Now that I've read up on it, and on the philosopher's harrowing last days, I think I experienced the Walter Benjamin Memorial in Portbou, Spain the only way it really should be experienced: by total accident. Which is almost impossible.

We'd been visiting family in Provence, and one of the kids, the one who has been taking Spanish, not French, was wanting to go somewhere they spoke her language for a change. Plus, they wanted to go to the beach. Relenting, I pulled up the last town I knew in France, Banyuls, and looked to see what, if anything, was across the border.

The answer was Portbou. Google Maps said it was 3.5 hours away; we figured we'd drive to Spain for lunch and a couple of hours on the beach, send a postcard, and head home for dinner. Extraordinary traffic which had the autoroute backed up for several kilometers before the border, and the caravan of caravans winding along the 1.5 lane coastal mountain road, easily doubled our drivetime, and we arrived in Portbou starving and almost late for lunch.

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We quickly parked in a massive tunnel-turned-one-way parking lot, and wandered back through town to find any open cafe. And that's when I spotted the Walter Benjamin information panel. It turned out to be No. 2 on the town's four-stop Ruta Walter Benjamin, the Hotel de Francia, where Benjamin and his fellow refugees stayed after sneaking across the Spanish border in September 1940. And where he, where, well, as the panel puts it, "What happened over the next few hours is a striking illustration of all of the tragedy of barbarism."

This town has erected a plaque in front of the hotel where Benjamin killed himself.

Well this is getting complicated: The Trouble With Donelle Woolford [dis]

August 15, 2014

l'Autre Jetée

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We went exploring the Camargue today, and came across these giant mounds of salt being processed south of Salin de Giraud, which looked a lot like the ones in Doug Aitken's app, commissioned by Maja Hoffman's LUMA Foundation in Arles. It turns out to be next to some evaporation fields which are the color of The Great Salt Lake at Rozel Point, the color which inspired Robert Smithson to choose the site for his most famous work. This panorama shows these two artists' fields together for the first time.

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The obvious thing, then, is to combine the two landscapes, creating a spiral jetty out of mounds of pure salt in the pink evaporation ponds. It won't last, of course, but that's what entropy's all about, and public art. To the extent such a word is applicable in this site and situation, the LUMA Foundation is the obvious partner and platform to make this Phantom Spiral Jetty appear.

This popped out at me while reading the Christopher Williams catalogue, The Production Line of Happiness (yellow edition, btw) last night:

"Christopher Williams, On Paris (detail), 1985; Cibachrome, Ilford Cibachrome II Paper CRC .44M; 10 x 14" (image size), 17.5 x 21.5" (framed size); The Image Bank -- Morton Beebe"2

...

2 Caption from a poster produced by Galerie Crousel-Hussenot, Paris, France, for the exhibition, "Stephen Prina, Mark Stahl, Christopher Williams," 1985 [p.36]

There was no image anywhere in the book, but in his essay Mark Godfrey discusses the show, one of a series of group shows in 1984-85, and the photo diptychs Williams produced for them:
In 1984, for his contributions to a set of group shows in Paris (at Galerie Crousel-Hussenot), Ghent (at Gewald), Amsterdam (at De Appel), and New York (at Marian Goodman Gallery), Williams juxtaposed a reshot Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of an execution by bayonet in Bangladesh with a photograph of the city where he was exhibiting, produced for the tourist industry and sourced from local image banks. When the four works were brought together in a group show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in 1985, Abigail Solomon-Godeau wrote that Williams's "insistence on site-specificity, both in a geographic sense (the city represented by the tourism photo is changed to represent whatever city the work is exhibited in) and in an institutional sense (the work is conceived to call attention to the museological "frame") militates against the neutralization of the works' politics by the art institution that houses it." [p.79]
There was nothing on Google, but the New Museum's awesome digital archive has installation shots of Williams' works in the show, "The Art of Memory / The Loss of History," which was curated by William Olander.

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Here is how On New York II [sic, I'm sure the actual title's 10x longer] was installed [see archive.newmuseum.org for larger images and details]. Those look like 10x8 to me, tbh, not 10x14. Here's a pairing of stock tourism photos the New Museum's calling On Amsterdam / On Paris. Fine, maybe that is 10x14.

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Anyway, it's the Paris installation that caught my attention, and that's what I'm trying to imagine. So these thin frames, these deep mats, and these two images side by side:

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a rephotograph [!] of a Dec. 18, 1971 photo by AP correspondents Horst Faas & Michel Laurent [this 2012 tribute page to Faas has a shot from a different angle of a different guy bayonetting the same guy in the plaid shirt. It doesn't take Errol Morris to realize the scene is extended and complicated, and the presence of the photographers is not neutral.]

