May 22, 2017

Dating Sturtevant

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When you go to the Rauschenberg show at MoMA, take your opera glasses.

A question I was never able to figure out was when, exactly, Sturtevant's Johns Flag took the place of Johns' Johns Flag after it was stolen in 1965.

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When they split, Johns & Rauschenberg made an agreement that Short Circuit, or perhaps Construction with J.J. Flag, as it had also been known, would not be exhibited. Presumably, with Johns' Flag gone, Rauschenberg felt free to include the work in a collage-themed group show at Finch College in 1967.

He posed with the work [above], holding the cabinet door ajar to obscure the space where Johns' Flag had been, and in his artist statement, he said, " Elaine Sturtevant is painting an original flag in the manner of Jasper Johns' to replace it." Is painting, present tense.

Did she finish in time? It's not clear. All published accounts of the exhibition mention the openable doors with paintings behind them-but also that they were nailed shut. So who knows? Sturtevant's Johns Flag is like Schrodinger's Cat, both alive and dead, both in there, and not.

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detail of Elaine Sturtevant's Johns Flag in Rauschenberg's Short Circuit

But. If you take a close look at Short Circuit's Sturtevant Johns Flag at MoMA, you might be able to see a legible scrap of newspaper on its surface. Actually, you can see many, but one has a date: Sunday, January 15, 1967. And a typeface that looks like the Times.

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image: nytimesmachine

And sure enough, it is. Page 69. The headline: "Powell Case, in 6 Years, Has Involved 80 Judges 10 Courts, 4 Juries, 15 Lawyers and congress." The story: a full-page recap of a convoluted lawsuit brought against Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., involving defamation and allegations of police corruption.

The Finch show opened on March 9th, so it is at least possible that Sturtevant finished her painting in time to put it in. I mean, it can't be ruled out [the way a scrap of newspaper visible in Johns' own MoMA Flag dating from after the 1955 exhibition of Short Circuit almost certainly means that the Short Circuit flag was the "first" flag.]

What's more interesting, though, is to the right. Doesn't that look like Johns? In a tuxedo? Perhaps attending an opening? I've only done the most cursory search so far, and I can't find a source for that image from 1965-67. Would Sturtevant have kept a party shot clipping from Johns' Jewish Museum show in 1964? Would Rauschenberg?

Previously, related: Art in Process: Reading Finch College Museum
Jasper Johns' first Flag

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Untitled (Unpainted Wall), 2017, brick, concrete, 18 lag shields, exterior latex paint. Installation view, Chevy Chase, Maryland

In his 1977 Whitney catalogue, Michael Crichton wrote about the origin of Jasper Johns' 1967 painting Harlem Light:

It has a peculiar background. Johns was taking a taxi to the airport, traveling through Harlem, when he passed a small store which had a wall painted to resemble flagstones. He decided it would appear in his next painting. Some weeks later when he began the painting, he asked David Whitney to find the flagstone wall, and photograph it. Whitney returned to say he could not find the wall anywhere. Johns himself then looked for the wall, driving back and forth across Harlem, searching for what he had briefly seen. He never found it, and finally had to conclude that it had been painted over or demolished. Thus he was obliged to re-create the flagstone wall from emory. This distressed him, "What I had hoped to do was an exact copy of the wall. It was red, black, and gray, but I'm sure that it didn't look like what I did. But I did my best."

Explaining further, he said: "Whatever I do seems artificial and false, to me. They-whoever painted the wall-had an idea; I doubt that whatever they did had to conform to anything except their own pleasure. I wanted to use that design. The trouble is that when you start to work, you can't eliminate your own sophistication. If I could have traced it I would have felt secure that I had it right. Because what's interesting to me is the fact that it isn't designed, but taken. It's not mine." [p. 54-55]

And that, my friends, is how I am different from Jasper Johns: I got the picture.

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Untitled (Delian Ode), 1960/61, pencil, ballpoint pen, and grease crayon on paper, image: peter freeman

I mean, can you even imagine doing it? I admit it, I can, and I just cannot. De Kooning said he wanted to give away one he'd miss. And one that'd be hard for Rauschenberg to erase. If there's any other kind of Twombly drawing, I haven't seen it.

