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“Peace or misery”: The making of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing

  “The draftsman and the wall enter a dialogue. The draftsman becomes bored but later through this meaningless activity finds peace or misery. The lines on the wall are the residue of this process. Each line is as important as each other line. All of the lines become one thing. The viewer of the lines […]

 

“The draftsman and the wall enter a dialogue. The draftsman becomes bored but later through this meaningless activity finds peace or misery. The lines on the wall are the residue of this process. Each line is as important as each other line. All of the lines become one thing. The viewer of the lines can see only lines on a wall. They are meaningless. That is art.”

—Sol LeWitt, 1971 

Over the years, Sol LeWitt developed relationships with a cadre of assistants that he trusted to create his wall drawings — or more precisely, to carry out his legendary instructions for making them. Among them are Sachi Cho and Chip Allen, who cane to the Walker last November to install three wall drawings in the Walker collection; they’re part of the exhibition Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D, on view through April 24. Working with them were two members of the Walker’s installation crew, John Vogt and Loren Smith. Over several weeks, the quartet clocked some 525 hours in the Friedman Gallery, drawing lines, holding a straight edge while someone else drew lines, cleaning up drawn lines, sharpening leads for to draw more lines, and once in a while taking breaks from drawing lines.

Recently, John and Loren reviewed images below showing the installation of two of the drawings, taken by Walker photographer Gene Pittman. Here they weigh in on the whole process from start to finish: interpreting LeWitt’s directives, working with his master draftspersons, dealing with the aforementioned “peace or misery,” and more.

  

Loren: Sachi and John worked on Wall Drawing #9 A [at left above], which was made with all graphite. For Wall Drawing #9 B [at right], Chip and I drew one layer of graphite and then drew primary colors over it. This subtle difference in materials made a huge difference in our working conditions. The colored leads are more forgiving than the dark graphite ones, so lines made with those required more going back.

John:   It’s also important to note how these wall drawings really don’t register in pictures— you have to be in the gallery to see them.
Loren: Up close you can see the tiny imbalances in the lines, further back things look even and precise, and at the distance in this photo they kind of merge into a single, very subtle color.

 

John: This was on the end of one of the walls where we were drawing. It’s not part of the artwork, but is a practice area. We needed a place to practice how to shift from one draftsperson to another in drawing the same line, to see how that transition would look. You need to get the weight of the line right so there’s no apparent difference.

Loren: This testing space was also important because each wall is different, depending on how it’s prepped: what kind of paint was used, and how much it was diluted.

Primary materials: Staedtler two-millimeter drafting leads, both colored and plain graphite. (above and below)  

John: This is the supply table and work area. We also used this green paper to protect the wall after it’s been drawn on. Drafting tape was also used extensively, because it doesn’t leave a residue. You’ll also notice the bundles of red leads: We created drawing tools by taping together three leads with two shorter leads as spacers in between them. It makes the process more efficient, as you can draw three lines at once. Sachi and Chip have fine-tuned this with years of practice—they found that if you use any more than three leads it becomes hard to apply the right amount of pressure. Other technicians have developed their own methods over the years.

Above: Chip Allen and Loren Smith

John: After the wall was prepped, we used drafting tape to mark off the edges for the drawing are, and the cash-register receipt paper on the outside edge was used for marking measurements. It took us a day just to do those measurements, which are like mile-markers to help in checking on your work. The idea was to get approximately nine lines in an inch, but it was amazing to see how far off course you could get with measurements this small.

Loren: You get a regular rhythm going in doing this work, and it involves regular breaks. Resting is as important as drawing; this work becomes physically intense, and your body needs a break.

John: But it’s not like we were totally resting – most of the time, during breaks you’re sharpening leads at the work table.

Loren: So much of what LeWitt was after was not the finished piece, but the concept of the piece. So looking at these pictures of us working, seeing his concept for a wall drawing being carried out, is in some ways closer to his intention. Chip has worked on hundreds of these pieces, and he said that the instructions are really the art—and the act of carrying them out. Apparently LeWitt never actually saw all results of all of his instructions carried out. And he knew people could do them in their own homes, or on a wall anywhere – they just wouldn’t have the original instructions.

Above: Sachi Cho and John Vogt

John: This work becomes intense. Keeping everything mathematically precise required constant adjustments, because even being slightly off over the expanse of the wall would create lines that went way off track. You also try to avoid major accidents, like dropping the straight edge, which could do a lot of damage to lines on the wall.

Loren: I found it interesting that at the top of the wall for Wall Drawing #9 B, there is a visible fracture line, a seam in the sheetrock. The decision was made that this was part of wall’s nature, and we should leave it as is — as evidence of reality, as opposed to perfection.

John: There is no erasing with these wall drawings. Using an eraser would leave a sheen on the wall. Instead, if a line went astray we would ease out imperfections by using drafting tape to lift graphite off the wall, or scrape it off with a razor blade. We could also use paint to cover mistakes, usually as they were made but sometimes later.

 

John: Each wall is about 16 feet tall by 13 feet wide, and obviously, you can’t draw lines across that entire expanse. So we broke up the wall into several sections, and single lines were often drawn by two different people.

Loren: The lines we would all draw would be different in part depending on our “wingspan” – how far your arm extends, or how close to your body you can draw. If you try to stretch and draw farther than your hands and arms can comfortably reach, it creates an inconsistent line. So we needed to avoid patterns emerging in all these lines, and also to avoid any sense of character in the line—you don’t want it to look, say, crisp or authoritative.

 

 

Loren: We saw how the size of a draftsperson was a factor in other ways, too. Sachi drew faster but stopped more often, while Chip, who is considerably taller, was more of a slow-and-steady type. You might think that being taller would be an advantage, but it’s not necessarily so. Chip worked with a longer straight edge, but then he had to deal with it bowing out from the wall, and we would be checking on a line the whole time as we drew it.

John: I would get frustrated if things went off course in making the lines, but Sachi was always very calm and reassuring. We’d talk about Sol LeWitt’s ideal of the “not straight straight line” and debates among draftserpersons about how far that can be taken.

John: Here, Sachi is going back over lines to touch up.

Loren: I think one reason Sachi would return to kind of touch up lines already drawn has to do with something she told us often: it’s always important to have a human feel to the drawings. You don’t want it too perfect, because the evidence of the human hand is key.

In his earlier work, LeWitt was more into man-on-the-street instructions – things anybody could do – but over time, the nature of work changed. He began to make pieces that on some level would be affected by the personality of the person making them, so he wanted those people to have training in how to carry out the instructions. The kind of patience and dedication required to make this work isn’t something that everyone has. So in some sense it’s how he’s made personality a factor in his later work.