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and a glittery night scene in a café on the Champs-Élysées, by Morton Beebe. The red awning makes me think it's Fouquet's, just south of the Georges V metro entrance, unless there was a café across the street, where the Louis Vuitton store is now.

It didn't occur to me until I started putting together this post just how sparse the online information is about Williams' work and history, but also how fragmentary any of it is. The New Museum's online archive is extraordinary and almost unprecedented in its scope and accessibility, especially for an institution of its size. And yet there is so much of the work and the experience that is not captured, so much that must be interpolated from these documentary traces. From the titles to the dimensions to the catalogues, checklists and installations, Williams's exacting practice indexes and exposes the limitations of the archival view, and thus, of photography and history.

Which had nothing to do with why I'm writing about this at all right now. It was the name Morton Beebe, the photographer of the Image Bank picture for Paris, which caught my eye. Beebe sued Robert Rauschenberg in 1979 for copyright infringement for using one of Beebe's images in Pull a Hoarfrost series print on silk. Beebe himself and the copyright industry professionals have cited the case regularly over the years as a victory against appropriation. [I wrote a couple of posts about Beebe v. Rauschenberg in 2012. Apparently I was the first/only person who'd ever requested the actual court documents. Which makes it even worse that I still haven't written my final post on the case. It's on my list, though, I swear!]

I was ready to concede that Beebe's presence in Williams's work was a coincidence, but then I remembered Beebe's battle was the opening anecdote in what turns out to be the first substantive coverage of photo-based appropriation, a 1981 article in ArtNEWS by Gay Morris titled, "When Artists Use Photographs: Is it fair use, legitimate transformation, or rip-off?" And I can't believe that Williams, of all artists who use photographs, would not have noticed.

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We took the kids to the Met yesterday, and in one of the period rooms in the Wrightsman Galleries, which I'd probably been in a hundred times, at least, one kid goes, "Is that a dog house?"

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Why yes, yes, it is, and not just any dog house. This kennel, carved in the 1770s by Sené in gilded beech and pine and upholstered in silk and velvet, is stamped GARDE MEUBLE DE LA REINE. It is Marie Antoinette's dog house. One of just three pieces of furniture belonging to the queen in the Met. The Wrightsmans bought it in 1960, but didn't give it to the Met until 1971. Guess they wanted to use it for a while themselves.

But wait, Aestheticus Rex has a post about two other 18th c. dog houses in the Wrightsman collection--and a mystery. These two were apparently part of the Wrightsmans' gift to the Met, but were then returned to the donors. [To be sold in 2010 at Sotheby's, the hook for AR's post.] And there is some curatorial ambiguity about the provenance of the above house, for which research is apparently lacking, but which nonetheless remains on view. Decades or centuries later, the gossip of the court continues on blogspot.

Dog Kennel, c 1775-80 [metmuseum.org]

Nayland Blake just posted this on his always eye-opening tumblr Knee-deep in the Flooded Victory. Abstract in Concrete is a 10-minute short film by John Aravonio, which pairs reflections of neon signs in the rain puddles of Times Square with a jazz/classical score by Frank Fields. The date given on this recent YouTube upload is 1954. And it is credited to the United States Information Agency.

Which is just nuts.

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RO/LU has the photos of Cy Twombly's palazzo from that 1966 Vogue feature, and hey ho, he had a Richter. How'd that happen?

Richter had shown Frau Marlow (1964) in his earliest exhibitions: at Galerie Schmela in Dusseldorf and the Capital Realism group show at Rene Block in Berlin. Twombly had been in a 2-person show with Rauschenberg in Dusseldorf in 1960, and the Venice Biennale in 1964, and so on. But I guess I wonder how Twombly came to own a painting by the just-emerging Richter.

Frau Marlow wasn't seen in public for 35 25 26 years, until 1991. #math.

Frau Marlow CR:28, 1964 [gerhard-richter.com]

UPDATE Thanks to Wayne Bremser for the prodding me to click through on 032c's 2010 feature on Twombly's interiors, as photographed by Horst, and as re-energized by Joseph Holtzman in nest. I miss nest.
Also, this classic Mondo Blogo roundup of photos from Horst's Twombly shoot.

