- I’ve done two posts on Susan F. Lake’s recent book on Willem de Kooning’s materials and painting methods (with a third to come in a week or two). Lake did some of her work in conjunction with the Getty Conservation Institute, which has done a lot of work on recent paints. Check out this short GCI video to geek out on the study of recent paints.
- It’s World Series week (go Giants!) and count on the Amon Carter’s blog to have pretty amazing 100-year-old glass-plate negative pix of baseball games. Pretty amazing stuff, especially that first one of a player sliding.
- MoMA’s recent photography acquisitions include a great Carleton Watkins and some fantastically weird + awesome stuff. Click through the mini-slideshow. (Uh, why make the reader do the work…? I do not understand why MoMA hasn’t torched that whole awful website and thin collection resource. Sometimes ya gotta admit failure.)
- Alec Soth proposes a Johnny Cash-related trade.
Tyler Green Modern Art Notes
Archive for October, 2010
Regarding this morning’s post about David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (One day this kid…), five museums have the piece in their collections. Wouldn’t it be wonderful — and wouldn’t the timing be extraordinarily appropriate — if they hung the work ASAP? If you think so, tell ‘em. Here’s the list: Jersey City Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Wadsworth Atheneum, Smith College, Whitney Museum of American Art.
On Tuesday I heard an astonishing segment on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” It was about an apparent spike in anti-gay bullying that has swept through America in recent months, a spike that has also highlighted possibly increased suicides among gay and questioning youth. The NPR piece took as its departure point — as an acceptable journalistically ‘neutral’ premise — that gays and lesbians do not necessarily have a right to exist, that the mere right of gays and lesbians to live lives was a reasonably debatable cultural flashpoint.
Today, as I was thought about both the NPR piece and the bullying binge, I thought of David Wojnarowicz. The New York-based Wojnarowicz made art about the right of humans to be different from each other and about what it feels like to be unlike the dominant hetero-norm.
David Wojnarowicz, who was the subject of a 1999 New Museum retrospective, made art so different, so plain and so direct that it stands as an example: It’s not just activists and politicians that can impact America and American lives; artists have something to say about our world too, something that needs to be seen and heard.
Twenty years ago, Wojnarowicz made this piece, Untitled (One day this kid…). He made it as a 30 3/4-inch X 41-inch photostat, but it’s probably gained more cultural currency as a postcard available at just about every progressive bookstore in New York. This seems like a good time to post it. It also seems like a good time to suggest you visit and support GLSEN and that you share Wojnarowicz’s work with, well, everyone you can think of. Especially young people, all of them.
(Update: These five museums own this piece. Encourage them to install it now.)
The work Fred Wilson proposed for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, E Pluribus Unum, takes a cue from Indianapolis’ huge downtown Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (at right, image via Flickr user Phil King, and detail below via Flickr user OZinOH), a neo-classical enormity designed by German architect Bruno Schmitz and completed in 1901. One of the figures on Schmitz’s memorial is an ex-slave, as symbolized by the African-American man’s bare torso and the apparently recently broken chain and shackles. (The Col. Eli Lilly Civil War Museum is in the base of the memorial. It chronicles Indiana’s Civil War history.)
Wilson proposed to create a sculpture out of Indiana limestone that would isolate that figure, mostly remove the signifier of bondage and to slightly him. Into his figure’s outstretched arm Wilson would place a flag that represents the African Diaspora. Wilson’s sculpture would be visible from the existing memorial. (This excellent short video features Wilson presenting and explaining the project. The proposed flag is below.)
As I noted this morning, initial public reaction to Wilson’s artwork was muted. The Indianapolis Recorder, Indy’s black newspaper, published what was by all accounts a thorough, considered story on Wilson and his sculpture in early September. (The story is no longer online.) The story was apparently mild, but the reaction to it was not.
