It is the 100th anniversary of the execution of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by the fascist Freikorps in Berlin. After several years of unsuccessful attempts, a memorial to these and others killed in the German phalanx of the Bolshevik Revolution was finally built in Berlin’s central cemetery in 1926. It was designed by Mies van der Rohe with the sculptor Herbert Garbe.
According to Edward Fuchs, who was instrumental to the project, Mies said, “As most of these people were shot in front of a brick wall, a brick wall would be what I would build as a monument.”
At the Charnel House from whence these images come, Ross Wolfe notes that the jagged bricks of the memorial “had been assembled from the bullet-riddled remains of buildings damaged or destroyed during the Spartacist uprising” Luxemburg and Liebknecht triggered. It became an iconic backdrop for speeches, and the site was the focus of annual memorial marches and rallies until the Nazis destroyed the memorial in 1935.
Wolfe also traces some of Mies’ political shifts, from Bolshevik memorial designer to apolitical pragmatist Bauhaus head as the Nazis came to power, to whatever he was in the US. But wait, there’s more! Mies was also the favored architectural visionary and mentor to America’s own greatest Nazi architect Philip Johnson. He got called before McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951. And he rejected student efforts to rebuild the memorial in 1968, and got protested when his Neu Nationalgalerie opened in Berlin.
I guess I would like to see it rebuilt, bust mostly I’d like to live in it, which is complicated, I know. In the mean time, I will try to find Mies’s HUAC testimony, which seems rather underdocumented onlne.
This weird practice I’ve been exploring leaves me very aware of how I discuss it, and of how works are explained. I try to be accurate about what I actually do, or what a work has to do with me. A lot of times, the work exists, and I announce it. Or I’m stoked to announce it. It’s on view. It is available. Sometimes it is conceptualized. Rarely is it conceived; that doesn’t feel like how it works. It’s not really found, though that is obviously part of the process. Same with declaring it, though I bridle at the ostensible ease, which can make me doubt myself as a Duchampian poseur, or an armchair usurper of someone else’s creative exertions.
But sometimes, rarely, exquisitely, there is a right word to describe the flow from which a perfect product emerges. In this case the word is realized. I realized this work in a hot-tweeted instant about an hour ago. This work was realized at the Hirshhorn Museum.
It is also interesting to me how immediately and completely realizing a work transforms the context and history around it. Something I hated with disgust I now love-hate. This huge, overbearing, aggressively dumb sculpture once seemed to me a monument to its own pomposity and that of the institution(al leadership) that brought it to town, then set it smack in the unavoidable center of things, then promptly discovered it was too big and unwieldy and expensive to get rid of, and that it wasn’t even clear the site’s hollow foundation could support the apparatus needed to remove it, or survive the attempt unscathed.
So yeah, amazing how that’s all changed now. And you can see it during the shutdown. What you can’t do, though, is ever unsee it.
In Bruce Hainley’s new essay on Cady Noland [Artforum Jan ’19, too short at 12 pages] I learned that the artist’s mom, Cornelia Langer Noland Reis, was the co-owner with Maria O’Leary of a world-focused jewelry and fashion boutique in Old Town, Alexandria known as Nuevo Mundo.
The image, with caption, at top, is from a 2015 remembrance of O’Leary, who was a life/style icon to the moms and daughters of Old Town. The image above was screencapped from a checklist of Robert Gober’s 2014 MoMA retrospective. It included a re-staging of his 1999 group show for which Cady Noland made Stand-In for a Stand-In, a cardboard version of a stock.
When David Hammons’ How Ya Like Me Now?, a billboard-size portrait of a blonde & blue-eyed Jesse Jackson was being installed on a vacant lot in downtown Washington, DC in 1989, Black passersby who first encountered it without the soothing benefit of a museum guide or explanatory text took offense–and then a sledgehammer–to it. That incident and that work are now a major part of Hammons’ story.
Four years later, Hammons again encountered local resistance while installing another outdoor sculpture, which was then vandalized, and later destroyed. It all went down on the bucolic campus of Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
In October 1993 Hammons opened a show, curated by Deborah Rothschild, at the Williams College Museum of Art. Yardbird Suite, the indoor installation of boomboxes in trees playing Jazz was chill. The six-ton boulder placed in front Chapin Hall at the center of campus, with antique fans bolted to the top, was not.