John: “Fresh” leads are sharp and ready to be bundled into the 3-lead drawing tool. We used the rags to wipe dust from leads, in order to prevent smudges on the wall.

John: Here, Sachi is marking the center of the wall – one of many reference points we’d make using blue tape and sharpies. The red line on either side of her hand comes from a laser level to make sure things are plumb, or level. With that tool, you quickly find out that even the smoothest-looking floors have lots of undulation.

Loren: We introduced Sachi and Chip to the laser level; before, they had been using old-fashioned levels and plumb lines. In most ways this whole process of measuring and mark-making is very hands-on; it’s kind of retaining a craft tradition, one that in LeWitt’s case goes back to the 1960s. In preparing to draw, there was an emphasis on making tools. John cut down masonite boards for a hand-made version of a straight edge, which had advantages over the manufactured metal kind. They could be longer and were definitely lighter, which is important considering how long you’re holding them against the wall. 

John: We also got them to use the scissor lifts instead of building scaffolding. They were a little unsure of these new tools at first, but they came to like them. There was a kind of a balance between finding new, easier ways to doing things and trusting in Sachi and Chip’s experience and the methods they’ve developed over the years – such as that 3-lead drawing tool. You might be tempted to think there could be different or quicker ways to do something, but in most cases you come to understand the reasons for doing it the way it’s been done for years.

John: Ultimately you just have to accept that it’s a long process, and there’s no way for it to go quicker. It was definitely a marathon, with a pace to it.  I couldn’t do it over and over again—my patience doesn’t go that far. When you start it’s a daunting task, and you quickly realize that it doesn’t go as fast as you might imagine. So you see how it’s going to take time, and you can try to enjoy the ride—you have to—but you also have to focus on what you’re doing all the time. It’s not one of those monotonous, tedious jobs where you’re just going through the motions and trying to use your brain for other things. You have to keep track of measurements, stay focused on making sure your line doesn’t go off course.

 

Loren: Chip and I ended up talking a lot, and we kind of got into a pattern of measuring, drawing, measuring, drawing. Initially I wanted to fight it but if you don’t, it becomes more peaceful actually. Still, if you’re having a day where you felt like you just wanted to be done, it could be agonizing. Your experience depended on what you were bringing to the job on any given day.

John: I’m really glad we did it. It’s an amazing end to all this work. You can imagine what a grid on a wall might look like, but I had no clue as to how gorgeous it would be in the end.

Loren: Taking off the green paper and the tape was like unwrapping a present.

John: I kind of wanted to smash a bottle of champagne on it.

Links to more on Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings and the people who make them: 

Video footage of the installation in progress at Mass MOCA’s Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, a monumental exhibition of 105 works, which opened in 2008 and remains on view until 2033

 A video with Takeshi Arita, one of the most experienced of LeWitt’s technicians, installing a piece at The Art Institute of Chicago

Blog post about the making of LeWitt’s “scribble” wall drawing in a stairwell at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which was completed last October and is, at 2,200-square-feet, the largest ever conceived by the artist

Also on the Walker blogs: an interview with an eight-year-old math-and-geometry whiz who made his own version of Wall Drawing #224, also on view in Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D.

Joseph Cornell and White Magic

After a recent visit to the Walker,  Kari Adelaide Razdow, an EdD candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies at Columbia University’s Teachers College/Department of Arts and Humanities, wrote the commentary below.   In his book Towards a Philosophy of Photography, media philosopher Vilém Flusser emphasizes how “the significance of images is magical,” and that “the magical nature of images must be […]

"Untitled," circa 1968, by Joseph Cornell

After a recent visit to the Walker,  Kari Adelaide Razdow, an EdD candidate in Interdisciplinary Studies at Columbia University’s Teachers College/Department of Arts and Humanities, wrote the commentary below.  

In his book Towards a Philosophy of Photography, media philosopher Vilém Flusser emphasizes how “the significance of images is magical,” and that “the magical nature of images must be taken into account when decoding them.”  While the word “magical” is nuanced with an array of slippery interpretive possibilities, Flusser’s utterances on magic and the image provides illuminating possibilities when examining the work of Joseph Cornell, currently on view at the Walker Art Center.

With an affinity for systematic cosmic abstractions and metaphorical realms, Cornell believed that his art objects embodied elements of “white magic” which counter-balanced the black magic tendencies that he suspected implicitly and darkly lurked within many Surrealist works of art. Cornell’s first solo museum show took place at the Walker Art Center in 1953, and the current Event Horizon exhibition in its galleries allows for a glimpse at his imaginative chambers of constellation shadowboxes, moon-and-starlet obsessed film montage, and lyrical dreamscapes of collage; these Surrealist shards of ephemera allow for a tracing of Cornell’s idealistically suspended and otherworldly representations of reality.

Visually, the crisp idiosyncratic brightness seen within Cornell’s work perhaps does lie in stark contrast to the seductively unstable wisps of chaos often seen within Surrealist art (for example, in Max Ernst’s eerie landscapes).  Even the poet and artist Mina Loy, Cornell’s compatriot, lauded his “hocus-pocus at play with dimension,” which she said awakened a viewer to the sublime, towards white magic.  In the early 1930s, Mina Loy asserted how “’People who get mixed up with black magic do suddenly look like death’s heads’… (Max Ernst looked like ‘a skull with ligaments still attached with the false eyes of an angel.’)  The Surrealists were, she thought, ‘expressive out of the cauldron over which a wizard hangs’.”

Overall, the Surrealist cauldron of chaos presented an experiment-at-play to somehow illuminate the  unconscious, and perhaps for Cornell, representing chaos alone was not a luminous endpoint for a visual manifestation of the unconscious or image magic.

(Note: Midnight Party, a Walker exhibition opening March 19, borrows its title from a Cornell work included in the show, the four-minute film The Midnight Party.)


Works Cited:

Burke, Carolyn.  Becoming Modern, The Life of Mina Loy, p. 380.  New York:  Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1996.

Flusser, Vilém.  Towards a Philosophy of Photography, p. 9.  London: Reaktion Books, 2000.

Loy, Mina.  The Last Lunar Baedeker, p.302.  Ed. Roger L. Conover.  The Jargon Society, Inc., 1982.

An image from "Joseph Cornell," the 1953 Walker Art Center exhibition and the artist's first solo museum show

Digging In: Aaron Spangler on “Government Whore” and other sculptures

Artist Aaron Spangler recounts his inspiration for the carved and painted basswood sculptures currently featured in the exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular. Spangler, whose work is shown at the Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin and at Horton Gallery in New York City, lives 20 miles outside of Park Rapids, Minnesota, on 150 acres of land. “These […]

"Government Whore," 2009-2010

Artist Aaron Spangler recounts his inspiration for the carved and painted basswood sculptures currently featured in the exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular. Spangler, whose work is shown at the Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin and at Horton Gallery in New York City, lives 20 miles outside of Park Rapids, Minnesota, on 150 acres of land.