On Sept. 16, the Recorder published an inflammatory letter from former Indiana Public Schools teacher and board member Leroy Robinson. In his letter, Robinson excoriated the project. “[T]his is not the 19th century and the African-American community in Indianapolis does not need another ‘image’ in downtown Indianapolis to remind us of how downtrodden, beat down, hapless, and submissive we once may have been,” Robinson wrote. “We don’t need any more images of lawn jockeys, caricatures… no more buffoonery, no more shuckin’ and jiven’, and no more ape-ish looking monuments.” Along with the letter the Recorder ran a picture of a lawn jockey, which likely confused readers because the image was unrelated to anything Wilson has proposed.
“We’ve been working for four weeks to correct misinformation, to re-publish renderings,” Indianapolis Cultural Trail curator and public art project coordinator Mindy Taylor Ross told me on the phone last week.
Wilson understands Robinson’s position — he just disagrees with it. “Images are obviously at the heart of racism because we look different,” he told me, also in a phone conversation. “So the manipulation of images has been a part of the bone of contention for a long, long time in the African-American community because it’s been kind of controlled by others.”
Indianapolis’ African-American community seems eager to join the debate that Robinson’s letter started. (The Indianapolis Star has covered the dust-up, but in a somewhat odd, what’s-this-about manner.) The conflict came to a head last week at a community meeting held at Indianapolis’ Madame Walker Theater. Almost 300 people showed up to talk with Wilson and to debate his artwork. According to both Ross and Wilson, the overwhelming majority of the audience was interested in having a thoughtful discussion and a large majority of the audience was supportive of the work. Both thought that about a dozen people made dialogue difficult by regularly interrupting and initiating a ruckus.
“It was just one of those situations where there are hundreds of people there and the loudest voices get heard and everyone else gets drowned out,” Ross said. “After the letter to the paper, we looked at it as we’re kind of starting over again. It was the meeting at which we re-introduced Fred.”
After the sometimes contentious and out-of-control meeting at the Madame Walker Theater, Wilson went on the most important black radio program in Indianapolis, “Afternoons with Amos.” Wilson spent nearly an hour discussing his project with the host, Amos Brown, and dozens of callers. (Audio from the show is available here.) The overwhelming majority of the callers were in favor of the project. The discourse was polite, considered and substantive.
“We are not against you Mr. Fred Wilson, not whatsoever,” one caller said. “Nor are we against art, nor are we against the the cultural trail. But we’re against the use of another slave image in downtown Indianapolis. No other race or ethnicity is being depicted in their worst moment in American history on that trail. Once again, welcome to our city.”
Another caller: “At one point we were concerned about the Confederate flag flying over state buildings and now we’re concerned about an image of slavery being placed in front of our city’s buildings. I think it’s confusing and I wonder: What if someone wanted to place swastikas on the cultural trail as an image of expression? Or if someone wanted to place nooses around trees? Who decides what is appropriate and what is not appropriate?
“I don’t think this should be a popularity contest where [you have people saying] I like this and I like that… I think this is a little more serious, maybe too serious for a cultural trail. I think Mr. Wilson should get his commission and he should be paid to do this piece ,but maybe there would be a better venue. When you have a cultural trail and public art and none of the [other] artists [did something quite like this]… there were no white leaders called or focus groups around that art. They had to know that this piece would bring some controversy. So in talking about disparity, it’s very unfair for the African-American community to endure all this discussion and constant divisive meetings about this piece when no other ethnic group is faced with this. At a time when we could be spending our time on elections and millions of other things, we’re arguing about a slave downtown.”
I wasn’t at the Madame Walker Theater event, but I found listening to Brown and Wilson on the radio to be particularly instructive. (If I were teaching at an art school, I’d scrub this week’s lesson plan and play it for my class. Brown guided his guest and his callers through a super hour of radio.) It’s uncommon for artists and the non-art-world public to engage in such a direct manner, especially outside the context of an art museum lecture hall, so I asked Wilson what he thought of the openness of the conversation.
“Public art is different from art that ends up in museums or museum collections,” Wilson said. “It’s out there in public and people can interpret it in the way they will and often without any mediation, which is really great. But on the other hand, people are bringing different understandings of art and its forms to it, so one has to be very responsible with that idea. But given that, for me it’s quite amazing that some people couldn’t get past the image of this freed slave as a slave. I thought that by taking him out of context, he became a man and became something else other than just what was placed on him by the tropes of being in the monument.