Students began questioning and criticizing the piece as Hammons was installing it. He called it Rock Fan, which only seemed to incense those demanding deeper meaning or significance from this work of art temporarily in their midst. [He also told some agitated students that it was called The Agitator.] In Williams’ hyper-privileged and hyper-collegial culture, every gifted scholar was expected to be able to weigh in on everything. In practice, this meant students commented on Post-It notes on literally whatever poster, building, vending machine, or public sculpture they encountered.
They criticized the site, the title, the fabrication, the aesthetics, the imagined expense, and the disruption. Some complaints were reported in the weekly student paper, The Williams Record. Additional back and forth took place a daily student bulletin, plus the Post-Its. While he was on site, Hammons gave as good as he got.
“You don’t have to make it into some big mystery. Damn, relax. Use your energy on something else besides intellectual masturbation,” he said.
Hammons added that he was primarily interested in confronting and challenging people with images that they aren’t used to seeing or which seem out of place. “I’m in the business of making the invisible visible…Most of your eyes are very weak, so you need to see things you’re not accustomed to seeing so that your eyes get much stronger.” [WR 10/26/93]
In the first couple of weeks, a student or students [I haven’t been able to find yet] surrounded Rock Fan with their own sculptural responses: accordion-folded paper fans glued to small rocks [top]. Then came the painters, dousing Rock Fan with purple paint for Homecoming.
On March 3rd, 1994, David Hammons gave a slide lecture at SFMOMA, introduced by curator Gary Garrels, which ends with Rock Fan[s]:
And this is a piece at Williams College called Rock Fans.
This was protested. For about the last five months, they’ve been protesting this piece on their campus. And so some students made fans out of paper and put these little rock fans around the piece. It’s been vandalized and written about.
When the wind blows, the fans actually move. Someone said, “I don’t care how many fans you put on it, it’s not going to fly.”
And this is after Williams students painted the rock. Someone called me and told me that now they feel like it’s theirs, because they painted it their school colors.
Rock Fan was originally meant to travel to SFMOMA, too, but at some point Hammons decided it would not. He left it at Williams; it was removed in April, during Spring Break. The fans went back to the artist. I haven’t found the rock.
In 1997 Hammons appropriated the Williams students’ response to his sculpture to make a new Rock Fan out of a stone and pleated fabric. In 2004 the director of the Williams Museum found out about it at Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s place, and acquired it for the collection. In 2012 Robbi Behr (’97) designed a Rock Fan-themed coffee mug for their 15th reunion.
This installment of Better Read is the first to derive from an Instagram post. A few days ago Gavin Brown posted a picture of a text from what looks like a brochure or handout for his first show of Elizabeth Peyton’s work. The text was by Douglas Blau, and the show was mostly drawings, and in a room at the Chelsea Hotel, because that’s how people rolled in in November 1993.
In 2018, meanwhile, we apparently number our computerized readings of art-related texts slightly out of order. But there is an episode 25 in my drafts, and maybe two episode 22s, so this could be right or wrong or wrong in the other direction. Fortunately, it probably doesn’t matter, since if anyone does anything, it’ll just be to click through to Gavin’s Insta and read the damn thing yourself.
The big score in my search for the collage elements of Robert Rauschenberg’s lost painting, Should Love Come First? was the magazine clipping that said just that.
It turns out to be from True Confessions, a women’s sex and relationship advice magazine. The article was written, apparently, by a reader named June soliciting advice for handling her man. I gave a brief recap of the article in Panorama, and there’s a picture which shows the pullquote, which does
seem to resonate with the situation of Rauschenberg, his new, pregnant, wife Susan Weil, and Rauschenberg’s new squeeze Cy Twombly, at the moment the painting was made:
Will I be able to find happiness married to the man who once jilted me? Or will I always remember that I was second choice?
But I have transcribed the whole thing here. And I now feel sort of compelled to look for the responses that True Confessions readers gave “June” about taking her man–and his new baby–back. What do YOU think she should do? Leave your answers in the comments! Continue reading “This Is My Problem…Should Love Come First?”