“These three sculptures came into focus while I was digging a hole for my friend Bruce. We were hand-digging an addition to his underground house, which is a classic piece of hippie back-to-the-lander architecture. As happens when people are toiling with shovels, stories broke to the surface throughout the day, many of which we’ve told to each other before in the course of our 25-year friendship. But this time, Bruce’s narratives about the time following the Vietnam War, during which he moved to the woods and built his homestead, found a different hook in my imagination.

I had been working on an epic twenty-foot-long piece, carving out burrows and protective islands of rural isolation, and I was thinking about how and why young Americans turned to the woods in search of a more meaningful, self-directed life—and how that was mirrored in the western migration of the early pioneers. Bruce started talking about a group of young hippies in Oregon during the 1970s who were living an extremely primitive hunter-gatherer life in the federal forest. When two “shaman” came to join the tribe, they proved disruptive to the sexist arrangement of the commune–women doing women’s work only, the men hunting, and so on–so they were beheaded.  The National Guard then decided to take the tribe out of the forest, and a gun battle ensued. All this is just to say that I had a plan for the piece, but it was at that moment too sensational and not yet detailed, and then I find myself digging a hole for Bruce, a Vietnam vet still trying to find his way forward. Adding onto his bunker by digging out one wheelbarrow-load of dirt after another, we were just working to make things a little more comfortable, putting in a kitchen sink drain so that he could get rid of the buckets. A song that he had written during the first Gulf War kept going through my head: “Government Whore.” Around the campfire it was the song that always seemed to shut the party down, like the sudden bright lights of a bar at closing time. ”

Bruce Brummitt

Listen to an MP3 of Bruce singing “Government Whore” – a field recording made recently by Michael Dagen at Abandoned Scout Camp in Hewitt, Minnesota. Lyrics:

“I spent two years on a foreign shore
Bein’ a government whore
Sold my body, they stole my mind
Told me, “Boy, now you’re mine.”

Those two years ‘neath the southern cross
Turned out to be my country’s loss
Kill commies for Christ, the Chaplain told me
As I prayed on a wounded knee.

Cuz,’Might makes right, can’t you see boy?’
It’s ‘Our country tis of thee, boy’
But killin’ people to set ‘em free … boy,
Seemed like fuckin’ for virginity.

What do you know when you’re only 18
Twelve years of school’s the only life you’ve ever seen
Always taught from government books
Always caught in propaganda’s hooks

So I moved to the woods, where I tried to forget
I had to admit I just didn’t fit
I fight the war most nights in my dreams
I wake myself to the sound of my own screams

But the country didn’t seem to learn from our mistake
We’re still fightin’ wars for big money’s sake
Yellow ribbons decorate our stores
We all have become the government’s whores

What do we learn when we watch our televisions?
We’re lettin’ other people make all of our decisions
Our name’s on the government’s books
We’re all caught in propaganda’s hooks…”

Time Out New York review of Aaron Spangler: Government Whore at Horton Gallery in 2010

Artforum review of Spangler’s 2007 show at the Zach Feuer Gallery

"To the Valley Below," 2009-10

"I Owe My Soul to the Company Store," 2009-10

Dancing in “Sol LeWitt’s Expanding Grid”

In the late ’70s, Sol LeWitt was invited by choreographer Lucinda Childs and composer Philip Glass to collaborate on what would become a landmark work, Dance (presented at the Walker April 7 – 9). In “Sol LeWitt’s Expanding Grid,” critic Ann-Sargent Wooster wrote about how the artist’s film-as-set design for Dance was “a radical and […]

In the late ’70s, Sol LeWitt was invited by choreographer Lucinda Childs and composer Philip Glass to collaborate on what would become a landmark work, Dance (presented at the Walker April 7 – 9). In “Sol LeWitt’s Expanding Grid,” critic Ann-Sargent Wooster wrote about how the artist’s film-as-set design for Dance was “a radical and innovative departure from his previous work”; her essay — excerpted here – was published in the May 1980 issue of Art in America after Dance‘s 1979 premiere. It is also anthologized in Sol LeWitt Critical Texts (I Libri di AEIOU and Incontri Internazionali d’Arte, 1995). Click here for an interview with Lucinda Childs; Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D is on view in the Friedman Gallery through April 24.   

Dance, 1979 performance photo by Nathaniel TilestonDance by Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass and Sol LeWitt, performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December 1979, will take its place in the history of spectacular music-dance-art collaborations that includes Parade (1917), and in itself was a precedent-setting event. The collaboration was unusual because it brought together three individual who since the ‘60s have been working with similar modular structures in their separate disciplines. Though the production turned out to be a synergistic combination for all three collaborators, it was especially significant for LeWitt, whose contribution of a film was a radical and innovative departure from his previous work and has profound implications for his future development.

LeWitt’s black and white film (codirected with Lisa Rinzler) recorded Childs and her company in a studio performing dances that they had previously presented on tour and would later execute on the BAM’s stage. Because of financial considerations, the LeWitt film accompanied only three of the production’s five dances, which are titled Dance 1 through Dance 5. During those three segments, Glass’s music, which was prerecorded to fit the film, took a back seat to the work of his other two partners. When it was performed live in Dance 5, however, the music erupted in full force and dominated the proceedings. Characteristic of this production (and in contrast to the discontinuity which characterizes the collaborations between Cunningham and Cage, Tudor, et al.) was the fact that its three parts – film, dance and music – were designed to synchronize with each other. 

LeWitt’s film, which introduced a grid as the setting for Childs and her company, was projected on a scrim covering the front of the stage. Though the filmed and the live dances were synchronized, they seemed at times to be two different activities, each evoking radically different sensations. The great discrepancy in scale between the film and the actual dance was primarily responsible. Since the filmed dancers appeared ten times larger than the actual ones, the film had considerably greater presence than the comparatively Lilliputian live performance. Indeed, the actual dancers seemed less real than their photographic images. The dissimilarities in scale coupled with differences in the way each was lit made the combined film and performance resemble a synthesized video tape in which disparate events are conflated. The film on the surface of the scrim itself created an image not unlike a giant television screen. And in Dance 1, the blue lighting – the color of TV screens seen through windows as dusk – heightened that similarity. 

The presence of the grid substantially changed the appearance and the meaning of Childs’s dances. Though Childs has used geometric configurations as the basis of her choreography in the past, the existence of those structures – straight lines, triangles, arcs – often had to be intuited. When her dances were placed on a grid in the filmed segments of Dance, however, their mathematical foundation became immediately evident. 