“I feel like there was such a diversity of opinions from the audience at the Walker Theater and at the radio station because some had the idea it should be a family group there [in my sculpture] or that there should be perhaps a famous African-American simply as a statue, as a monument. Some people thought that perhaps there should be a John Brown or someone holding a gun. So it ran the gamut of emotions of what they would like to see. I personally thought that asepct of the conversation was really great, because my over-arching goal is to have these images discussed around the table and to also think about what the images of African-Americans in monument form should be for the world.
“I guess I would say that positivist imagery is different for different people and I am infusing a different way of thinking about that. I found what I did to be positive. It gets it out of that context it was in so you could see it as original as what it was, that it was an image from the past and not the present. It’s part of my practice to use the same image to make that same point rather than to make a new image. I don’t believe you forget the old image until you really deal with it. ”
I suggested to Wilson that his embrace of the ongoing discourse was a little bit unusual in that art-worlders frequently talk about how much they want discourse, but at the first sign of dissent or discord they retreat back into the comfortable little art-world bubble. Wilson agreed — and pointed to how this Indianapolis conversation is the kind of artist-public discourse wherein art can play an important role as a community protagonist.
“I was really thrilled by all the dialogue,” Wilson said. “It actually invigorated me because I’m hearing from everyone. I was trying to reach everyone before I made the piece and tell them what I do before [the controversy] started to emerge, but I’m dealing with a city here not a museum. Museums are kind of finite. At a museum you can kind of test the water and see what people think and how they react to things given their environment. Information goes in and comes out and work is made. With a city, you realize — or I have come to realize — that as many groups as you speak to there are other groups. You can’t ever reach everyone. So I’m just really thrilled that there’s engagement and talk about art. This conversation is just really unusual. I’ve been really thrilled with it. Everyone in Indianapolis has been great to me and respectful and thrilled with what I do, but even people who are against [E Pluribus Unum] seem to still respect me and my work. They just don’t like this one.
“It’s a conversation with a public with many ideas about what art should be. That excited me, engaged me, and in my mind what I would like is to see more of this play out in actuality. I think a lot of it is also that there’s a history of broken promises and things not happening the way they should there, so the weight that’s put on this particular commission is great. I’m not talking about the people who commissioned my work, I just mean mean the general history [of the relationship between Indianapolis' power structure and the African-American community].”
The future of Wilson’s project is still in doubt as the major funder, the Central Indiana Community Foundation, continues a series of meetings and discussions throughout the city. (The executive director of CICF, Brian Payne, is traveling this week and was unavailable for comment as of publication time. I’ll have him on MAN soon.) Wilson says the piece is final, that he won’t make changes in response to community discussions. Ross and Wilson both said that they are excited by the discussions and the way in which Wilson’s art has emerged as a catalyst for community discussion, but both are unsure what the CICF will ultimately decide.
“If this were to happen it would really engage me and excite me to stay engaged with Indianapolis and to see that something else happens too,” Wilson said. “Some people are saying that there are a million monuments there — second only to Washington in terms of monuments in American cities — so why not have a monument on the statehouse lawn of a famous African-American from Indianapolis. I would stick by them and support that. At this town hall meeting at the Madam Walker Theater, someone said, ‘Why don’t you work with some of the younger artists here?’ I suggested that I certainly would. There’s a lot that could come out of this in a very positive light. We’ll see what happens.”
According to the Recorder, the next public meeting at which Wilson’s sculpture will be discussed is November 5.
Nineteen months after artist Fred Wilson proposed a work of public art for a major new venue in Indianapolis, the project seemed to be moving quietly forward. Titled E Pluribus Unum (at right), the sculpture was commissioned by the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a city-neighborhood-connecting pedestrian and bicycle path. (The ICT is the product of a collaboration between the City of Indianapolis, a regional foundation and several non-profits. It’s becoming a prominent venue for public art in Indianapolis: Sculptures, including a work by Julian Opie, have been placed along the trail and others have been proposed, including this scent-driven piece by Sean Derry.)
