Odd Couple: Yves Klein and Ed Kienholz
(East of Borneo, October 2011)
Shortly after the untimely death of her first husband, Rotraut Klein-Moquay set out to sea carrying a box of gold leaf. A photograph from that afternoon shows the widow shaded by a sun hat, cradling the gold in her lap just minutes before she and her companion on the trip, Yves Klein’s oldest friend, Arman, would scatter it into the Mediterranean. 1 Despite the circumstances—Klein’s sudden expiry, the reunion of the mourners who seemed to cast into the waves the remains of the lost art phenom, transmuted into the remnants of his gold monochromes—there was nothing lugubrious about the ritual. In fact, its purpose wasn’t even to honor the deceased, but rather to honor an exchange with one of his acquaintances, many miles away in Los Angeles—the artist Edward Kienholz.
A year earlier, when Yves Klein and his wife arrived in Los Angeles following a short stint in New York, Kienholz had greeted the famed French artist with a welcome gift: a briefcase outfitted irreverently with certain items including a bottle of “GoodAire,” a blue-pigment-soaked sponge, and an aerosol can labeled “IKB” (for International Klein Blue). Amused by the gesture, Klein offered Kienholz in return a piece of the Void, one of a series of Klein’s works known as the Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility. This plot of nothingness constituted a heightened state of sensitivity, which Klein typically exchanged for a given weight in gold; but its full transfer could only be completed if the buyer agreed to burn the receipt of purchase (thus leaving no material proof of ownership), at which point Klein would throw half the gold into a river or ocean.
Most accounts of the Zones include only those ritual relinquishments that took place on the banks of the Seine between the years 1959 and 1962, neglecting this posthumous transfer undertaken for Kienholz by Klein-Moquay and Arman. 2 The ritual for Kienholz was an anomaly in several ways: its high officiator had departed, its beneficiary was 6,000 miles away, and its gold was not the purchase price paid by a collector, but a proxy for his gift. Finally, although Klein had exchanged a number of works with other artists during his stay in the United States, Kienholz was the only one to get a Zone.
Why Kienholz? Or for that matter, why Klein? In the early sixties, Kienholz’s work seemed much closer to that of their mutual friend Jean Tinguely, and one might imagine that Klein’s taste for showmanship would have made him “too Hollywood” for Kienholz or anyone in the Los Angeles art scene at that time. Yet Klein certainly had something that captivated Kienholz then, even if it took several years to appear on the surface of his works; something that complemented what the West was and was to become—its vast spaces, its fast money, its dark armatures....
"The Shadow of the Virtual Sun," Spike Art Quarterly No. 41 (Autumn 2014): 88–99.
The virtual sun — that illusive light source loitering off the top left corner of our computer screens — rose in 1980, with the first graphical user interfaces. That sun produced the most durable of the screen age's design features: the drop shadow, whose sempiternal penumbra falls just below and to the right of windows and icons. The drop shadow gestures toward some space in there that obeys similar laws to the one out here, where things can be dragged and dropped, pointed at and piled up, where, in short, gesture itself can happen. But the drop-shadow is not long for this world; the virtual sun is setting, taking with it not just an aesthetic, but an ethic. That our computer screens should defer to a physical world is a concept retreating behind, ironically enough, the touch screen. Recent flat-based design templates like Metro for Windows 8 or Goggle's Material Design green the new interface epoch with a quasi-Bauhausian rhetoric of "truth of materials": Let a pixel be a pixel! No more false shadows in false space.
Were Laura Owen's latest paintings imagined as an elegy to this shadow world? Probably not. But as I sift through images on my own computer screen, trying to remember what it felt like to see them — twelve magisterial paintings, three meters wide and nearly three and a half high — I am awakening slowly to a nostalgia I didn't know was in me, much less in them. What happens to touch when we practice it on pixels, when it falls on surfaces that don't touch us back? ...
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On Getting Up and Giving Up: On Kawara's Lost Luggage
Spike Art Quarterly 42 (Winter 2014/2015): 56–67.
No one can say exactly when the stamped phrase reappeared. Until very recently, there didn’t seem much reason to ask. Those who recognized it assumed it was a harmless homage to the late On Kawara (1933–2014), too indiscriminately executed to qualify as a forgery. Kawara was best known for spare, serial reassertions of his existence – so spare as to include only the date, printed in block letters on a monochrome field in his “Today” series, or the phrase i am still alive, sent by telegram. The artist sustained many of these works over decades, their conclusion arriving only with his death. The stamps, however, were used for a shorter-lived series initiated in 1968: postcards sent by Kawara to two different addressees every day, with the words i got up stamped upon them along with the time and location where Kawara had roused himself.