The combination of dancers and grid had exactly the opposite effect for LeWitt’s work: the figures served to humanize it. In the visual arts the inclusion of figures within a grid has been relatively rare. The closest parallel to Dance is Joseph Cornell’s cover design for the March 1942 issue of Dance Index, in which frames from a print of a 1905 film of Loie Fuller dancing are arranged as a grid. For LeWitt, the placement of figures in/on the grid stresses the underlying physical/anthropomorphic quality of his own structures. The figures remind one that his honeycomb sculptures are often built to human scale and that his wall drawings rely on human decision-making and execution. 

Lewitt's "Three x Four x Three," 1984, on a Walker terrace

Of the three dances that incorporated LeWitt’s film, Dance 3 was the most exciting for its suggestions of possible future uses of the grid. Employing split-frame images set at different angles to the stage, LeWitt created the illusion of a latticed cube seen in perspective. The dancers thus appeared to be dancing both within and on top of one of LeWitt’s own sculptural grids, their movements transformed into a three-dimensional tic-tac-toe. They, in turn, completely revolutionized the meaning of the grid – changing its usual abstract, symbolic character to the more functional role of a high-tech piece of furniture. Together, the figures and grid seemed absorbed into the realm of painterly, illusionistic space and the move in some dimension beyond the reality of the stage on which we know they danced. 

LeWitt’s film also had a metamorphic effect on Childs’s solo in Dance 4. When in the fall of 1978 Childs performed a version of this dance in the smaller, more intimate space of the Kitchen, it appeared to be about her control of an electrical current as it passed through her body and was transformed into movement. Unlike most dances, the movements of this one were limited almost exclusively to the upper torso, with Childs using her arms as if they were propellers. 

On the large stage in Brooklyn, all the dances and dancers were dwarfed, and small movements became invisible. That miniaturization was not a great problem for those parts of the performance in which all-over, particulate movement is designed to be seen at a distance and the dancers are meant to resemble atoms ricocheting off each other. Abstraction and depersonalization are, however, less satisfactory for those solos in which movement is more condensed. In such solos, the body’s role as a physical conveyor of meaning is of key importance and even the tension in the muscles of the chest must be visible. 

In Brooklyn, LeWitt’s film functioned as a simultaneous commentary on Childs’s solo, heightening the effect of the dance. When Childs’s movements were frozen in the film, they achieved monumental stillness and immediacy, an intensity that was diffused in the live dance by the space of the large stage. LeWitt’s film provided the type of close-up we normally associate with instant replay in sports coverage and had a similar effect: it concentrated our attention. It also had another more important effect: it conferred iconic status on a figure that might otherwise have seemed to be performing the merely personal activity of charting space with her body. In the context of its filmed doppelgänger, the live dance was expanded and transformed. Seen both singly and stereoscopically, Childs dominated the stage so thoroughly that her solo became a wholly different kind of activity than it was in its earlier version. 

Photo by Sally Cohn

In a recent article on grids, Rosalind Krauss has noted that the “grid announces modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse.” <1> She has suggested that its adoption by artists such as Mondrian and Albers tends to be a terminal posture and that “one of the most modernist things about it is its capacity to serve as a paradigm or model for the anti-developmental, the anti-narrative, the anti-historical.” <2> In both his dance film and in his recent books of photographs, LeWitt has invented a way to sidestep the trap the that grid represents. The art of the late ‘70s (and perhaps the ’80s as well) could be characterized as embracing the personal, the subjective and the narrative. By incorporating those qualities into his grids, LeWitt has found a way to revitalize structures that had seemed impervious to change and that had previously been identified only with an impersonal, objective art. 

1 – Rosalind Krauss, “Grids,” October 9, Summer 1979, p. 51 

2 – Ibid., p. 64

The Spectacular of Vernacular: Revel In The Everyday

Embracing the rustic and the humbly homemade as well as the clash of street spectacle and commercial culture, the new exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular explores the role of vernacular forms in works by more than two dozen artists. It focuses primarily on pieces made since the 1970s that incorporate—and at times revel in—craft, folklore, roadside kitsch, […]

Embracing the rustic and the humbly homemade as well as the clash of street spectacle and commercial culture, the new exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular explores the role of vernacular forms in works by more than two dozen artists. It focuses primarily on pieces made since the 1970s that incorporate—and at times revel in—craft, folklore, roadside kitsch, and other, often-overlooked relics of daily life. The essay below was published in the January/February issue of Walker magazine; it was adapted by Julie Caniglia and Camille Washington from a piece by curator Darsie Alexander in the Walker-designed exhibition catalogue, available at the Walker Shop.

Lari Pittman, “Untitled #30 (A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation),” 1994

A singular brand of material culture, the vernacular has stood out since the 1960s as an abundant source for artists’ critical interrogations. Never before has there been such a profusion of purchased, found, and otherwise inherited surplus, or such an array of categories by which artists might process and understand this wealth of commodities and castoffs. As European and American artists veered away from the imposing physicality of painting over the past half-century, they have connected with commonplace activities and made use of the residual elements of lay culture as platforms for art.

Too rustic to be called “Pop” and disconnected from the ongoing evolution of Duchamp’s famous readymade, the vernacular represented—and still does represent—something more humble and, significantly, homespun: enduring artifacts such as handmade welcome plaques, amateur snapshots, knitted afghans, and other folksy items that, for better or worse, often carry sentimental associations. Such objects also suggest a world of cozy comforts and heartwarming family moments—associations artists often feel compelled to revise, critique, and upend in ways both humorous and unsettling.

Siah Armajani, “Closet Under Dormer,” 1984-1985

Originally a linguistics expression, the vernacular eventually came to be broadly applied to regionally or culturally specific qualities of architecture, cuisine, or folk tradition. It is in this larger sense that many of its features reflect discourses on contemporary art, such as the casual, informal modes of expression that counter aesthetic hierarchies and traditions; or the idea that, even at a time of sweeping global exchange, material culture derives much of its meaning from its geographic point of origin.

The Spectacular of Vernacular brings together 27 artists whose work fosters a dialogue between contemporary art and the creative manifestations of lay culture. Many draw upon the distinguishing qualities of a place, for example—cultural markers visible in the churches, houses, and roadside attractions—or call attention to rituals and traditions in unusual or provocative ways.

