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:

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 []

Previously, related:
SUPERFLEX’s Hospial Equipment: Context is Everything
I Copy Therefore I Am SUPERFLEX
International Jarman Blue

Minus Object, Plus-Sized

Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Minus Objects installation in his live-in studio, 1965-66; photo: Brassa via Flashart

Thanks to grupaok, I’d been looking at Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Minus Objects a lot when my server ran into trouble last December.

Partly because I’ve been long contemplating tables as a platform for paintings, and Pistoletto made a table out of paintings.

Partly because Minus Objects was Pistoletto’s attempt at breaking [or “dismounting”] the capitalist system that rewarded/demanded artists produce in a recognizable style, and all he did was jump off his own market, and confuse his dealers. [Though curator Germano Celant caught on quickly, and made Minus Objects a critical foundation for his proposition of Arte Povera.] Partly because that whole concept is LMAO now that his selfie-friendly mirror paintings have roared back into vogue, anchoring art fair booths around the globe.

Where’s Jap? A Minus Objects installation shot from the 1967 print edition of Celant’s Arte Povera essay in Flash Art

But let’s face facts, it’s really because of that awesome, giant, unmounted photo of a slightly demonic Jasper Johns.

It looks very different from our post-Struffsky vantage point, but I’d imagine this object was especially problematic for the art context of its day. Just as tables & chairs and cardboard teetered on the functional and material boundaries around art, respectively, this headshot was thwarting the idea that it was just information.

In a conversation with Celant in 2014 [5:00], on the occasion of Luhring Augustine’s capacious restaging of the Minus Objects show in Bushwick, Pistoletto sounded very interested in the space between art and life:

I decided to be directly transforming a feeling or an idea into an object. Being in that condition, the dream of the night became part of the daily life. Because I was living in the studio, in that place, and the work became part of my life. It was like a living activity.

Burnt Rose, 1965, image:

And I had a dream that I was looking around for cardboard, and was cutting cardboard, it was like a recipe to make a rose, that I had in my dream. And getting up in the morning I decided to realize this recipe that I was dreaming in the night. I find the cardboard in my studio, and I did exactly what was the dream, and the work was done.

At the end of the dream I was giving the fire to the center of the rose, and I did it.

Very Johns & Rauschenberg both. Anyway, as he later explained [46:00], the photo of Johns came about in a similar way:

Because I was living the occasion of the moment, and getting up in the morning, the mail arrived. There was an envelope, and inside a catalogue of Jasper Johns, a square catalogue with Jasper Johns, he was smiling. In the morning, I see this face smiling to me, and I say, “OK, I will blow up it.”…I thought this the morning The Smile arrived.


The Ears of Jasper Johns, 1966? 250 x 250? cm, 80 cm each

The installation photos show the single, giant photo.  And I always thought the cutout version, with The Ears of Jasper Johns came later. But Pistoletto says his idea was to make a 2×2 meter photo of The Smile, and that his printer only had meter-wide paper. The two sections are listed as each 80 cm wide. Everything’s 250cm tall. So there are some rounding issues, maybe, and the single pic is listed as 125 cm wide. Whether there was cropping or reprinting or both, I don’t know.

Minus Objects, 2014 installation view at Luhring Augustine Bushwick

In any case, I was taken with the idea of tracking down the original photo–I assume it’s in the square catalogue for the 1964 Whitehall Gallery show–and making a giant Smiling Johns myself. But I guess sometimes it’s good to wait? Because in the mean time, the press around the show at The Broad helped surface this photo of Johns:

4yo Jasper Johns in a South Carolina photobooth, image probably the artist’s, via nyt , now also Study for Foto di Jasper Johns, 2018, 200x280cm, digital inkjet print

And oh my gosh, now I want to make 2-meter wide versions of this in an edition of a million and hang them everywhere on earth.

Previously, slightly related:
How to make a giant, Steichen-style photomural
How to make an Ansel Adams photomural/folding screen

Better Read 020: Psathyrella Hydrophila Specimen, New York Botanical Garden

Pierre Bulliard, Herbier de la France, 1791, plate 511, nybg via biodiversity heritage library

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.

