It must have been some late summer day, when there was finally enough to eat and most of the larger predators were sleeping in the shade still digesting lunch, that some enterprising neanderthal looking for a new hovel chanced upon something exciting and new, yet strangely familiar, the whole of which stopped him cold. It was this image, stained on a cave wall and linked to his life and the place, in his position in the neanderthal community and relation to larger game that held him captive. It was not the realism, as at this time realism was a bit too frightening. Instead it was the sensitivity, the unconscious awareness that touched his soul made him even consider such a thing as soul, Not just any painting, but the best painting ever to grace a cave wall, better than the Lascaux ones 100 times over. Stuck with such beauty from human hands, an instinct for ownership kicked in. Surely he could convince the artist to move to a smaller cave in the ever increasing slums of the neanderthal community, perhaps something in its commercial farming district? Filled with views of majestic mastodons being felled by hunters, or images of open fields, which will surely inspire generations of painters, from madness of Van Gogh to the rigidity of Grant Wood. A few days after the Studio was born, so was the Art Collector. (Although, at this time, they were referred to as Art Gatherers.)
In the Middle Ages, an abundance of artists meant specialization had to happen. Credibility already became more important than style, and as Lane Relyea said in regards to artists of the 21st century, the studio “gives the artist a mailing address and a doorstep”1, enabling apprentices to find him as “master” and patrons to buy the work by the stacks. His vision of art could proliferate and survive and later mutate, thanks to the studio. During the Renaissance these spaces became an integral part in the life and production of art and artists. Before the ateliers were replaced by the academy, EVERYTHING was linked to the place of creation.
Recreation of Francis Bacon’s Studio, Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, Dublin, Ireland
Despite what any “studiobased” program may claim, the academy and the studio have always been at odds. Strict adherence within the art world to keeping the academy intact is important for the survival of so many within it. The academy takes the studio’s place for learning in order to continue some pedagogy and profit from an unending and ever increasing line of hopefuls. These schools usually advertise the amenities of space and equipment at hand for the learning artist. But the student is always aware that upon graduating, that studio will no longer be available to him or her. Artists working in their studios are romanticized, and the elusive space becomes mythologized.
To create work inside the institution walls provides the kind of affirmation most artists struggle for, so to work on projects as the venue and funding becomes available as opposed to paying monthly rent hoping for an exhibition solves a lot of problems. Post Studio approaches also allow the artist a certain nomadic ability, able to shed the baggage of their own halfwrought and failed art cluttering their studio. Able to constantly see with fresh eyes, artists working in this way can potentially advance their own work further than if they were tethered to one location, surrounded by the last works they made. The post studio is also at home in the digital age, where physical space seems to shrink while at the same time we experience an expanding of virtual space. In the real world, this virtual space can take place as flexible real estate: a space that is available not as a permanent residence but as a temporary space. One that is not specialized but an open floor plan to accommodate many uses. Pop up, mobile, nomadic, freelancer, etc., all seem to correlate to this approach, yet within a post studio practice one is quite likely to have a permanent studio of some sort, and the idea of working within the public or real world as opposed to the isolation and comfort of a fabricated world is what often separates the two. They are not at odds as much as they seems as they still hinge upon 1) having or taking the time to think about art’s creation, and 2) the execution of an artwork(s) for display and/or sale.
In 1971, Daniel Buren wrote “The Function of the Studio” a polemical essay which not only defined his practice since, but has influenced many artists to move away from the traditional studio. Perhaps its worth the read, but contains holes. If, as Buren seems to say, that the work of art loses “its ‘truth’, its relationship to its creator and place of creation”2 when it leaves the studio, than photography would be nothing but lies unless the photograph was always and only shown where it was taken; film would be nothing but a series of lies, reinforcing each shot as a deeper falsification, and that the art collector merely enables the artist to justify stripping their work of any truth or “essence”.
Also in the essay, he asserts that the studio, mimicking the shape, lighting and proportions of the gallery and museum, attempts to ready or position the art to be produced for this framework. As the neutralized space of the institution is completely sterile, the work that is produced with it in mind is reduced to the same banality and sterility. The artist is forced to go to this generic space in their mind while creating the work to allow it to occupy just about any space. A residency is one example of a studio that challenges his assertions. It is a transient space for the artist, aligned with the workings of a post studio approach, but often incorporates the artist’s modes of production through a proposal to attend. It is by nature also linked to the incubation network of the academy, often connected to the art world through curatorial scouts or exhibition opportunities. Artwork made at a residency may stay at the space through lack of resources to move it or as a site specific piece to mark one’s time in the place. The work may return with the artist, or it may have been produced for an exhibition already in the works. Depending on the residency, the studios an artist may encounter may be the sterile imitations of the exhibition spaces Buren derides. They can easily be more adhoc spaces with as much charm as function. They may be the woods, the desert, the ocean, etc., so that while Buren could be right that the work takes its form from the spaces in which it is made, these spaces need not be sterile or banal at all. Everything is STILL connected to its place of creation, but we understand that place is experiential and movable.