Among them, Minnesota-based artists in the exhibition look to rural architecture and culture. Though Siah Armajani’s identification with buildings “of a certain place” is just one aspect of his work, it is fundamental. For him, the kind of vernacular found in the barns, bridges, and houses of Pennsylvania and New England is the visual vocabulary of a 19th-century ethos characterized by frugality, simplicity, and community—a vocabulary that the artist reshapes  into freestanding wood sculptures and enclosures at once deeply evocative and resolutely modern.

Aaron Spangler’s autonomous, intricately carved, black-painted sculptural objects tap a dense field of aesthetic references even as they lay claim to a knowledge that comes from his direct experience of living in rural northern Minnesota and making art about and within that condition. By incorporating overt references to a vernacular steeped in the Midwestern landscape—guns and machine parts, haystacks, wildlife—Spangler confronts and repurposes the inherited symbols of a particular terrain.
Just as some artists build on a sustained connection with architecture and other physical features of a specific place, others explore the vernacular through objects and everyday traditions that vary from culture to culture and region to region. For instance, Marina Abramovic’s 2005 video Balkan Erotic Epic: Women Massaging Breasts interprets pagan fertility rites as a performance of sorts, in a manner at once tongue-in-cheek and undeniably serious.

Marc Swanson, “Untitled (Looking Back Buck),” 2004

Additionally, it’s difficult to sidestep the observation that artists often seem drawn to the absurdist properties of ritual and the normalized values they appear to reinforce. Marc Swanson deals with the gendered nature of boyhood customs such as camping and hunting from the standpoint of an out adult. In his 2010 sculpture Antler Pile (pictured on the back cover), a formation of rhinestone- encrusted antlers evokes disco balls and nightclub décor—a far cry from the taxidermic trophy icons of his New England youth.

Another arena for vernacular objects, such as ceremonial flags and family snapshots, is situated in the industry and practices surrounding death in modern society. Dario Robleto’s art is in visible dialogue with these traditions, stepping out of time to tap 19th-century mourning rituals that today feel both quaint and distant. Positing that “an artist has to remember while others forget,” Robleto positions his art on a long continuum that includes unnamed and unknown makers whose work is typically forgotten: the seamstresses and mothers who prepared memorial wreaths, sewed mourning attire, and braided hair flowers upon the deaths of loved ones, for example. Featuring an assortment of materials ranging from bullets found on the battlefield to vinyl records, the products of Robleto’s craft-based process, which incorporates skills once transmitted from parent to child, would once have been called “labors of love”; today they must be regarded as a tribute to a form of vernacular that has virtually disappeared.

In contrast to older models of vernacular meant for things that wore the patina of age and tradition, another definition was developed in the 1970s that responded to such dramatic shifts in the American landscape as a rise in residential developments, billboard advertising, and strip malls. Decidedly loud, visually pervasive, and dominantly commercial, this newer subgenre is exuberantly embodied by Lari Pittman’s massive painting, A Decorated Chronology of Insistence and Resignation #30 (1994). Beckoning with its ballast of colors and slogans, it offers a spectrum of services to be bought and bartered: sex, love, and fast cars, brought to you by two ubiquitous credit card companies whose logos appear on the edges of the canvas like discreetly placed cash-register decals. In this sales world, however, nothing is discreet—least of all the art.

Pittman’s works are testaments to the power of the ornamental, or what he would term “junky secularism.”In some ways, to understand the vernacular is to accept that objects can contain values reflecting prevailing beliefs, class and social standing, and personal background. In this sense, the vernacular is strikingly effective in perpetuating established modes of conduct; hence its frequent association with tradition, simplicity, and craftsmanship—or, in Pittman’s case, consumerism. Yet artists are typically resistant to such assimilation, producing their work to expose the perversity of what is taken for granted in culture. If vernacular itself affirms a cozy comfort in the familiar, the art it inspires is often conceived to do just the opposite. The Spectacular of Vernacular exposes this dynamic between comfort and its subversion with artworks that may appear playful, rambunctious, or cheerfully familiar on their surfaces, but often reveal darker complexities upon closer investigation.

Yves Klein and the patron saint of lost causes

  “I wanted to know how the Mother Superior, as a religious person, understood the idea of immaterial sensibility coming from an eccentric, avant-garde artist such as Yves Klein. She told me, ‘Oh, that’s totally normal—it’s faith. He had faith, and he called it immaterial sensibility.’ For her, nothing was surprising.” – Philippe Vergne , […]

 

"Ex-Voto dedicated to Saint Rita of Cascia" by Yves Klein, 1961

“I wanted to know how the Mother Superior, as a religious person, understood the idea of immaterial sensibility coming from an eccentric, avant-garde artist such as Yves Klein. She told me, ‘Oh, that’s totally normal—it’s faith. He had faith, and he called it immaterial sensibility.’ For her, nothing was surprising.”
– Philippe Vergne , co-curator of Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers

  

Yves Klein reveled in provocation throughout his short artistic career—his 1960 “leap into the void” and his use of nude women as “human paintbrushes” being only two of the more notorious examples. What has been explored less often is the devout Catholicism that compelled him to create a contemporary votive offering, which he quietly donated to an Italian monastery. In this interview, originally published in the November/December 2010 issue of Walker magazine, Philippe Vergne, co-curator of the exhibition Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, talks with Julie Caniglia, the magazine’s managing editor, about how this mysterious, rarely seen artwork came to be lost and then found, and the unusual story behind its inclusion in the retrospective.

 

Julie Caniglia: The Ex-voto dedicated to Saint Rita of Cascia by Yves Klein was a key loan for you and co-curator Kerry Brougher. Why is that, and what role does this work play in the show? 

Philippe Vergne: Actually, I like to joke that it would have almost been enough to have just the Ex-voto as the entire exhibition. On its own, it’s kind of a mini-exhibition of Yves Klein’s work: all of the elements are there, and it shows a commitment to the colors that he has always used, including the gold. There’s also the relation of this work to his spiritual side. Klein always said that his paintings and sculptures were the “ashes” of his art, so to have to have some kind of a reliquary in the show was important. And the other part of it is that I don’t think this work has ever been shown in America, because it came to people’s knowledge kind of late. 

Caniglia: Why was the work unknown for so long? 

Vergne: The story is that Klein was a believer in Saint Rita, the patron saint of lost causes. There is a little Augustinian monastery dedicated to her in a remote town in central Italy; Klein went there in 1961 with Rotraut, his spouse, and gave them this reliquary. It was done extremely discreetly; nobody was really aware of it until, I think, after the 1979 earthquake. This piece was discovered as they were restoring the convent, and it took a bit of time for them to figure out what it was. I think the first time the convent let the work out of their sight was for the Pompidou Center’s Yves Klein retrospective in 2006. Now it’s in our show, of course, but I don’t think people are going to have the opportunity to see it many other times. 