Throughout 2009 and 2010, the ICT held a series of meetings to try to introduce Wilson and E Pluribus Unum to the community. Art students showed up and maybe a few other folks did too. The groups that Wilson and the ICT most wanted to engage — the quarter of Indianapolis residents who are African-American — were mostly disinterested. Local black talk radio pretty much ignored Wilson and the project.
“Honestly, it had been a little bit difficult to get a lot of people from the community involved,” Indianapolis Cultural Trail curator and public art project coordinator Mindy Taylor Ross told me last week.
This was both a surprise and a disappointment to the ICT’s organizers. Wilson, who describes describes himself as being of “African, Native American, European and Amerindian” descent, is best known for creating installations that engage and question the traditional display of art and artifacts. Typically his work uses pre-existing objects to raise new questions about historical narratives — or to make points about how those narratives are formed. In 1999 he was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant and he serves as a trustee at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He’s particularly fond of creating works that create conversations, that start people talking about community issues through the prism of art.
Finally, about two months ago the Indianapolis Recorder, the city’s African-American newspaper, ran a story on Wilson and his proposed sculpture. All of a sudden Ross and Wilson had all the attention and dialogue they’d wanted — and more.
Last week I reviewed Susan F. Lake’s Getty Conservation Institute-published thriller “Willem de Kooning: The Artist’s Materials.” The book reveals the oft-startling results of Lake’s technical examination of over a dozen de Koonings in the Hirshhorn’s collection (along with a less-intense examination of some two dozen other de Koonings).
One of the most surprising passages in Lake’s book exposes de Kooning as a faux-action painter who mined his knowledge of how paints and solvents react to create dramatic illusions. Lake’s revelation of some of de Kooning’s tricks reveal the painter as something like an overachieving high-school student who hides how hard he studies so as to look nonchalantly cool around the other boys.
I want to quote Lake’s key passage on Zurich (1947, above, and substantially whiter/more pale than the actual painting, which is warmer, even yellower) because it sets up a post later in the week about Zurich and Woman (1948) and because it exposes de Kooning’s Zurich, one of the artist’s black-and-white paintings, as (mostly) a painterly magic trick:
The appearance of gestural immediacy and unpremeditated spontaneity in Zurich is, to some degree, an illusion. Despite the presence of a true wet-into-wet technique, evident in some of the upper paint layers, paint cross-sections show that the initial black and subsequent white topcoat were built up as distinct layers; the black layer was undoubtedly dry before the upper white paint was applied. The impression of a wet-into-wet painting method actually derives from the artist’s use of paints that could be readily redissolved. When de Kooning applied the white paint to the surface of the lower black enamel, the solvents used to dilute the white partially solubilized the lower black. And, as the artist applied the paint, the mechanical action of his brush worked the lower black up into the upper layer, which shows as dark streaks in the white. The two paints at first slightly repelled one another, but then they dried with a lava-like or marbleized effect, creating the deceptive impression – an impression the artist obviously appreciated – that the white and black paints were intermixed wet-into-wet on the painting support before either had set.
Lake’s revelations about Zurich leads to numerous questions, many of which we may never know the answers to. I’ve been thinking about is how Zurich was likely an important painting for Richard Diebenkorn, who apparently mined it for his 1953 Albuquerque No. 3. (As I detailed here, in Albuquerque No. 3 Diebenkorn mixes elements from de Kooning’s Zurich with an abstraction of Matisse and Picasso compositions of a bust, a bowl and a palette.) I wonder if Diebenkorn saw through de Kooning’s action-illusion, or if he believed the painterly story he was being told…
Later this week: Lake’s research highlights the relationship between Zurich and the first major figure painting de Kooning made after – or during? – his black-and-white phase, and suggests a new way of reading at least one of de Kooning’s black-and-white abstractions.