Specimen Detail: Psathyrella hydrophila (Bull.:Fr.) Maire [nybg via]
Download Better Read #020: Psathyrella Hydrophila Specimen, New York Botanical Garden [, mp3, 5:19, 2.6mb]


There Is Another Sheeler Photo Of Baroness Elsa’s Duchamp Portrait

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, 1920, photo: Charles Sheeler, published in the Little Reiew, 1922. image:

After 6 years and 72 issues, I am sure glad Margaret C. Anderson hung in there to publish one more issue of her avant-garde poetry magazine The Little Review in the Winter of 1922. Because it includes a different Charles Sheeler photo of Baroness Elsa’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp.

The one that’s been floating around, via Duchamp dealer Frances Naumann, mostly, is a more clinical, perhaps Sheeler-esque photo [below].

Charles Sheeler
The Baroness’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, ca. 1920
Gelatin silver print
9 5/8 x 7 5/8 inches, via francesnaumann

But besides the dramatic lighting, the Little Review version actually reveals more of the cocktail of feathers, gears, and flywheels that filled Baroness Elsa’s glass. Also it’s sitting on a plate.

All of this matters to me because this, my second favorite portrait of Duchamp after Florine Stettheimer’s, is lost, destroyed. And so this kind of documentation will help make a reconstitution of it truer to the original, and less of an inspired-by approximation.

Brown University and the University of Tulsa have digitized The Little Review as part of their Modernist Journals Project []

Previously, related Elsa-iana: In The Beginning

Untitled (No Evil Befall Thee), 2018

Untitled (No Evil Befall Thee), 2018, latex paint and crayon on door (if I ever refabricate this it’ll probably be written by my dad? idk) , trash bags, installation shot by @JacobGarchik

Vintage wood chopped in half, Biblical evocations written on architecture by anxious parents, folks on Twitter wondering aloud about “exorcism gone wrong?” Sounds to me like New York City’s caught a case of Danh Vo Fever!

[s/o to the OG Twitter Garbage Sculptor Jayson Musson]

Bob Adelman’s Rauschenberg Scene Photos

Bob Adelman photo of Jasper Johns & Robert Rauschenberg talking during a 1966 loft party. No offense, but that sad woman holds the composition together like a Degas watering can. image:

In 1966 photographer Bob Adelman covered the scene around the Leo Castelli Gallery for New York Magazine, but the greatest photos in his deep dive archive are from parties at Robert Rauschenberg’s loft.  By 1966 Bob and Jasper Johns were apparently talking to each other again. [Oh hi, Andy!]

Bob Adelman photo of Elaine Sturtevant, Robert Rauschenberg, IDK, IDK2, and James Rosenquist, at Bob’s loft party, c. 1966. image:

Adelman’s captions have some gaps, so though it’s easy to ID Elaine Sturtevant there, huggin’ and grinnin’, with Bob and Jim Rosenquist, the man and woman in the center are still unknown to me. Part of me wants to say Yvonne Rainer, but the hair doesn’t seem right. One not-helpful clue: neither of them made a Warhol screen test.

Bob Adelman’s 1966 Leo Castelli Gallery galleries [, thanks reader Calum]

Matson Was Mrs. Rauschenberg’s Maiden Name

If you’re ever wondering how hard it is to see something that’s been right in front of your face all along–even if you knew the details and the discrepancies–this entry is from the chronology Joan Young prepared with Susan Davidson for Walter Hopps’ 1997 Robert Rauschenberg retrospective:

With Johns as partner, forms Matson Jones–Custom Display; “Matson” is Rauschenberg’s mother’s maiden name and “Jones” stands for Johns.

So together they were Matson Jones.

Previously, related:
Mr. Rauschenberg’s Neighborhood
The Tiffany’s Windows of Matson Jones

10 MINUTES LATER UPDATE: SFMOMA has a new recap of the Matson Jones era from none other than Richard Meyer [Outlaw Representation ftw] . In a 2018 essay about scholarly dismissal of or disdain for their relationship, this sentence makes an unusual effort to say yes, Bob & Jap were “family,” but only distantly related: “’Matson’ was the maiden name of Rauschenberg’s maternal grandmother, and ‘Jones’ is a phonic near cousin to ‘Johns.’” How about homophonic kissing cousins, at least?

Also, I guess after tracking decades of academic and critical avoidance and differentiation, from Alan Solomon onward, I also completely disagree with Meyer’s first sentence: “The intensity of the creative dialogue between Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the 1950s has long been recognized by scholars, critics, and curators.”

But I do look forward to that first two-man show. And don’t get me started with Cy.