Caniglia: So Klein didn’t really talk about this work—was that discretion unusual for him? After all, he had quite a flair for publicity and drama. 

Vergne: I’m not sure it was against his conventional practices as an artist. I think the spiritual element was actually fully part of who Klein was, but people never really pinned down his real personality. That’s why it was important to have the work in the exhibition, because it shows an aspect that takes him in a different direction than purely “avant-garde modernist artist.” 

It’s also a piece that comes with questions. It’s always complicated when an artist, at least a 20th-century, avant-garde artist, involves religion or spirituality in their work. It’s not really part of what contemporary art has been known for. 

Caniglia: Why has this work been referred to as a reliquary, and how does Klein’s contemporary art version compare to a traditional Catholic one? 

Vergne: Unlike traditional reliquaries, there are no bones, no locks of hair, no physical sense of a person that was involved—just the spirit is present. I’m convinced that this work is related to  protecting these very high ideals of art that Klein had, and his belief in the power of art to affect people’s lives. For him, art was not attached to any material object, but it was about what he called “immaterial sensibility”—a way to see the world, which is more about the senses, and about something we cannot pin down. He had a very early awareness that what constitutes art is more in the way you go through your life than in the way you look at an object. The object can only inform us about how we could go through the world. 

Caniglia: How do the nuns at the Monastery of Saint Rita see the Ex-voto?m 

Vergne: When I went to Italy with the loan forms for the work, Badessa Reverenda Natalina Todeschini—the Mother Superior of the convent—organized a meeting so that we could talk about Klein. I wanted to know how she, as a religious person, understood the idea of immaterial sensibility coming from this eccentric, avant-garde artist. She told me, “Oh, that’s totally normal—it’s faith. He had faith, and he called it ‘immaterial sensibility.’ ” For her, nothing was surprising. But it was amazing for me that it was actually something quite relevant in her life. That’s also for me what this piece is about: the absolute openness in the ways you can understand a work of art. 

Caniglia: And she stood apart from a lot of people in how she thought about Klein’s work? 

Vergne: Yes. One of the values of Klein’s work is that there are multiple levels of entry. She was able to figure out the way she was going to deal with this work and weave in her own construct and her own belief system. This particular work, despite its small size, does seem to encompass so many of his ideas and so much of his philosophy. After working on this show, I took Klein out of 20th-century modern narratives and thought of him as someone who was actually reaching out to many historical backgrounds and cultures. I’m not trying to justify or find an explanation for his work within 20th-century art. I’m more interested to see Klein in a timeless way, beyond 20th-century modernity. 

He has this passion for Santa Rita as the patron saint of lost causes, and then he has this absolute belief in the capacity of art to make a difference. And maybe there’s something critical there, saying that in this culture, art—the absolute purity of art, art that is not compromised—is a lost cause. These absolute standards that Klein believed in were maybe for him like a lost cause. It’s interesting to read the little prayer embedded in this work. He’s praying to become a better artist. It’s a very moving, genuine gesture. 

  

“May my enemies become my friends, and, if that is possible, may any attempt against me never harm me. Make me and all my works invulnerable. So be it. … Saint Rita of Cascia, saint of impossible and desperate cases, thank you for all the powerful, decisive, marvelous aide that you have granted me up to now. Thank you infinitely. Even if I am personally unworthy of it, grant me your aide again and always in my art and always protect everything that I have created so that even in spite of myself it should always be of great beauty.”
Yves Klein, excerpt from “Prayer to Saint Rita,” a handwritten document placed within the votive, February 1961 

  

Caniglia: So that’s another level of contradiction with Klein: his absolute faith in art versus dedicating one of his works to the saint of lost causes. 

Vergne: When you read his writing, there were his friends and a few people around him that he was giving some credit to, but I think he was very critical of most of the art of his time. I also see in this work a connection to illuminated manuscripts from the middle ages, made by monks who were also artists. The Ex-voto is not a book, of course, though there is a component of writing, and the subject overall is a part of this tradition. 

Caniglia 

That subject being one’s devotion to something? 

Vergne 

To an ideal, to a very high ideal. Whether it’s religion or not. Klein was criticized because he had this attachment to religion and ritual, but above all this little reliquary shows his commitment to higher standards. When you look at his life and his commitment to judo—he went to the ultimate extreme and was one of the highest judo athletes in France. With art he was the same, there was no compromise, no mediocrity, it has to be as pure as possible. I think this reliquary is dedicated to that striving. 

Caniglia 

Speaking of striving, you literally went out of your way so that Ex-Voto would be a part of the exhibition. Can you talk about how this loan was carried out? 

Vergne 

Klein made an extraordinary gesture with this artwork and that’s reflected in how it’s treated by the monastery. I don’t think the Mother Superior would have allowed it to leave the convent without a meeting with one of the exhibition organizers. She was basically saying to us curators, “If you really want this work of art, you’re going to have to come and tell me why. It cannot be treated as one more object. You’re not going to just send a loan form, you’re going to have to come and sweat a little bit because this object is extremely important.” 

On the other hand, she was kind enough to meet me at a cloistered convent in Rome so I wouldn’t have to make the long drive to her convent at Cascia. We were in a little room accessible to visitors, but divided wall-to-wall by a table: one side for guests and the other for nuns. They brought me coffee and cookies. Through a translator, we entered this conversation talking about Klein’s work and how important it was to have the Ex-Voto in the exhibition. Then we read the entire loan document word for word, all of the details about insurance and transport, everything. It was really like a ritual. Then we had a conversation about immaterial sensibility. 

I also got to tell her a story about the well-known Leap into the Void photo—how the house that Klein leapt from outside Paris later became a church dedicated to Saint Rita, through absolutely no relationship with Klein. I thought this was extraordinary, but she said, “No, it’s normal.” I thought she meant for Klein, but she said, “No, for him,” pointing her finger to the sky. 

Before I met with the Mother Superior I got to see a part of the convent closed off to the public where some absolutely gorgeous 13th-century frescoes were being restored. That, too, became part of the Yves Klein exhibition for me. I see it as an example of Klein’s immaterial sensibility: I am made of all these little layers of experience, which came together in the making of the exhibition. 

Caniglia 

This all sounds definitely out of the ordinary for the way the art world works, as you said. 

Vergne 

This experience reminded me of how exquisite art should be, how rarified real art should be. We too often end up considering artworks as commodities. Or we organize exhibitions and send loan forms and get a signature back and that’s it—no conversation, no ritual. Art deserves more than that. The ritual that Klein developed around this reliquary brings to mind someone who valued a work of art as a gift. To consider a work of art as an offering is to me something that is quite interesting. 