Nancy Spector posted this to Instagram today. For the second World AIDS Day, December 1st, 1989, and the first Day Without Art, she and her then-boyfriend/husband-to-be Michael Gabellini unfurled a massive, black shroud from the Guggenheim. The original call for Day Without Art was to close museums, or to cover works of art as a reminder of the art that would not be made because of AIDS-related deaths.
“At the time, we didn’t know the depth of loss we would be facing in the art community,” Spector wrote.
I am so psyched for this. I’ve been deep in another writing thing for a while and couldn’t give it the attention I wanted to when it came out. But I wrote a research note for Panorama, the Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, and it is now available. It is the story of my six+ year search to identify all elements Robert Rauschenberg used in Should Love Come First? a collaged painting that, if it still existed, might be considered one of his first combines.
Back in the spring, when, hope against hope, a nearly blind eBay purchase yielded what I thought would be the toughest piece to find, the painted-over text that gave the work its title, I sent a snap to Michael Lobel, an art historian hero and friend who knows his way around early Rauschenberg & Weil. Because I knew he’d freak out just like I did, and he did. And then he said I should publish it in a peer-reviewed academic context, not just on the blog. And that was just intriguing and daunting enough to attempt it. And that’s what I worked on this summer.
My purpose for tracking down and buying copies of all these elements is, of course, to re-create the painting, which Rauschenberg painted over in 1953. (It still exists, in Zurich. I’ve seen it.) But now that I have (almost) all the pieces, I am stymied anew by how much I don’t know about the painting, including/especially the colors. So my re-creation project will take some more time.
But in the mean time, the amount of info that has been coming off the small pieces of paper I *have* found has been amazing. Meeting Susan Weil in the middle of this process (for another topic, and another husband) has been amazing. And getting the chance to systematically look and think and capture information in a (hopefully) clear and compelling way has been amazing. So thanks to Michael and to the folks at Panorama and to the folks at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. I don’t know when love should come, but I love doing this.
Last year I spotted this structure in a front yard in Washington, DC. It is a wedge-shaped cabin [?] made of wood and siding and decking and corrugated plastic. The translucent plastic panel on the angled side facing the house is hinged and often propped open, like a canopy. There is a small platform in front, but I could not see what, if anything, is inside, without going into the yard.
It reminded me, in the accumulation of fleeting instants I’d see it, of Andrea Zittel’s Wagon Stations.
And her Homestead Units.
And her Cellular Compartment Units.
Those Cellular Compartment Units especially stood out for me, as I wondered what this structure could be for, what could be inside. Zittel created a separate space for each, “single human need or desire from sleeping to eating to reading to watching TV.”
I resisted the impulse to declare someone else’s garden folly a work, and nothing I googled ever brought me any closer to finding one of my own, or figuring out what it is.
I happened to drive by the house again recently, and the structure is still there. So I’ve been thinking of it again.
I had three chairs in my house, but only one in my sitting shed in my front yard, Thoreau did not write.
I just need a quiet place to write, but I live on a very busy street with constant traffic.
Anyway, I’ve decided to go ahead, and let this stay as is, as ed. 1. And I am ready to make another. A structure customized for a single human need or purpose. It could be writing, or reading, or sitting, or showering, or pissing. Actually, there’s already a structure for that.
The artist Elizabeth “Betty” Stokes di Robilant was interviewed by Christie’s in May 2013. Stokes was a longtime friend of Cy Twombly. Their story and relationship and collaboration, and her later erasure from Twombly’s official story, is discussed in Chalk, a biography of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin, which was published in October 2018. Rivkin quotes the interview by Robert Brown, which was published on the occasion of the sale of a painted bronze cast of a 1966 [or 1956, or 1959, or 1980 or 1981, or 1990] sculpture Twombly gave to dee Robilant for her 10th wedding anniversary. Twombly later reworked and cast the sculpture in 1990 in an edition of five. Di Robilant’s three children each got one; she got one, and Twombly got one. Ed. 1 of 5 was sold at Christie’s London on June 25th, 2013, for GBP 1.63 million.
Last winter I was visiting museums on the Mall a lot in order to write this review/roundup. It was pretty grim going, and I don’t think I was wrong about the mood.
These black cubes appeared along my drive, and I would take note of them, think about them. They had an eye-catching, out-of-place presence and no discernible purpose, which made them feel of temporary sculpture. They were also alongside a conduit road whose main feature was not slowing you down on your way, which created a tension, if only for the briefest (passing) moment.