We'll put this one in the "Think about it"/"Unrealized" category.

Previously, related, badly titled: Ghetto Erased de Kooning Drawing

After he was booted from his white-on-white-on-white loft when the Bozza Mansion was torn down, John Cage kind of drifted for a while. Apparently it was hard to find a good deal on a great space in Manhattan in 1954 [when you had no money.]

So for a while, Cage moved to The Land, one of the names for the pseudo-commune/art colony started by Paul & Vera Williams on 116 acres in Stony Point, Rockland County, NY. Paul was an architect friend of Cage's from Black Mountain College, and he'd purchased the property after inheriting some money.

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I don't know why, but I'd always assumed Cage and the other The Land folks lived in little cottages. Not quite. It turns out Williams, a student of Breuer, created some classically modernist boxes.

The first pictures I've ever seen are in Brendan W. Joseph's 2016 book, Experimentations: John Cage in Music, Art, and Architecture, which goes into some detail on the development of The Land and its surprising impact on Cage and his work.

Cage shared a building, a duplex, with the Williamses. He lived in 1 or 2 rooms on the left in the image above, separated by a stone wall he and Vera built. It looks quite nice, if simple, a bit like the Black Mountain College buildings everyone built together. Indeed, from Joseph's account, it sounds like Williams was hoping to recapture some of that BMC mojo with his co-op experiment.

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The NFL Draft is being held tonight at the top of The Rocky Steps. Which is another name for the courtyard of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Which has a giant Greek temple facade. But which apparently didn't work for the NFL folks' shot, so they built a replica of a piece of the museum facade into their set, in front of the museum.

I just finished reading some Sturtevant repetition and simulacrum a few minutes ago, and there's surely plenty to say about mediated images in circulation. But I think the real takeaway here is the NFL's Sforzian backdrop lighting game is flabby and weak.

THEY BUILT A FAKE ART MUSEUM ON THE NFL DRAFT STAGE IN FRONT OF THE ACTUAL PHILLY ART MUSEUM [csnphilly, h/t @briansholis]

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Installation shot: Untitled (I Can See Russia From My House), 2017, 15' x 10' x 6', dye sublimation printed carpet, bolts, washers, lumber.

I'm psyched to announce the public installation of a new work, Untitled (I Can See Russia From My House), in Warrenton, Virginia. It is a dye sublimation print on carpet, mounted on a wood support.

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I suppose it could also be installed indoors, but it would lose a lot of the impact; it really is a piece that is best come upon in the course of daily life.

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Untitled (I Can See Russia From My House), 2017, washer and bolt installation detail

The carpet is affixed to the support using bolts and washers [above]. Longtime Kremlin watchers will note that the image, of the south facade of St. Basil's Cathedral, is here reversed.

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Although an installation shot from December 2016 shows unrelated works installed nearby. It is the artist's intention that this piece be viewed and appreciated on its own. Despite what you might assume, it is currently not for sale.

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The Mellow Pad, 1945-51, by Stuart Davis, co-founder of the American Artists Congress in 1936, image: whitney.org

This edition of Better Read features a speech delivered by Michigan Republican congressman George Donderos on the House floor on Tuesday August 16, 1949 titled, "Modern Art Shackled To Communism." I came across quotes and excerpts from this speech while researching the American Artists Congress, the group that brought Picasso's Guernica to the United States for a fundraising tour in 1938.

Dondero made several fiery speeches against modern art during this, the McCarthy era, repeatedly accusing modernism and all its subsidiary "isms" of being a vile foreign-led Communist plot to destroy American art and values.

Near as I can tell, this is the first time Dondero's complete speech has been available outside the Congressional Record, which turns out to be a lot harder to get ahold of than I expected. I am currently preparing a compilation of all Dondero's art-related speeches, and the responses they engendered from the accused, the threatened, and even, surprisingly, the nominally allied. Because even I have a hard time listening to a robot for 26 minutes, the complete text of Dondero's speech is included after the jump.