When the phrase turned up in past years, stamped in library books and other circulating documents, the art world generally considered it a mere send-up that, lacking the original’s geographic and biographic precision, warranted no serious investigation. Recent examination by conservators, however, has confirmed that the rubber stamp used to produce these imitations was the very same one that Kawara used for I GOT UP (1968–1979). Through library records, it has been possible to trace a telling handful of these stamps to long-time Indianapolis resident Paul Masselli, who passed away earlier this year. Masselli, a small business owner with no evident interest in the arts, seems to have had no knowledge of Kawara’s oeuvre, yet, curiously, began disseminating the stamp’s message at least two decades ago in an unwitting sham of Kawara’s original proposition....
On Kawara, DEC 24 1978, from the series "I Got Up," 1978
Courtesy Lili König Collection
"Love from Ettore," Justin Beal: Listeria, LA><ART Exhibition Handbook No. 3, 2013: 47–53.
Murmansk is a Soviet light cruiser: 17,000 tons of corroding warship, sold for scrap and then stranded off the coast of Norway. Murmansk is a Russian port city: the largest on the arctic coast, presided over by a 116-foot-tall concrete soldier. Murmansk is also a fruit dish, held aloft by six tubular legs crimped like a scissor-lift: cold, implacable, silver. Designed in 1982, six months after Ettore Sottsass and the other members of Memphis made their debut, Murmansk seems to turn away from the radically provisional furniture and the swaggering merchandizing of that that first exhibition. Sottsass's fruit dish funnels the ancient tazza through industrial pipelines and automobile chrome, through Brancusi’s gleaming bronzes and Man Ray’s silver chess pieces, through Chaplin’s and Warhol’s factories. Yet it appears to end up where it started: as a luxury product made in spite of, or even against, Memphis itself.
Produced by the Vicenza-based silversmith Rossi e Arcandi, Murmansk was one of several Memphis silvers released that year. While the group's first exhibition included lamps and ceramics among the furniture pieces, the bourgeois appurtenances of their sophomore effort made those initial items look positively utilitarian. Peter Shire designed a teapot, Daniela Puppa and Nathalie du Pasquier, a pair of serving trays, Andrea Branzi, a cone-shaped sauceboat cradled in a silver twig. All the designers gave their works northerly names: Anchorage, Reykjavik, Labrador—polar zones for frigid material. These were remote cities, far from the industrial terms and communicative networks sought out by the group. For Memphis, wrote Barbara Radice in their 1984 monograph-manifesto, “an object exists as a system of signs, as a catalyst of emotions, as a representation of a cultural state... as an active presence, a reassuring wink—in other words, as an instrument of communication.”1 What could be further from that than these capitals of an arctic frontier? Geographically and imaginatively remote, the silvers’ titles suggested not communicative agents or emotional catalysts, but exiles from a Victorian silver service, gleaming mutely in the rarefied Nordic air. For certain thinkers, however, up north in the cold was exactly where to find the most potent communication. In his “Essay on the Seasonal Variations of Eskimo Societies,” Marcel Mauss observed, “The winter settlement lives, so to speak, in a continual state of religious exaltation... In short, it is possible to imagine the whole winter life to be a sort of long festival. ...
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Justin Beal, Murmansk, 2013
"Thy Fearful Dissymmetry," Parkett 94 (2014): 80-85.
All True No. 1 (2005) is a humble book, pocket-sized and accordion-folded, with seams held together by tape, and little other ornament—a simple book, plain as a primer or an elegant proof. Each page has only one word, beginning with Yes, whose synonym appears on the next. Thus, CONSENT follow YES, PERMISSION follows CONSENT, all the way through the thesaurus until the final page inevitably, preposterously, concludes with NO. And so a tidy stack of truths amounts to a violation of first principles.
Tauba Auerbach has made a practice of ferreting out ambiguities. Her paintings have received the lion’s share of critical attention to date, but her books and sculptures are where this practice finds its surest footing: in a hunt for the limits of intelligibility couched in the algorithms and alphabets underlying all her work. ALL TRUE No.1 is both prelude and summa, first and ultimate demonstration of this antinomic art. You could call it the opening salvo in a campaign to dilate rather than transcend opposition. For all their seductive beauty, the sculptures, objects, and books that have followed challenge our way of thinking. They are, in fact, exercises in intractability. ...