Better Read #019: Gretchen Bender’s Dumping Core At The Hirshhorn Museum

Gretchen Bender, Dumping Core, 1984, installed at Hirshhorn Museum, 2018, collection: MoMA

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.

Gretchen Bender, Dumping Core, 1984, acquired in 2016 [moma]
Bender’s piece is included in Brand New: Art & Commodity in the 1980s at the Hirshhorn through May 2018 [hirshhorn]
Press Release for Gretchen Bender’s Dumping Core premiere at The Kitchen in 1984 [the kitchen]
Press Release for The Kitchen’s 2013 show, “Gretchen Bender: Tracking The Thrill”
[artforum, pdf]
Download Better Read #019, Gretchen Bender’s Dumping Core at the Hirshhorn, 20180223 [, mp3, 4.9mb, 10:00]


Michelangelo slaves and David encased in brick during WWII, image: reddit

There is a Michelangelo inside every brick cairn, and it was the curator’s job to bury it.

Museum historian Anna Tulliach tweeted these amazing photos from Italian archives. They show Michelangelo’s sculptures in the Accademia in Florence–David and the unfinished Slaves–encased in brick during World War II, an effort to protect them from possible damage during Allied attacks.

I don’t want to steal any of Tulliach’s thunder; only one of the images is in ready circulation online, and they may come from the 1942 report on protecting the patrimony she referenced later. The encasement only gets passing mentions, though, in histories of art preservation in the midst and aftermath of WWII, and I, for one, am psyched to know more.

The director of the Accademia at the time was Ugo Procacci, and he undertook the massive effort to evacuate what artworks he could from the city, and store them for safekeeping in remote villas around Tuscany.

Michelangelo’s David encased in brick at the Accademia during WWII, via AT

What’s so great is these forms themselves. They’ve been called silos, but I’d think they have to be solid, more like a cairn. In another context, their form is obviously a lingam; and we all know Michelangelo loved the lingam.  But anyway, there they are, in a museum.

Michelangelo, The Bearded Slave & The Atlas, via Accademia

It turns out to be very difficult to find out exactly what Michelangelo said, or what Vasari said he said, even, about a statue existing in every block of stone, and it’s the sculptor’s job to free it.

But it could be a sculptor’s job again to remake these forms, with a Michelangelo-shaped void at the center of each one. We can bring these back. And we should.

Olafur Eliasson, Your House, 2006, published with Friends of MoMA Library. image via

It could be like Your House, that intricately die-cut book Olafur Eliasson made with MoMA’s library, but out of bricks.

44 America: David Hammons’ House Of The Future & America Street, 2007-2017, 2018

David Hammons & Albert Alston, House of the Future, 1991, photographed in 2006 by ksenia_n

In 1991 the artist David Hammons was invited by Mary Jane Jacobs to create a site-specific work in Charleston, South Carolina for a new, visual arts program linked to the Spoleto Festival. Jacobs had patterned the exhibition, “Places With A Past”, after the Skulptur Projekt Münster. Spoleto founder Gian Carlo Menotti hated the whole thing; the exhibition divided the board and got the director fired (he came back a couple of years later, after Menotti quit), but the show’s art historical reputation has only grown.

That said, Hammons’ is the only one of 61 installations left standing, thanks in large part to his early decision to collaborate with Albert Alston, a local builder, who seems to have maintained and championed the work over the ensuing 27 years.

Hammons and Alston built House Of The Future on a vacant, city-owned lot on Charleston’s segregated East Side using architectural fragments and materials from renovation and demolition projects nearby. It is a 6×20-foot teaching model of Charleston’s signature style, with labels for each component. At some point, a young, local artist used the ground floor as studio space, and Alston oversaw other public programmatic uses. On the back of the House, Hammons painted a quote from African American writer Ishmael Reed:

The Afro-American has become heir to the myths that it is better to be poor than rich, lower class than middle or upper, easy going rather than industrious, extravagant rather than thrifty, and athletic rather than academic.

[Though Reed gets–and takes–credit for the quote, it seems that it actually originates with musician/composer/sociologist Ortiz Walton. Reed quoted Walton’s critical history of cultural exploitation, Music: Black, White & Blue in a 1973 review for Black World Magazine. Reed & Walton seem to have been frequent collaborators and interlocutors, so maybe this is one more of those Hammons/Alston situations. In any case, the quote itself was criticized by some in the community, and it has disappeared and reappeared from the wall of House Of The Future with various repaintings. According to an unrelated 1995 lawsuit by a disgruntled muralist, though, it was integral to the community’s embrace of the installation that helped preserve it after the Spoleto Festival ended.]