Once a year, the Tate Modern invites an artist to do something in its cavernous Turbine Hall. The art is inevitably big, smart, engagingly populist, and Flickr-genic. The Turbine Hall show annually generates more press and conversation than any other contemporary art installation in the world. It seems like all of Britain is looking at or chatting about today’s art, in this case Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds. [Image: Sunflower Seeds (detail) at the Tate Modern via Phil Hawksworth.]
Here in the United States, we have nothing of the sort. Oh sure, we have big spaces in big museums, but they’re designed as rental spaces for corporate events and not as art spaces. None of them have ever hosted an installation that has come close to putting art or artists in everyday conversations throughout the country or beyond. Nor will they ever.
So what does Britain have that we don’t? Easy: A single city that dominates the discourse. About a quarter of the people who live in the United Kingdom live in metropolitan London. There’s no British city that has anywhere near London’s clout.
To put London’s dominance of the UK dialogue in perspective, here are the U.S. metropolitan areas you’d have to put together to include about a quarter of America’s population:
- New York (6 percent of the U.S. population);
- Los Angeles (4.8 percent);
- Chicago (3 percent);
- Washington, DC-Baltimore (2.5 percent);
- San Francisco Bay Area (2.5 percent);
- Dallas-Fort Worth (2 percent);
- Houston (2 percent); and
- Philadelphia (2 percent).
If someone could organize (and fund) a contemporary artist doing something significant at MoMA, LACMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, SFMOMA, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the MFAH and the Philadelphia Museum of Art concurrently, a U.S.-based project would certainly generate the pop that the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall installations do. It would certainly be a big deal for the injection of contemporary art into outside-the-art-ghetto conversations.
In a related story, I think this is a gap in our contemporary art community that should to be addressed by philanthropy: Nothing in the United States elevates artists into the context of national or international discourse the way the Turbine Hall has helped put/keep Ai Weiwei in the forefront of discussions about contemporary China. I think the chances of getting all those institutions to do something together is, er, extremely unlikely. (So what could do it? Broadly distributed, nationally and internationally-minded journalism about art would be one way.)
Related: Turbine Hall installations are always big hits on Flickr. This one’s no exception.
- On Saturday night: No. 11 Missouri defeated No. 1 Oklahoma in arguably the biggest win in school history, the San Francisco Giants advanced to the World Series and the Washington Capitals won a weird, wild one in overtime at home. That’s pretty much all that matters. I can’t top that, but there’s still good stuff here…
- When it came to re-defining what painting could be in the mid-to-late 20thC, New York had Elizabeth Murray and California had Kim MacConnel. Neither coast has ever been much interested in the other’s artist: SFMOMA doesn’t have a Murray and while you never can tell with MoMA’s online collection tool, I don’t think it has a MacConnel. Christopher Knight reviews a MacConnel retrospective at MCASD.
- I don’t understand why Roberta Smith is giving the Metropolitan Museum of Art so much credit for the John Baldessari retrospective when the museum is no more than a stop on the tour. The show was organized by LACMA and the Tate Modern.
- Holland Cotter splits the baby with his Paul Thek-at-the-Whitney review.
- The LAT’s Mike Boehm reports that Michael Govan quietly re-upped with LACMA.
- In The Architect’s Newspaper, Jennifer K. Gorsche reports on a Manhattan Gordon Bunshaft being adapted for big-box retail and a Harry Bertoia sculpture that seems to be a casualty of the switch.
- Doug Harvey takes to LA Weekly to write about Alberto Burri at the Santa Monica Museum of Art and nails it.
Earlier this year MAN reported the possibility — in fact the apparent likelihood — that the Guggenheim was accepting corporate cash in return for an exhibition and a Gugg-washed corporate promotion. (Alas: Instead of covering that story, the NYT is more interested in hot dog carts near the museum.)
Then yesterday Artinfo reported that the Guggenheim is planning a fluff show at the Gugg Bilbao. So is it official: Is the ethics-be-damned, outlaw Guggenheim of the Krens-era back?