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Tauba Auerbach, The New Ambidextrous Universe IV, 2014
Plywood and aluminum
96 x 48 x 1.5 inches
243.84 x 121.92 x 2.8 cm, reconfigured
Tauba Auerbach, Gnomon/Wave Fulgurite I.II, 2013
Sand, Garnet, Shell, Glass and Resin / Glass and spray lacquered wooden plinth
26 x 11 x 2 in.
"Heavy Painting," Spike Art Quarterly, Issue 33 (Autumn 2012): 76-85.
It begins with a kiss. Not a polite kiss, nor one soft and yielding, but the humid, self-obliterating kind, the heavy kiss of heavy tipplers at the end of a long night. In the recent paintings of American artist Nicole Eisenman, these ponderous embraces have grown from an occasional motif in her work to a full-blown theme. They show up in the interlocked profiles of Springtime Kiss (2011), all pink-nosed passion surrounded by a bluish jubilee of piney landscape, and in the tender, crapulent Sloppy Bar Room Kiss (2011), where the lovers limply lock lips before a few empty bottles with their heads slumped on the barroom table. They kiss languidly, wearily, with total surrender. ...
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Nicole Eisenman, Springtime Kiss, 2011, 40 x 41.5"
All Together Now
"All Together Now," Spike Art Quarterly 34 (2012): 36–43.
The mind is a room, wrote the nineteenth-century man of letters Jules Bois, a chambre mentale occupied by not only decent neighbors, but strange visitors. Spectral guests of the selfhood salon, »they move through the interior theater of the mind«, he mused, »like phantoms in haunted houses.«1 The image suits the fin-desiècle world, in which everything seemed to converge in the bourgeois drawing room – political factions, artistic coteries, and divided consciousness. That same mind today has access to a confederacy of real and virtual forums that make Bois’ metaphor look quaint. Every guest of the mind can have her own quarters in the ghostly city of avatars that has grown up around us, in us – perhaps as us. If the distinction between the authentic and the constructed self has been under pressure for decades, it seems to have finally crumbled under the weight of so many avatars. Lately, selfhood can hardly be parsed from the expressive outlets that don’t so much convey identity as produce it, fashioning the self out of an accumulation of »likes« that operate themselves like little, disembodied (assertions of) selves. What, after all, propagates the polycephalus self more than the equally polycephalus presence and use of technology? – technology, moreover, whose primary purpose is simply to promulgate the self. Our technology has thus birthed an infernal machine of self-producing avatars. Consistency or coherence among so many of them, naturally, is a forlorn cause...
Kathryn Andrews, Serial Killer, 2012.
Image courtesy the artist and Clifton Benevento. Photo: Aaron Igler + Matthew Suib/Greenhouse Media
"Labyrinthitis," Night Papers V (Los Angeles, 2014): 1–2.
Ecoutez. Faites silence. Robert Desnos bids you listen and be still, for the evening of Fantomas is beginning. It is November 3, 1933, and your rhapsode is as far away and near at hand as any voice on the radio — in this case, Radio Paris, which has marshaled its resources to present Desnos’s “Complainte de Fantômas.”A lyrical account of the crimes of the vagabond Fantômas, scheduled to coincide with the release of a new episode in the popular series by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Desnos’s poem is an advertisement with an outsize avant-garde pedigree (Kurt Weill composed the background music;AntoninArtauddirectedandreadtheroleofFantômas) that would induct him into minor radio personality fame.
The poet had been initiated into the blind art some three years earlier by a young entrepreneur and radio enthusiast by the name of Paul Deharme. Deharme, perhaps more than any of the other lapsed Surrealists that would follow in his path, was devoted to the radio’s novel artistic possibilities. In March 1928, he published “Proposition pour un art radiophonique,” a strangely matter-of-fact manifesto on the potentials of this new “wireless art,” combining a semi-digested Freud with a list of techniques to produce visions in the listener — the use of the present indicative, background music, adherence to chronology, and so forth. These techniques were merely speculative; Deharme was laying out the rudiments of a new medium that, tragically, he would never develop. Deharme was killed in a car crash in 1934, leaving others like Desnos to keep beating his radiophonic drum. (And Desnos, in fact, would keep it up: following “Complainte,” he was hired by the dramatist and satellite-Surrealist Armand Salacrou to create the radio ads for the Salacrou pharmaceutical empire, becoming one of the decade’s most successful sloganeers behind such euphonic morsels as “Ricqlée, la mente forte qui renconforte,” and “Suze” — of Cubist fame — “répare les forces qui s’usent.”)