Oh, say, can you see?

At some point after the May 1991 opening of “Places With A Past”, Hammons’ second element was realized kitty corner from House of The Future. America Street is a small, grassy bump of a park on another vacant lot, where Hammons’ iconic African American Flag flies from atop a 40-foot pole. A black and white photo of a group of children looking up, as if at the flag, filled a sidewalk-scale billboard that had previously featured ads for liquor and Newports. From this 1996 account of the Spoleto fallout over “Places With A Past”, it sounds like the works survived some entropy, if not straightup neglect. But both the flag and the picture have been replaced over the years.

Hammons’ America Street, January 2017
Detail of David Hammons’ America Street, 1991, a billboard photo of local kids looking up, img: gsv, jan 2017

I have not visited Hammons’ piece(s), except in Google Street View. The first thing I noticed was they differed in appearance from the historical photos. I realized GSV’s own decade of historical imagery is useful here, for marking the changes this tiny house and its neighborhood have undergone.

Clicking through the changes wrought by time on a piece of Southern vernacular architecture, I immediately thought of the work of my late neighbor, the photographer William Christenberry. He would travel back to his native Alabama year after year for decades, photographing the same houses, churches, and stores, usually documenting their deterioration and subsumption by kudzu.

William Christenberry, Red Building in Forest, Hale County, Alabama, 1983, image: Hemphill

What I was seeing in Hammons’ and Alston’s piece was the opposite: a structure built from the castoffs of renovation and gentrification, surviving thanks to a small but persistent maintenance effort. And through it all, year in and year out, no matter the storms or racial strife that battered some other flags in South Carolina, Hammons’ star-spangled banner is still there.

In the spirit of Christenberry, I decided to make some historic GSV printsets [prints of screenshots; GSV is a screen medium] of Hammons’ and Alston’s House Of The Future and America Street. I’ve followed Christenberry’s format, but I’m skipping the traditional photographer’s approach of making editions of a bajillion in a thousand sizes. Each set of 7-9 images is printed small (8×10 in.), in an edition of 2, plus 1 AP: one for you, one for the museum, one for me. Because srsly, why overthink it? If anyone actually wants to buy them, I turn into some kind of crazed Amazon artworker pick&packing prints all day? Hard pass right now, thanks. If you don’t move in time to get it, just make your own.

All the pics are after the jump.

Continue reading “44 America: David Hammons’ House Of The Future & America Street, 2007-2017, 2018”

There Is No Obama Chair

The flowers we know, but about that chair…

Last week I went to the Obamas Portraits Unveiling and wrote about it for ARTnews. What I wasn’t able to conclude was what low-key obsessed me the most from the moment I left the National Portrait Gallery: what is up with that chair?

I’m off the sauce now, but there was a time in my life where I was pretty deeply interested in American antique furniture, and so the significance of the chair Kehinde Wiley depicted President Obama sitting in felt like a story waiting to be told. Because no one mentioned it at the National Portrait Gallery event; I didn’t think to ask him about it until later; and none of the hottest takes I’ve seen have really taken up the subject.

Also, that chair felt terribly specific, and yet it is also pretty confounding. Its stylistic details do not line up easily with any period of 18th or 19th century American design. And if it wasn’t American, it might be British, and how did that happen? And if it wasn’t British, well, what could it be? The more I searched archives and museum collections and auction databases, the more convinced I became that the chair held a secret, especially when some of the similar comps out there were mid-19th century Neoclassical Russian. Oh damn, is that why Obama looks so serious? What sort of chair drop was this? [SPOILER ALERT: IT WAS NOT RUSSIAN.]

c. 1890 Russian mahogany armchairs, via debenham

The details: an armchair with curved arms, with scroll ends that don’t reach the seat but have some kind of support, sometimes called an elbow chair. The arms are reeded, aka, they have grooves along the top. The skirt appears to have an inlaid pattern. The front legs are turned on a lathe. The back has both an oval top, which is either inlaid or carved, and a pierced splat below. All of this indicates a fine wood, either rosewood or mahogany. There are elements of Regency style, common in the 1800-10s or so, but most of the similar examples are from England. The round back feels like much later 19th century, though, and one super-savvy designer friend I asked suggested it was an 1870-80s American interpretation of earlier, Regency style.

c.1800 mahogany Regency armchairs, via

So what does that mean? Where does it come from? Maybe the historical record is the better way to a solution? Except there is no remotely similar chair in the White House collection, or in portraits of previous presidents. (I think it was LA Times critic Christopher Knight who saw a reference in Obama’s pose to a seated Abraham Lincoln in a group portrait by George P.A. Healy. A salient reference, even if the chair is clearly different.)