Download Better_Read_013_Dondero_Communist_Shackles_20170417.mp3 [26:49, 39mb, mp3 via dropbox]

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The first draft of history. History written by the victors What even is it? The barrage of nonsense comes so fast and thick and is so full of bullshit that the very notion of history feels out of date. Which is probably someone's point. Or at the very least, in someone's immediate interest.

Do you even remember the outrage when the Japanese Prime Minister's Press Office released publicity photos of Shinzo Abe meeting Donald Trump at Trump Tower on November 17th, which revealed that Ivanka and Jared were sitting in on the meeting?

And then like two weeks later, the Times kind of buried the lede that at that very moment, Ivanka's fashion label was negotiating a licensing deal with a Japanese apparel conglomerate whose majority shareholder is a development bank owned by the Japanese government.

Oh, hands were wrung, potential conflicts of interest were ruminated upon, denials and assurances were floated. And it all turned out to be bullshit, and that was also the same time Jared and Ivanka were in fact preparing to take up offices and jobs in the White House.

So maybe that's a power of a painting: the ability to slow things down, even just long enough to have an impact, to make something stick, to give some context. It rewards the exercise of looking, looking longer, and looking back.

Campaign Ends April 26th: Our Guernica, After Our Picasso: A Kickstarter

I swear, I tried not to do it, but the image was too strong. In the days since I started drafting this Kickstarter campaign, I quit several times. And then history kept catching up to this image. In fact, history started lapping it.

So yes, we need to mark this moment, this look on Chancellor Merkel's face, on all our faces, when it was still possible to not believe what was happening before our eyes. And there's only one painter who can do this moment justice. Unfortunately, he and justice are not really in a great spot right now, so we're gonna use #chinesepaintmill and the Thomas Kinkade Editions Pyramid.

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Our Guernica, After Our Picasso: collaged details from Michael Kappe/dpa photo, George W. Bush painting, and Picasso's Guernica

In my darker moods, I imagine a series of paintings of such moments will come- Angelus Novus looking back and piling JPG upon JPG at his feet as the storm irresistibly propels us into the future. Can our brush-wielding Chinese allies capture the essence of Trumpian corruption with authentic Bushian flourish? Can we spread the resulting image(s) to the four corners of the warming, flooding earth to bear adequate witness? Let's start with one and see.

Back "Our Guernica, After Our Picasso on Kickstarter now

UPDATE #1 After just a couple of days the project has gotten over halfway to its funding goal, thanks!

It has also been the subject of reportage by Will Fenstermaker at Artspace [who is also a backer, write what you know!] and AFC ["that's a lot of layers to unpack for what's essentially a meme" I do not disagree!]

On the more depressing news front, today, Day 3, might pass without a single new backer. Perhaps everyone's too stunned at the floating of #Ivanka2024 by The Daily Caller [not linkin', look it up], and worrying how a painting can somehow head off this meta-disaster. It probably can't, but there's a lot to be done in the mean time.

I've also noticed that backers are a savvy bunch. Folks seem to prefer the lower-priced, smaller prints at this stage. Possibly, I thought, because you're reluctant to put up larger amounts of money for an artwork that you've 1) not seen because 2) it doesn't exist yet.

It might be useful to reframe the entire project as a single conceptual piece, in which case, the physical manifestations are secondary to its core expression. But it's still natural to wonder how it'll look, especially if you're contemplating getting a big one. I'm trying to think up a solution for this. Any advice or thoughts are welcome. And thanks again for spreading the word!

UPDATE #2 WHOA IT IS HAPPENING, THANKS! THE BALL IS ROLLING, THE CAMPAIGN IS CONTINUING. LET'S BUILD THAT PYRAMID AND LAUNCH A WHOLE BUSHMASTER CYCLE OF PAINTINGS TO DOCUMENT THIS THING!

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In 1965, before he figured out his Today Series date paintings, On Kawara experimented with several other types of paintings about language, text, and information. They contained a word or phrase, or a graphically encoded text. The National Gallery has a triptych, Title, that weren't, but most of them were destroyed. [image from the Guggenheim's exhibition catalogue via ig/mondoblogo]

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

find me on twitter: @gregorg

recent projects, &c.


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