In his canonical text, The Death of the Author, Roland Barthes states: "The text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture [...] The writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original [...] If he wants to express himself, at least he should know that the internal 'thing' he claims to 'translate' is itself only a readymade dictionary." Understood in this context, by transcribing @TheRealHennessy tweets onto canvases greg.org sheds light on the dynamics of language, appropriation, authorship and the enigmatic presence of a distinctive voice

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@TheRealHennessy Tweet Painting, Moby, 2014, 14x11 in., acrylic and screenprint on canvas SOLD

greg.org is pleased to introduce @TheRealHennessy Tweet Paintings, inspired by Donelle Woolford's Dick Joke series, which were buzzworthy standouts at the most recent Whitney Biennial.

Instead of the expressive, gestural application of paint that was so fashionable, @TheRealHennessy tweets are silkscreened onto a flat, monochrome canvas. Similar to his re-photography of existing images, this approach removed the artist's hand from the work. Despite this conceptual strategy, @TheRealHennessy Tweet works are nonetheless considered first and foremost as paintings. As he jokingly remarked, "the 'Tweet' paintings are abstract. Especially in Europe, if you can't speak English."

The series of monochrome tweet paintings, of which @TheRealHennessy Tweets, Moby is an outstanding example, presents the viewer with a strangely puzzling juxtaposition of a minimalist canvas and painted words. Although this can be interpreted as a reference to postmodern linguistic theory, the work also points to two quintessentially American features: hard-edge abstraction and popular humor. Cleverly subverting the clean and serious language of abstract painting, the tweets' amalgamation of low and high culture characterizes @TheRealHennessy Tweet's most iconic work. This intelligent fusion of conceptual strategies with popular cultural references, which has been the driving force throughout @TheRealHennessy Tweet's influential practice, is perfectly merged in @TheRealHennessy Tweets, Moby. Wittingly parodying the uncomplicated jokes from vernacular literature, the artist has found a way of incorporating a difficult subject-matter - humor - into a deeply serious artistic practice.

More @TheRealHennessy Tweet paintings are below. The first One of the remaining three paintings is available for $1,800. Please tweet, DM, or email for further information.

Most reports of On Kawara's death place it on July 10, the day the news was made public. I have heard from sources who would know that the artist passed away as much as two weeks earlier. Given the nature of Kawara's practice, it seems like a non-trivial point to identify the actual date. Given his family's prerogative and their loss, it seems indelicate to speculate or pry.

As Roberta Smith wrote in her NY Times obituary for Kawara, published today,

Mr. Kawara's family declined to provide the date of death or the names of survivors, in keeping with his lifelong penchant for privacy.
But she also ends with this:
Keeping the viewer focused on time's incremental, day-by-day omnipresence was one reason for Mr. Kawara's deliberately low profile and his habit of listing his age in exhibition catalogs in terms of the number of days he had been alive as of the show's opening date. In the catalog to a show at the David Zwirner Gallery, an otherwise blank page titled "Biography of On Kawara" put the count at 26,192 days on Sept. 9, 2004. Last week the gallery calculated he had reached 29,771.
When news of Kawara's death began to circulate, his birthdate, via Wikipedia, was reported as January 2, 1933. Wikipedia's citation is the Encyclopedia Britannica. But calculating back from the Zwirner show results in a birthdate of Dec. 25, 1932.

The artist's bio in Henning Weidemann's book, On Kawara is reported as "(June 9, 1991) 21,351 days," which also calculates back to Dec. 25, 1932.

Given this birthdate, it becomes clear that Kawara's family and gallery chose to report, on his own terms, not his death, but the culmination of his life, 29,771 days later, on June 29, 2014.

Update: Now we have a situation. Dia lists Kawara' bio as "29,622 days on January 15, 2014," which calculates back to a birthdate of Dec. 10, 1932. Now I feel compelled to cross-check Kawara's other published biographies. Any citations are appreciated.

The canonical source, such as it goes, would be Kawara's own 100-Year Calendar, on which he indicates he was born Dec. 24, 1932. Which could mean everything above is off by one day.

According to Weidemann, filling in a dot on his calendar was the very last thing he'd do every day. A green dot meant one date painting. A red dot meant more than one; a yellow dot meant none. It's conceivable that the artist lived through the 29,771st day, the 28th, but did not complete the 29,772nd. Suddenly, this calculation feels intrusive.

Other biographies:

For the opening of On Kawara 1973 --One Year's Production at Kunsthalle Bern, his bio reads, "(August 16, 1974) 15 211 Tage." [Dec. 24, 1932.]

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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
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