George P.A. Healy, The Peacemakers, 1868, image:

I asked decorative arts curators, and an antique dealer, who all felt the chair was unusual, even odd, but no one could identify it or explain its significance. It felt like conceding defeat to ask the artist for the answer, which I did, two days later, via the NPG’s press office, since it’s their painting now.

Word came back, but no detail: Wiley had created the chair. It is an imaginary synthesis of design details for which there is no explanation. At least it’s not me, I thought. And I wondered whether this fixation on decoding stylistic quirks, the foundation of antique connoisseurship, was a foreign language of exclusion and privilege (yeah), and whether that came to bear. Or maybe the point of the chair was simply visual, aesthetic, a requirement for how it functioned in the painting in terms of pattern, form and design (maybe). The flowers may transmit a coded signal, but the ornate particulars of the chair are noise.

Or maybe there’s more explanation to be had some day

Previously, related: On The Unveiling Of The Obama Portraits

Untitled (A Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017

Untitled (One Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017, cornflower blue and green wall paint, landscape painting (framed), charcoal, dimensions variable, installation view

I am pleased to announce that a work I thought was gone has perhaps come back on view in Washington, D.C. The title, obviously, is derived from Gerhard Richter’s 1971 work, Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo (below). But its creation, including all the vagaries involved, are inspired directly by Palermo’s work and practice.

Gerhard Richter, Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo, 1971, plaster & wood, painted, in ochre room,

Talking about his late student in a 1984 interview with Laszlo Glozer, Joseph Beuys said:

I believe that one of the most important things for art–and he knew it too–is the behavior of people in general. The way people live, the way they live in their space. The way people live was very important for him. The way they inhabit, the way they live, what chairs they sit on, or what they have around them, what they stuff into themselves.

Untitled (One Painting For Two Rooms By Cactus Cantina), 2017, cornflower blue and green wall paint, landscape painting (framed), charcoal, dimensions variable, installation view

I’d seen the painting first (what they have around them), but it was that charcoal (the way they live) and the horizontal blue passage on the upper left that made the work come into being (the way they inhabit). But that was last year.

Beuys again:

Well, if I could, I would say one should perceive his works like a breath. They have something of a breath about them, a breath that vanishes…One ought to see his paintings more like breath that comes and goes, it has something porous, and it can easily vanish again. It is also highly vulnerable. Vulnerable, say, like a cornflower: when you out it into light, it fades very quickly. So one has to perceive that breathlike being as an aesthetic concept and not as a solid structure…

I still don’t know whether to post these matters, or whether it differs from filing it away, or from seeing it, or thinking it. I mean, it’s posted now because the house where this was installed last year came back on the market, with the same listing photos, and I saw them again. But what changes? Is the work still there? Would it matter if it is or isn’t? Does it matter what that crappy little painting even is?

Which seems as good a time as any to mention another work from last year, which I intentionally didn’t post, to see what it was like.  Does it change now? Now that situation has been moved out and gut renovated for sure? Now that I can search for it in a different dialogue box? Now that someone else can, too?

Untitled (Macomb Wall Painting), 2017, eggshell finish paint, painting hook, est. 36×40 in., installation view

For me the value lies in the wonder, the fleeting marvel, the tiny layers of history, of how some people lived overlaid with how other people staged. So I’m good.

Previously, related:

Cowered In Place

Krzysztof Wodiczko’s projection in 2018, photo: Joshuah Jest

I have reservations about directing too much of today’s outrage at a museum or a curator, so I’ll try to keep some perspective, and I urge anyone reading this to do the same.

But I find myself literally shaking with anger at the decision to cancel Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, 1988–2000, in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Florida high school yesterday afternoon. The work is a 3-night slide projection of a hand holding a gun and a hand holding a candle, flanking a bank of microphones. The decision was made, an unattributed update to the project’s press release said, “Out of respect for those affected, and in sensitivity to our public.”