Studios are a place for quiet contemplation, where artists can escape the pressures of everyday life to create and dream, become or forge something new; a bourgeois space for leisure time. Historically, we find master artists working with many assistants, apprentices and journeymen in order to meet the demand of their collectors and patrons. Buren states that the studio is a place for the production of art as a commodity, as a “convenience to the organizer”3 and a “boutique where we find readytowear art.”4 These functions are both linked to functioning within, or aspiring to the middle class. Ben Davis clarifies class distinctions quite brilliantly in “9.5 Theses on Art and Class”: “class position relates not to how much one happens to be paid but to the kind of labor [sic] one does and how this labor relates to the economy”5. The Middle Class would then include people whose labor gives them authority over others and themselves. It is the desire of the Middle class to “maintain [sic] their autonomy”6. This desire is not linked to monetary gain but to a set of ideals within the execution and formation of their labor. It is by creating or developing a certain product or output that is unique that this autonomy can be best sustained, allowing one to be the sole keeper of his or her commodifiable talent. The artist is part of the middle class by creating work that is to have a life outside of their studio in a collection or exhibition that affirms their uniqueness and position as well as (hopefully) feeding them. When their leisure time (perhaps as members of the working class as an employee of someone else) is manifests itself in consumable works, they enter the middle class. The studio then could be an entryway into the middle class.
A studio and formal education are similar, in that they confer authority on those who have them. As artists we use each for our desire to be taken seriously, just as we hope they will help us make the work we want to make. We take on the studio in transient forms from the start of our education, because it doesn’t matter as much to where we are, but that we are. Responding to a set of circumstances or constructed parameters like rules in a game, we negotiate our lives with our art, looking for ease of movement between the concerns of our stomachs and the desires of our spirit. No surprise, then, that we will move between classes multiple times. We’ll get kicked out of studios just as we got booted from that cave 40,000 years ago, but we can also build again.
If some dank cave dimly lit by a fire served as the first studio, future studios may be strictly digital, the art illuminated by LED pixels created not in a “space” at all but between two or more computers communicating together. A world will be reflected, and in the flickering of the light, the incompleteness of awareness, mixed with the details of contemplation and discovery, the reflected world will be totally new, yet familiar. The objects of that world will work together to create a language around everything vital to it, what is known and what is not. In the reflection we find ourselves, and in the transmutation of matter, or light, whatever, we discover more about ourselves and existence as reality. Regardless of form, the studio is an opportunity we allow ourselves to reflect on an ever present, fluid, wholly immersed, infinite reality transcending time, matter and consciousness.
If Manifesta 10 has a curatorial focus, it came into being through conflict. Dubbed the ‘Manifesta without a Manifesto’, Europe’s roving biennale opened late June in St Petersburg. Manifesta 10 has been shaped by conflict: not only armed conflict between Pro-Russian Separatists and the Ukrainian government, but also an oppressive set of homophobic laws introduced last year in Russia, compounded by rising rates of violence against its LGBT community. Amidst calls for boycotts from the international, Russian and Ukrainian artists and activists, Manifesta 10’s curatorial agenda arose out of a series of on-the-fly statements from curator Kasper König, parallel responses from its director Hedwig Fijen and side-notes from Mikhail Piotrowsky, host of Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg’s legendary Winter Palace, the Hermitage Museum.
The whole situation is a public relations disaster. Kasper König underlined the importance of ‘artistic freedom’, complexity and richness, urging participating artists to sidestep ‘cheap provocations’ and avoid ‘just making a particular political statement’. Hedwig Fijen, on the other hand, used a rhetoric of ‘engagement’, seeing the work of Manifesta as one of ‘debate, negotiation, mediation, and diplomacy.’ Compressing König’s and Fijen’s arguments together is a little like forcing together two misfit pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The pressure of the boycott situation forced some skillful PR cement gun action. The subtext of the press releases was something like this: in Manifesta 10, contemporary art comes from a place of autonomy, complexity and freedom, but at the same time, it justifies its presence by provoking some sort of dialogue, by pushing change on the ground.