And the ritual that the Mother Superior requested around this work—for me it has become a part of the exhibition. I ended up seeing how it was one of the most relevant things to do: if you want a work of art, you go pay respect to it and to the person who cares for it. It slows things down and you start to think, “Why am I going to Italy to ask for a piece that is not much bigger than my cell phone?” She is asking the right questions. She is enforcing the idea that art is a very exceptional thing. I know I sound a little bit naïve, huh? The fact that there is no trace of that conversation is what Klein considered immaterial sensibility. But it matters, because we were two people from very different walks of life, meeting and having a conversation. At the end, that’s what art is about.

Feminism and Yves Klein’s Anthropométries

At a graduate student in art history, I was excited to be working at the Walker as a public relations and marketing intern when the Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers exhibition arrived here last October, after its presentation at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C. Its challenge to viewers to experience the art of pure color as envisioned […]

At a graduate student in art history, I was excited to be working at the Walker as a public relations and marketing intern when the Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers exhibition arrived here last October, after its presentation at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C. Its challenge to viewers to experience the art of pure color as envisioned by Klein is alluring, but while taking a course last fall on feminist theory in art, I became particularly interested in Klein’s artistic philosophy with his Anthropométries. I decided to do some digging in the Walker library—which is open not just to Walker staff, but also to the general public by appointment—to see how Klein’s usage of nude females in these works — as both “living brushes” and “pure color” — might relate to feminist concepts of “the ideal” or “empowered” woman.

1 – Klein’s “Suaire de Mondo Cane,” 1961. See credits below.

Klein’s idea for the Anthropométries stemmed in part from his practice in judo, as he became fascinated by the markings left on the mat as a judo fighter fell. His initial experiment into using the human figure as a medium dates back to June 1958 in a friend’s apartment. It was here that he first applied blue paint to a nude model and guided her in rolling across a sheet of paper that had been placed on the floor. Surprisingly, this initial work troubled Klein. To him, the heavily-coated paint traces left by the body on the paper were too much about the workings of chance and spontaneity. However, he continued to be intrigued with the idea of using “living brushes” and in February 1960 staged a live public premiere at his own apartment utilizing his new medium.Klein gave a signal to his model Jacqueline to first undress and then to cover her breasts, stomach, and thighs in blue paint. Under his supervision and direction, she pressed herself against a sheet of paper fixed to the wall.The torso and thighs of the female body had been reduced to pure essentials; to Klein, it was an anthropometric symbol that served as the pure canon of human proportion, and he called it “the most concentrated expression of vital energy imaginable.” He believed that the model’s impressions represent the “health that brings humans into being,” and that their presence in the work “transcends personal presence.”

My library research brought me to an article from Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, in a special 2006 issue, “New Feminist Theories of Visual Culture.” In “Behind Enemy Lines: Toxic Titties Infiltrate,” the collection of writers/feminist art collective known “Toxic Titties” compares a Vanessa Beecroft performance at the Gagosian Gallery  with Klein’s Anthropométries, and they are quick to judge Klein’s artistic process. The collective’s Julia Steinmetz views Klein’s usage of nude females as “live brushes” as the artist distancing himself from his subject matter and thus his artistic process. As Klein attempts to create art in this detached state, directing his models to smear themselves with paint and roll on the floor or press against a wall, inevitably the artist-to-model relationship develops into a power dynamic.

Criticizing Klein for this “authoritative power struggle,” the article questions whether Klein considered the notion that those with power or authority often have the ability to remove or distance themselves from a dirty, uncomfortable environment. By “conducting” the motions of beautiful nude models, Klein has ultimate control over his female subjects, thus limiting the female body not only as an object for the male gaze, but also as a tool for representing, expressing, and enforcing patriarchal values.

2 – Yves Klein and a model during an Anthropometry performance at the Galerie internationale d’art contemporain, March 9, 1960. See credits below.

Contrary to Steinmetz’s view, the critic Pierre Restany, who described his close friend Klein as a visionary who “charmed and stimulated [me],” took a chance on the artist in 1955 mainly because his artistic philosophy and process abandoned centuries of traditional, conservative, classic French art. It was Restany who  came up with the title Anthropométries de l’époque bleue; looking at this body of work in more formal and even spiritual terms rather than social or feminist ones, he marveled at Klein’s usage of just one color in the Anthropométries because it “took art beyond the art of painting. The work moved beyond the incorporation of art into architecture, and beyond vibration as a sign of life.”

To Restany, the Anthropométries emptied all previous perceptions of line and form and focused only on color. It is here, he felt, that the spirituality of art is born; those who would see the Anthropométries as performance or body art simply did not understand Klein’s notions of energy or his ideas of “pure color.”

I see the value in both of these perspectives, especially as a woman. But I still find it difficult to disregard Klein’s artistry and innovation. He recognized and admired the workings of past artistic geniuses, but also felt so many traditions were far too academic and imprisoned the artist to just their studio and the subject. Klein’s use of “living brushes” was an effort to break out of this mold. He believed himself reincarnated not by the shape of the female body, but instead by the emotional atmosphere it embodied.

Perhaps a healthy compromise between these views on Klein’s Anthropométries exists in the artist’s own attempt to explain his use of the female nude: “Certainly the entire body consists of flesh, but the essential mass is the trunk and thighs. It is there that once finds the true universe hidden by our perceptions.”

Image Credits

(1) Yves Klein. Suaire de Mondo Cane [Mondo Cane Shroud], 1961. Dry pigment and synthetic resin on gauze. 108 x 118-1/2 in. (274.3 x 301 cm). Collection Walker Art Center. Gift of Alexander Bing, T. B. Walker Foundation, Art Center Acquisition Fund, Professional Art Group I and II, Mrs. Helen Haseltine Plowden, Dr. Alfred Pasternak, Dr. Maclyn C. Wade, by exchange, with additional funds from the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2004. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

(2) Yves Klein and a model during an Anthropometry performance at the Galerie internationale d’art contemporain, March 9, 1960. Courtesy Yves Klein Archive  © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo by Shunk-Kender, Photo © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

Sources

Klein, Yves, and Klaus Ottmann. Overcoming the Problematics of Art: the Writings of Yves Klein. Putnam: Spring Publ, 2007. 185-94. Print.

Ottmann, Klaus, and Yves Klein. Yves Klein by Himself: His Life and Thought. Paris: Editions Dilecta, 2010. 235+. Print.

Steinmetz, Julie, Heather Cassils, and Clover Leary. “Behind Enemy Lines: Toxic Titties Infiltrate.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31.3 (2006): 1-30. Web.

Weitemeier, Hannah, and Yves Klein. Yves Klein, 1928-1962: International Klein Blue. Benedikt Taschen, 1995. 51-65. Print.