I stepped away from my computer for a few hours to deal, and they added yet another update, a quote from the artist:

“To me, the silence feels most respectful. In this case, not showing the projection shows respect and sensitivity to the people who suffer from this great tragedy,” Wodiczko said.

Seriously? We all suffer. And while the artist and the museum join the NRA in silence, the ones suffering the most, the students, are stepping the hell up to the microphone. If silence is best, then why show the piece at all?

The sudden embrace of silence-as-respect belies the Hirshhorn’s and, apparently, the artist’s, claims and positioning for the work up to and while it was projected, as planned, on Tuesday night.

The press release led with this pull quote from Wodiczko:

“…the 30-year-old projection appears to me today strangely familiar and at once unbearably relevant. More than ever before, the meaning of our monuments depends on our active role in turning them into sites of memory and critical evaluation of history as well as places of public discourse and action.”

I guess the relevance really was unbearable, and instead of memory, evaluation, or discourse, the only action was to pull the plug.

Director Melissa Chiu told WAMU:

“What his work did was suggest that art in the public sphere … could actually offer up ideas and commentary that was topical,” Chiu said. “It was about what’s going on today, but also ephemeral.”

Indeed it was about what’s going on today, which is why she disappeared it.

I would perhaps have let the whole thing go with a grimace except for the comments of Chief Curator Stéphane Aquin in a YouTube clip, positioning the work as a safely shocking spectacle from a lost, fascinating history:

In 1988, the artist made it very clear it had a pointed reference to the politics and issues at the forefront of the public debate. It was an election year in the States. The original context has waned, has dissolved in history. But those objects still speak to us with striking relevance, to all of us, in various ways.  And so it remains a very powerful image.

Wodiczko’s Hirshhorn projection in October 1988. Has anything changed but the Lichtenstein?

Which, just, no. What were the politics and original context? In a Washington Post article from the original staging, in late October 1988, just weeks before the presidential election–an article which the Hirshhorn linked to three weeks ago– Wodiczko explains:

“For me, it is what I think of politics in this election, resembling more and more a crime story. For example, [Republican presidential candidate] George Bush on one hand is for the death penalty and on another is antiabortion, on one hand he goes on about ‘a thousand points of light’ and on another defends guns and a strong militaristic policy.

“Media and microphones are also used as weapons.”

What has changed? What has waned? What has dissolved into history? There is another, very similar clip, where Aquin says, “thirty years after, we’ve lost and forgotten about the original context” for Wodiczko’s work. But damn it, we have not. It is all around us, even more.

So why does he say this? Why return to this piece which, contrary to his lofty claims for its significance, was neither groundbreaking (it was Wodiczko’s 32nd projection) nor impactful. (When I tried to argue that Wodiczko should get the credit Doug Aitken’s vapid music video was getting for being the first projected work on the Hirshhorn’s exterior, Aquin’s predecessor Kerry Brougher cackled that it was barely more than a one-night slideshow that no one saw or remembered.)

Museum regimes change, but the motivation is the same. There is a desire for attention through spectacle and controversy in order to accrue power and capital, both social and political, at the moment. And in this case, Aquin and Chiu either are completely blind to the reality they’re showing in–which I doubt–or they’re calculating and manipulating for their own optimization.

When its relevance and topicality spike, like they just did, what is the instinctive reaction? To hold a candlelight vigil? To turn the museum and the Mall into a site of mourning or debate? Does Wodiczko’s work pose an opportunity for the Hirshhorn, or an inconvenience? Or possibly an existential threat?  If necessary, would we rally to defend the Hirshhorn’s showing of this work? Is a museum that silences itself and artists it claims are of profound relevance, in mere anticipation of critique worth defending?

Unfortunately for those who thought art was the message, the message is cowardice. Museums in this town have died from such self-inflicted wounds. That’s history that should not be lost or forgotten.

[yet another update: by last night, Melissa Chiu was saying the work would be rescheduled, not simply brought inside to a video monitor. A sensitive announcement to that effect at the beginning would have averted much criticism, but it also seems clear that criticism was the catalyst for the change. Which only underscores the absence of critical thought and understanding that went into this entire presentation.]

[Two weeks later update: the Museum has announced that the projection will now happen on March 7-9.]