Previously I have discussed the reasons for boycotting the Sydney Biennale, suggesting that although it may not have immediate concrete outcomes, the boycott interrupted the art world’s publicity machine and addressed the disgust many artists felt when it was revealed the Biennale’s private sponsor was making business out of the detention of refugees. In St. Petersburg I was surprised to learn that Manifesta 10 and Sydney Biennale share the same PR team. They certainly didn’t have an easy job in either case.
PR disasters are great. They’re the only time when advertising possesses the rare quality of honesty. The fine line strung between by König’s instistence on artistic (and curatorial) autonomy and Fijen’s push for a more site specific approach is a tightrope walked by all biennales. Global art events must maintain the freedom demanded by global contemporary art, but they must also address the local scene. Without local relevance for St. Petersburg, Manifesta 10 would just be about power: the implementation of power within the art world, and the instrumentalisation of cultural freedom to legitimise Russian state power. In order to avoid this, contemporary art must promise change on a local level. It must have an emancipation project.
This is why press on Manifesta 10 tends to focus on the overtly political art, regardless on whether it approves of or damns the biennale’s presence in St. Petersburg. Nicole Eisenman’s paintings of lesbian sex. Marlene Dumas’ portraits of Great Gay Men, tastefully retitled Great Men for the St. Petersburg authorities. The reenactment of Marilyn Monroe’s death, impersonated by Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe in delightfully trashy drag. Wofgang Tilman’s suggestively homoerotic photographs. Images of these works were distributed in the lead-up to the Biennale via the press mailing-list. Such works touch pressure points relating to gender politics inside Russia rather than the war outside – with the exception of Boris Mikhailov’s social realist snaps of the Euromaidan protests. Yet in the scheme of the sprawling exhibition, political provocations appear as carefully placed afterthoughts.
Far more present in my thoughts as I left St. Petersburg was a work by Belgian artist Joëlle Tuerlinkckx, who painted sheets of paper red and then stuck them face-down to every available wall surface, a wistfully hermetic gesture. In her statement, the artist wrote: ‘Art and power have nothing to do with each other.’
The tension between autonomous and emancipatory art is no stranger to Western art. It has its origins in the role of the artist in the Enlightenment, perhaps most lucidly expressed by German playwright Friedrich Schiller. In a series of letters written in a state of utter disappointment about the failure of the French Revolution, Schiller argued that humanity, constrained by the necessity of having to feed so many mouths, was simply not yet ready for freedom. When Kasper König calls for the importance of artistic freedom, he is (knowingly or unknowingly) drawing on the Schillerean tradition. For Schiller, freedom is play, and play is the true expression of what it is to be naturally human – before necessity and law intervene. Pure, purposeless play is the activity of the artist, who occupies a state of ‘aesthetic liberty’ autonomous from the necessity for survival, the daily grind. Accordingly, many states, Russia included, have legislation protecting artistic freedom of expression, allowing artists (in theory) to say and do things that are not permitted in normal circumstances to the average citizen. Most artists, when you ask them, consider artistic freedom to be different from the political freedom of the everyperson. The rest of humanity can only aspire towards this state by contemplating art, the product of pure play. Thus the freedom of the artist becomes a pedagogical tool for anticipating the universal state of liberty to come.
In the post-post-modern condition embraced by the artworld mainstream, Enlightenment thinkers such as Schiller (and by association König) may appear old-fashioned, elitist or patronising. However, Schiller’s conception of the pedagogical role of art remains embedded in the Western conception of artistic freedom. In this line of thinking, art’s apparent ability to sit outside of power justifies its appeal to the ethical betterment of humanity. Piotrowsky, who invited the Biennale to the Hermitage, reiterates this thinking when he says: ‘a person’s conduct is usually regulated, not by the prosecution office or the police, but by the person’s good taste. And good taste is often defined precisely by art’
Perhaps art might define good taste, but more often than not, good taste defines art, and the most controversial works of art are tamed by the most controlling narratives of taste, the signifier of cultivation. Estonian/Russian artist Kristina Norman’s work Souvenir was commissioned by Manifesta 10 for its Public Program, curated by Joanna Warsza. Norman has made a giant steel Christmas tree, a copycat monument citing the Christmas tree left half-built during the Euromaidan protests in Kiev last November. Out of place and out of time, the sculpture stands awkwardly in the quiet of the Winter Palace square, impeding on St. Petersburg’s own civilised silence about the escalating situation in Ukraine. Norman’s gesture brings the symbol of resistance against Russian expansionism back to the symbolic heart of Russian power. However, on the day the Christmas tree appeared in front of the Hermitage, the museum posted the following incredible misinterpretation on its website: ‘Maidan caused chaos. We hear the alert spoken in the language of art: be aware! Disturbances can be borne (sic) out of innocent entertainments…The unfinished Christmas tree near the festive holiday is an alert, a reminder…how a merry square has turned into a plug-ugly dump.’