They made me think of Tony Smith’s Die, obviously, but if anything, that easy association pushed back against my own doing anything with these cubes. They also made me think, though, of Smith’s massive 1967 sculpture Smoke, which, like so much of his work, first came into being as black plywood.
Smith built Smoke in one half of the Corcoran’s atrium while Ronald Bladen built X in the other. Or rather, the Corcoran built Smoke and X for Smith and Bladen. The sculptures were commissions, fabricated by the museum’s carpenters for a three-artist show called, “Scale as Content.” [The third work was Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk, which was installed outside, facing the White House and the Washington Monument. The Corcoran ended up owning none of these works.]
Artforum’s retardataire reviewer didn’t like it “as art,” but “Scale as Content” feels pretty on the nose for Smith, who realized Die in six foot steel in 1968 after noodling for six years over a six inch cardboard model. [In 1967 Smith also showed a plywood version of Maze, and published the cardboard version in Aspen Magazine.]
Anyway, these boxes were not placed where they are for artistic reasons. I finally went to investigate them on foot in January. They’re cover/markers for some infrastructure node, presumably related to the construction staging on the lawn between the Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument. They’re close to crosswalks; maybe they’re hookups for eventual pedestrian crossing signals.
But this is not really the time, and these are not in the place, for benign indifference to the apparatus of the state. In this era of plate readers, wifi sniffers, Stingrays, and ICE raids on pizza delivery guys, these black boxes now feel like–like black boxes. Given what we keep finding out on a daily basis in DC, what could we possibly not know yet? You don’t have to be Trevor Paglen to wonder about the menace of ersatz apparatuses popping up on the major thoroughfares of Washington. Are they some nefarious surveillance system in waiting, or one that’s already at work?
The intervening months have also brought Paglen’s Trinity Cube and Rachel Whiteread’s cast voids to town, and so I still pass these cubes and still think. One thing I think a lot about is the point of declaring something a work. Another thing is declaring. Another is a work. Sometimes, during a year of wondering if I’m rationalizing, I wonder if the reflexivity, the impulsion, the emptiness of these things are reasons in themselves. Emptiness as Content.
Though we have emailed several times over the years that I’ve researched her and her first husband’s work, I finally met Susan Weil a couple of weeks ago, and it was awesome. The occasion was the first US show in nearly 40 years of sculpture by her late (second) husband, Bernard Kirschenbaum, which is currently at Postmasters Gallery. Weil discussed Kirschenbaum’s work, and their life together, and her work, and it was great. Our conversation was just published on ARTNews, so go check it out:
[W]e’re used to the idea of calling what he did as sculptural now, because we’ve come through Minimalism, and the artist’s mark, and having things fabricated, but at the time, that was still largely unheard of: that you could order a sculpture. That you could have something fabricated in a shop, and it would be a sculpture. Did he think about that much, or was it not a concern for him?
Well, it wasn’t that way with him, because he wanted to be a part of every step of it. He didn’t order something and then it came. He worked in all the materials, in the actual welding, and finishing, and this, that, and the other. He had to know everything about how things were made. No, he had a beautiful vision.
I somehow had not seen or noticed this 1962 Cy Twombly painting, The Vengeance of Achilles, in the Kunstmuseum Zürich. And I did not see it–or anything, tbh–at the Pompidou’s Twombly retrospective a couple of years ago. But its mountain-like, or volcano-like, form is amazing. Also it’s huge, three meters tall. Most of those marks are within an arm’s reach, but some of them look like they required Twombly’s full wingspan.
Then while looking up more information about it, I realized that one of the equally huge paintings in Fifty Days at Iliam, which Twombly painted 16 years later, and which are at the Philadelphia Museum, is also titled Vengeance of Achilles. Aaaannd I guess that is not a mountain.
[10 minutes later update: Wait, what? I go Googling for some vintage Nine Discourses of Commodus reviews, only to find a Twombly biography that quotes the same Menil Collection conservation interview and the same Nicola del Roscio T Magazine profile I’ve had open in my browser tabs for three years? How did I not know this? Because it is brand new, and dropping in a couple of weeks.]