Words + Pictures: Alec Soth’s winner for Flickr assignment #4

With the annnouncement of a winner for his fourth group photo project on Flickr, Alec Soth winds up a series that has been running in conjunction with From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, the Walker survey closing January 2. He writes:  “Thanks to everyone who participated in the 4th and final Flickr assignment. I’ve learned so […]

With the annnouncement of a winner for his fourth group photo project on Flickr, Alec Soth winds up a series that has been running in conjunction with From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, the Walker survey closing January 2. He writes: 

“Thanks to everyone who participated in the 4th and final Flickr assignment. I’ve learned so much from these assignments and love the way they relate to my exhibition at the Walker. The reason this exhibition is called ‘From Here To There’ is to emphasize that the process of making pictures is as important to me as the subject I’m photographing. In a sense, my movement through America is the subject.

With these Flickr assignments, I’ve been trying to guide participants toward revealing their own process. The idea of this final assignment was to use text to narrate the photographer’s encounters. In many ways this assignment harkened back to the winner of our 1st assignment, Etienne Courtois. In fact, the runner-up, Vincent Lestienne’s hysterical abécédaire, reminded me a great deal of Courtois’ sophisticated humor. But in the end I chose the more raw and direct series, hide and seek, by Pavel K. Hailo.

1_from-here-to-there

So thanks again to everyone for participating. Hope to see you again somewhere down the road.

 

The Art of the Getaway: Winter trips featuring work by Walker artists

In the spirit of the season, when various media outlets take to recommending more or less extravagant “winter getaways,” we suggest basing a trip on some favorite recent additions to the Walker collections. If you enjoyed swaying in the hammocks that were part of the Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress, on view […]

In the spirit of the season, when various media outlets take to recommending more or less extravagant “winter getaways,” we suggest basing a trip on some favorite recent additions to the Walker collections.

If you enjoyed swaying in the hammocks that were part of the Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida’s CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress, on view at the Walker last summer … 

… then book a flight Los Angeles, where you can plunge into the artists’ psychedelic swimming pool: 

 162548.CA.1202.swimm#731A98

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)  has just opened Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space, described as “the first museum exhibition to situate pioneering Latin American artists among the international canon of those working with light and space.” Its highlight is Cosmococa-Programa in Progress, CC4 Nocagions (above), which, according to the LA Times’ Culture Monster blog, was never realized during Oiticica’s lifetime. But at MOCA, this 90-centimeter-deep pool even comes with a lifeguard and a changing room. Bring your own suit, or buy a disposable one on site. (On view through February 27, 2011.)

It’s hard to see in the image above, but the pool in Cosmococa-Programa in Progress, CC4 Nocagions is surrounded by projections of images from a book by John Cage; that composer’s work is also featured in a stunning installation by Tacita Dean that just opened at the Walker December 16: Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films):

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Fans of this work may wish to jet off to Glasgow for an experience quite the opposite of an L.A. swimming pool. Do as Guardian UK arts blogger Charlotte Higgins did: Trudge through a picturesque snowy park to a “small and exquisite exhibition” of Dean’s work at a gallery intriguingly named The Common Guild, whose attentive staff may even welcome you with a cup of hot tea. It includes the work below, part of the series ‘Painted Kotzsch Trees’ I- VI (Through February 5)

http://www.thecommonguild.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/TD_KotzschI_low-res-359x428.jpg

 

For something rather more monumental from the British artist, wait until October and go to London. That’s when the Tate Modern will unveil Dean’s installation in the cathedral-esque Turbine Hall, which follows Ai Wei-Wei’s current installation of 100 million hand-made porcelain sunflower seeds.

 

 
 

Bits & Pieces: Yves Klein, Alfons Schilling, Goshka Macuga, Fiona Banner

What’s in a name? Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, the title of Klein’s newly opened retrospective, definitely radiates a mysterious kind of cool. But what does it mean? Co-curator Philippe Vergne explains the origins of “Avec le vide, les pleins pouvoirs”  in his essay for the exhibition catalogue, noting that it was a comment […]

What’s in a name?
Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, the title of Klein’s newly opened retrospective, definitely radiates a mysterious kind of cool. But what does it mean? Co-curator Philippe Vergne explains the origins of “Avec le vide, les pleins pouvoirs”  in his essay for the exhibition catalogue, noting that it was a comment left by writer/philosopher Albert Camus in the guest book at Yves Klein’s 1958 exhibition Le Vide (The Void) in Paris. Camus was referring not only to Klein’s aesthetic, but also Charles de Gaulle’s politics: in an attempt to resolve the Algerian War, the French military hero had come out of retirement and seized constitutional “full power”—an act that, Vergne notes, marked “the beginning of a social revolution, and, ultimately, the end of an era.”

 

Touring Minnesota with Walker artist-in-residence Goshka Macuga
Thanks to a surveying error, Walker Art Center founder T. B. Walker and his fellow lumber barons never logged “The Lost 40,” a site that is actually 144 acres, located about halfway between Big Falls and Bemidji in Minnesota’s north woods. Designated by the Department of Natural Resources as a “scientific and natural area,” the Lost 40 boasts the largest stand of old-growth red pine trees in the area, in addition to white pines dating back more than 300 years. Walker artist-in-residence Goshka Macuga visited the site a few weeks ago, along with assistant curator Bartholomew Ryan and staff photographer Cameron Wittig (who took the image posted here — watch the Walker blogs for more from Wittig on the trip). Macuga’s exhibition opens on the other side of winter: April 14, 2011 — for now, here’s a profile on her from Frieze magazine.

New to the Walker collection — and its galleries
Call it the New Old Action Painting: Vienna-based artist Alfons Schilling put a distinctive and kinetic spin, so to speak, on works by Jackson Pollock et al with this work, while also maintaining the enthusiastic claim that he had a hand in inventing spin-art kits for children. The timing is right, since untitled (Ándromeda) spin-painting was made in 1962 (before Damien Hirst, another artist who’s dabbled in this genre, was even born). Designed to whirl at three revolutions per second, Ándromeda is both a powerful object and a performance relic that relates directly to other great works from the era in the Walker collection—which is why it quickly went on display in the exhibition Event Horizon.

A virtual sneak preview of 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection
Mid-term elections are nigh, but some may be curious about the results of another contest: the audience-selected artworks for this exhibition, which opens December 16. Nearly 250,000 votes were tallied in just six weeks: you can view the results here as a running list — starting with the #1 work shown here, Fiona Banner’s screenprint Break Point –or watch a slideshow of each work (featuring a special zoom tool). Note that until the show is installed in December, there’s no way to know how many of these works will make it onto the walls, given the wide range of sizes among them.

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