Desnos’s premiere on the radio was also Deharme’s doing: a broadcast on June 14, 1930 of his lecture on surrealist painting, “Initiation au surréalisme.” The title, one suspects, might have pleased Deharme. Over the radio, the lecture became a physical and spiritual rite, binding listener to orator, initiate to elect. One not only hears of Surrealism, one becomes (part of) it....
"Salmagundi," Carter Mull: Typist (Paris: Onestar Press, 2014), 19-23.
River Phoenix in denim, River Phoenix in an old sweatshirt, River Phoenix with a buzz cut, drawing a gun from a sleeping bag, River Phoenix in plaid, River Phoenix in a tuxedo, holding hands with Martha Plimpton, burrowing his torso in the hood of a truck in the desert, stroking his hair, high-voiced and wistful, kneeling on a sidewalk in Hollywood.
Amy Winehouse wearing a bandana, Amy Winehouse falling out of a corset, Amy Winehouse at the Pimlico Race Course drinking Mountain Dew, Amy Winehouse’s nose.
Elvis Presley in a tuxedo, in denim, wearing a bandana.
Alice in a pinafore, Alice at croquet, Alice’s head reeling above the treetops, Alice eating cakes, reciting multiplication tables, bobbing like a cork in a sea of her tears.
Those who grew up in certain regions of America may regret the demise of axiomatic speech, expressions that mean nothing to anyone so much as to children, to whom they mean yet very little. Suddenly robbed of their learning by a linguistic event whose conventional meaning outstrips the conventions of language alone, the children fumble with the syntax, petty grammatical change that, on its own, won’t get them far. Like foreigners learning a new language, these initiates must transpose each sentence into the register of myth, as though the words themselves summoned a universal rhythm, an ur- state of affairs. Much as Raymond Roussel, composing his novels from logical systems based on puns, echoed the human urge to impose order on the disorderly jabbering that issues from our spittle-filled mouths—mouths slotted with food and drink, that chew and smack and suck, kissing and cursing mouths—much as that, the initiates model the coming-into-language of experience itself. This is perhaps why there is little as disorienting to an adult as a new aphorism in her own tongue that cannot be immediately neutralized....
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"Kelly Nipper: Composing Moments," MAP - Journeys in Contemporary Art #23, pp. 68-73.
The period known as the ‘little ice age’, roughly from the 15th to the 17th century, coincided with the most aggressive witch hunts in Western history—a synchronicity some scholars link to both the social stresses of poor harvests and the widely-accepted belief that sorceresses could control the weather. With the climate now careening calamitously in the other direction, a return to superstition seems not altogether unlikely—making ‘Weather Center’, the title of Los Angeles-based artist Kelly Nipper’s rendition of modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman’s 1914 ‘Witch Dance’, less arbitrary than it might first appear.
Crouched on the floor, the dancer’s movement lurches into angular postures, her bare feet thwacking and fingers conjuring as she executes Wigman’s dance. Like Wigman, Taisha Paggett wears a mask that accentuates the dance’s savage, cultic quality. But in contrast to the original, in which Wigman was accompanied by oriental percussion, Nipper’s only soundtrack is a woman’s voice calmly and repeatedly counting to ten. Meanwhile, her camera weaves unsteadily around Paggett’s movement as if wary of her, cutting abruptly between shots and yet, somehow, never becoming unsynchronised with the counts. It is as if in place of Wigman’s sorcery, Nipper has substituted an almost magical alignment of measure, movement, and camerawork.
Curiously, then, Nipper deflects the dance’s irrational, emotive energy—the same expressive core that often translates into theatricality when displaced into contemporary art—only to suggest a subtler, but no less irrational force. Her desire to distance herself from theatricality could be one explanation why Nipper, who frequently works with dancers and movement, resists the label ‘performance’ to describe her videos and the live events. Another explanation could be the artist’s background. Trained as a photographer, and longtime archivist of Allan Kaprow, as well as of the estates of David Tudor and Experiments in Art and Technology among others, Nipper has spoken about her work in terms of suspension and ‘stop-time’. Accordingly, movement in Nipper’s videos seems to have removed itself from the continuum. Often played on loop with only words or counts for its soundtrack, her choreography is as reproducible as a photograph and just as forlornly tethered to its brief duration, stretching the ‘stop-time’ of the photographic instant without losing the finitude that defines it. ...
