina mia! image: zero.eu

Besides its simple, cantilevered concrete slab construction, its most distinguishing feature is obviously its supergraphic tile skin, which is fantastic at every angle. VERY of the period, yet somehow intact. That gigantic concrete canopy feels slightly too big. (Oh, but maybe not from the back, as in the photo above!) The curved section that forms the terrace railing sometimes feels like it should have been straight. Or does tile make it work? So it’s not perfect, it’s awesome.

Except for some boring  presentation clips on Voxel’s facebook page, the only interior shot I have found so far is maybe this video of riot police raiding the place? Or nah, doesn’t that seem like an other library, plus the date’s wrong. Still low-key amazing how throwback the Bologna riot police are.

From the unhelpful articles I’ve found, it does seem to be “known” as the Palazzina, but I just can’t say for sure. The absence of almost any info about the building, or Cremonini, is shocking, not the kind of thing I’d come to expect in these internet days. I feel like his 1992 book, Colore e Architettura, might have more information, but it is in Italian, and in Italy. So it will have to wait a little longer.

Hey Sailor! Three Early Works by Michael Jenkins

Naval works by Michael Jenkins, 1988-89, image: Ogletree

I’ve been low-key fascinated with people in the art world who stopped making art, particularly dealers like Gavin Brown, who didn’t really get much traction with his art practice, and Michael Jenkins, who did.

It’s on my mind at the moment because three early works by Jenkins are coming up for auction (again). They turn out to be some of the Navy-related works Jenkins discussed with Bill Arning in the 1992 Bomb Magazine article that is the primary critical text for his work (or the top Google result, half dozen of one…)

Like contemporary and collaborator Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Jenkins created minimalist- and conceptualist-inflected works imbued with emotional and psychological power. During the escalating AIDS crisis the works referenced gay love and loss, fraught youth and unabashed romance, and quarantine, disease, and death. I’ve only ever seen a couple of his pieces in person, but they really do feel like fellow travelers with Felix’s work, at least for a time.

Or Jim Hodges, another friend, whose 2010 installation of a fenced in seating area at his amazing two-person Felix show at FLAG Art Foundation reminded me of Jenkins’ picket fence gates and shower stalls.

Anyway, That Sinking Feeling I (1988) and II (1989) are basically human-scale (5′ 8.5″ feels specific) shadowboxes with a sailor hat and shoes on wool blanket material. A third, related work, Gob Box (1989), is a hat centered in a square shadowbox. Seen from their tops, the circular hats really do show off what Jenkins calls their “graphic nature.” The shoes, meanwhile, feel more totemic; the absence they reference is more pronounced.

Michael Jenkins, Rounded Top Gate, 1991, ganked from bombmagazine

Jenkins and Arning talk a lot about this symbolism, the erotic image, even the caricature of the sailor, as well as the real sorrow of separation. I’m not sure it holds up, frankly; the conversation feels sort of slight, in retrospect. But that could literally just be me. Or Jenkins. There’s a subjectivity at play, evocations of specific memories or associations, in a specific time and context. Arning credits Jenkins’ emergence in the 80s with helping “point a way out of the dismal cycle of self-referential criticality and ironic distance then in place.” And if we’ve come a long way, baby, it’s still worth remembering how we got here, and where we were.

After not selling a few months ago in Atlanta, Jenkins’ three works are estimated now at $1,500-3,000. Bring a truck.

Lot 203: Three Mixed Media Works by Michael Jenkins, Sept. 16, 2018 [ogletree/liveauctioneers]
Michael Jenkins by Bill Arning, July 1, 1992 [bombmagazine]

 

White Flag, 2018

White Flag, 2018, Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas, 78 5/16 x 120 3/4 in. (198.9 x 306.7 cm)

“One night I could not have dreamed that I painted a large American flag, but the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that the artist mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection.

By draining most of the color from the flag but leaving subtle gradations in tone, the artist shifts our attention from the familiarity of the image to the way in which it is made. “White Flag” is painted on three separate panels: the stars, the seven upper stripes to the right of the stars, and the longer stripes below. The artist worked on each panel separately.

White Flag, 2018, I: Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas, 41 3/4 x 64 3/8 in. (106.1 x 163.6 cm). II: Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, 22 1/2 x 32 1/2 in. (57.2 x 82.6 cm)

After applying a ground of unbleached beeswax, the artist built up the stars, the negative areas around them, and the stripes with applications of collage — cut or torn pieces of newsprint, other papers, and bits of fabric. The artist dipped these into molten beeswax and adhered them to the surface. The artist then joined the three panels and overpainted them with more beeswax mixed with pigments, adding touches of white oil.

cf. Study for White Flag, 2018, Crayola washable marker on coloring page, 8 1/2 x 11 in. (21.6 x 28 cm)

How Ya Conserve Me Now?

“Found painting, FOUND courage” images: @videodante

The stairwell in the entrance to the University of Oregon library contains a large mural, Mission of a University, painted in 1937 by art professor Nowland Brittin Zane, of a quote by another faculty member, Frederick George Young. A social science professor and dean in the 1920s, Young saw the divine mission of a university aligned with the founding principle of Oregon itself: to elevate and preserve the white race.

Installation view of Nowland Zane’s mural, Mission of a University, 1937, in U. Oregon’s Knight Library, before intervention, image: uoregon.edu

Last night @videodante tweeted out photos he’d received of a fresh painting intervention on Zane’s mural: a slash of red paint crossing out “racial heritage.” As interesting, though, is the handwritten label for the new work, left on the wall [below].

“Which art do you choose to conserve now?” via @videodante

The materials, “Found Art, FOUND courage” are almost as awesome as the title, “WHICH ART DO YOU CHOOSE TO CONSERVE NOW?” Is it the title, or an epic challenge to the institution’s perennial decision of which facts, which history, which brushstroke, and whose heritage are their actions perpetuating? This quote has been recognized as racist and offensive–and has been the subject of critical and activist efforts to remove it–for years. There are at least three spots in the bottom corner of Zane’s painting where conservators chose to erase someone’s addition. So this is one more choice to be made in an ongoing dispute, and the artist knows what is at stake.

The author of this new work, though, offers another solution in a “fine print” addendum, apparently added on the spot, as the text curls up the side of the label. If the library is troubled by impending conservatorial complicity in reasserting white supremacism, the “artist gives permission to replace this placard with a more permanent one.”

What if they just leave it?

With David Hammons on the brain at the moment, I think of his 1989 outdoor painting of a blonde Jesse Jackson, How Ya Like Me Now? which was vandalized as it was being installed across from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. Hammons subsequently showed it with a row of sledgehammers. And of six American Indian activists who painted Theodore Roosevelt’s statue in front of the American Museum of Natural History in 1971, who had their charges dropped if they paid the museum’s cleanup costs.

Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the increased protests of confederate memorial statues, I’ve come to see painting as crucial, even central. After decades of inertia, monuments are suddenly painted or pulled down. Then they’re quickly covered with tarps or boxes or removed. Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.

What if we recognize these gestures as generative, not destructive? What if we leave them? Keep them? Look at them? Study them? And when the time comes, conserve them?