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Kelly Nipper, Sapphire (detail), 2008
A Performa Commission with the Savannah College of Art and Design
"Haegue Yang," Kaleidoscope, Issue 10
"The accounts of that night are rapturous, inconsistent, improbable, legendary. On May 29, 1913, Serge Diaghilev’s production of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, choreographed and danced by Nijinsky for the Ballet Russe, premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Nearly all the Parisian beau monde was in attendance. According to some, the whistles and jeers erupted soon after the prelude began; detractors heckled and defenders applauded, and the musicians played on inaudibly while Nijinsky shouted counts to dancers deafened by the din. Insults flew, as did a few punches; Romola Nijinsky even claimed a duel was fought the next day at dawn.
That year, the ballet had a special purchase on the avant-garde: in Diaghilev’s productions, cultural foment was lived out on a spectacular scale, and no sensibility was spared. In fact, it was in the liner notes for another ballet—Jean Cocteau’s Parade (conceived, according to Cocteau, on a midnight carriage ride with Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Nijinsky the very evening of Le Sacre’s premiere)—that Guillaume Apollinaire first coined the term that would designate Paris’s next avant-garde: “surrealism.” Slightly less than a century later, an oblique homage toLe Sacre has taken the stage—or the floor—at the Kunsthaus Bregenz. Drawing from sources as multiform as medicine men and mineral formations, dollar stores and séances, land art and the aforementioned ballet, Haegue Yang’s most recent work, Warrior Believer Lover, is a glimpse into the contemporary surreal.
Warrior Believer Lover consists of thirty-three sculptures made of metal clothing racks festooned with a medley of domestic articles, handicrafts, and store-bought items. Yang assembles them gradually and intuitively, crocheting yarn around the stands, draping plastic plants, dangling wigs or stones, delicately inserting plastic hair rollers, and snaking strands of frosted light bulbs through the ensembles. The racks are positioned throughout the space, subtly congregating in subgroups organized around shared materials and rack-varieties, and titled by Yang accordingly: There are six Female Natives, six Medicine Men, and the trio ofTotem Robots, the Circular Flats and Square Splendors and Stone Dances, as well as a cast of stand-alones, with names like Dilemma Circus, Thriftie Ghostie, andStiff Sponge BellyDance."...
Haegue Yang, Female Native – Saturation out of season, 2010
Courtesy of Kukje Gallery, Seoul
Photography by Nick Ash
"Henri Matisse: The Carnal Formula," Spike Art Quarterly n. 43 (Spring 2015): 83–87.
The postcard sits at the center of the table, beside an airmail envelope and a bottle of pastis. This arrangement, however, is a red herring: like Henri Matisse himself, Saul Steinberg's lithograph Matisse Postcard (1970) doesn't dote on the café table (after all, that's cubism's domain). The Postcard's real site is the drawing desk, cluttered with shells and vases, coffeepots and flowers, duplicated outside the card. There, they join other Matissean motifs: a fishless goldfish bowl, scalloped dishes, an arabesque flickering over the wall, remnants from The Parakeet and the Mermaid collected on the studio floor. They perform — undecidedly, simultaneously — as wandering citations of the postcard and as model objects for the image on it. Is Steinberg's scene a studio inventory or a doodle? A portrait of the workspace, or the working process? Well, both. That's Steinberg's wit, whose crowning gesture is to place a black-haired and behatted model in the draftman's seat. If Steinberg can telescope the interval between the artist's studio and the museum gift shop, it is not just because Matisse's still lifes seemed always already postcards — pleasing paintings composed by the artist who aimed to make art 'like a good armchair', offering consolation and repose. It is also because the dreamy, dilatable quality of the souvenir, incubating versions of itself in memory or in reproduction, is native to Matisse. It is as much a part of the construction of his paintings as the model is for Steinberg's lithograph. [...]
Saul Steinberg, Matisse Postcard, 1970
(From "Six Drawing Tables")
Lithograph, collage on paper; Ed. of 100
22" x 30"
Courtesy Adam Baumgold Gallery