What happens to Norman’s tree throughout the duration of Manifesta remains to be seen. As an uprooted symbol it is volatile: it may provide the empty framework for protests to come, or perhaps it stands in for the impossibility of protest at all. The Hermitage’s response shows that the moment artistic freedom is claimed on a platform provided by oppressive power, it courts being instrumentalised by that power.
In the above-mentioned interview, which was first published in Russia’s Money Journal, Piotrowsky continues: ‘I believe Manifesta in St. Petersburg will help to improve the global image of Russia.’ If the emancipatory mission of Manifesta 10 relies on a set of assumptions drawing on the Schillerean role of the artist, this mission is invested in the flailing legacy of liberal ideals, and their link to state power. The historical legacy of the Enlightenment has gained new currency as it is subsumed to the PR campaigns of governments. In a June report about the ramifications of the Ukraine conflict, the ECFR noted that Putin ‘presents an essentially illiberal vision of world order that he claims to be more realistic, based on spheres of influence…a direct opposite of Western ideas of liberal order.’ Meanwhile, other non-Western countries perceived that ‘the West enjoys an unjustified position of privilege in the international system’, simply using Liberal ideals as a front while it pushes its own interests through international financial institutions and outsourced conflicts. This narrative is having an impact: it forecloses the slow but steady rearrangement of global finance, with the BRICS nations recently forming their own, smallscale version of the West-dominated IMF and WTO banks. Discourse of a Western liberalism debauched by territorial and economic interests is also shared by the intellectual Left in Europe, North America, and Australia.
So long as its appearance is controlled in the right way, the freedom represented by the artist can be put on a pedestal to divert a crisis about the nature of political freedom itself, in both non-Western and Western states. As we look to Sao Paolo for the next biennale and to UAE for the opening of a complex of international museums on Saadiyat Island, questions raised by the instrumentalisation of art are only going to become more urgent.
While the art system is certainly affected by such ideological shifts, it seems it is only half-aware of them. Manifesta 10’s firm belief in the infallibility of artistic freedom appears to be a mutual and willfully naïve cover-up in the context of Russia’s ambivalent (to say the least) attitude to the catastrophic war in Ukraine and the EU’s slowness to react. Either that, or Manifesta is clinging to a nostalgic reiteration of the emancipatory vision of liberalism. The fact that so many art critics have swallowed Manifesta’s PR campaign, despite its contradictions, suggests such nostalgia is certainly rife in the art world. However, as Ekaterina Degot points out in her recent text on the fetishization of freedom and censorship in Manifesta 10, in reality ‘this whole system of mutually beneficial relations between several social and political groups is based on a mutual understanding shared by all sides involved of the rules of the game.’
The boycott itself, the ultimate act of refusal, is indicative of artists’ wishes to remain separate from corporate power and the whitewashing of crimes of the state. This stands true not only of Manifesta, but also of the Sydney Biennale and Creative Time’s Living as Form exhibition at Israel’s Technion Institute. Boycotts, in this final sense, are the last cry for a clean platform for artistic expression. But although Manifesta 10 proposes to open dialogue about change in Russia, it hardly expects itself to be changed by the local Russian scene. The one reliable promise of Manifesta is continuity itself: the two-yearly rhythmic institutional blip of the biennale. Boycotts might therefore best be understood as an opportunity for contemporary art to revise not its PR, but its fundamental self-understanding. Perhaps it is possible to build a ‘clean platform’ yet. Or, perhaps the notion of contemporary art needs to be reformulated so that the ‘clean platform’ is no longer required.
Tired Atlas is the name of the performance made by Russian collective Chto Delat‘s School for Socially Engaged Art. The School provides a group of outspoken young artists and activists with an unorthodox education in an underground antifascist bar in the heart of St. Petersburg. Although Chto Delat withdrew from Manifesta 10, its students decided to participate, in an irregular sort of spontaneous, last-minute manner, in the Biennale’s Public and Parallel Programs. For their performance, the students chose the portico of the New Hermitage, an imposing piece of neo-Baroque architecture. A row of enormous, black figures hold up the roof of the portico, mimicking the pose of the Greek Titan Atlas, who was condemned by Zeus to bear the celestial bodies. The Atlasses tower over the street, blocked by around 250 onlookers who gathered in anticipation of the performance. This was the only time I saw a large public gathering during my week-and-a-half-long stay in St. Petersburg. Each student came forward, took the position of an Atlas, shouted out their experience of the oppression of the state, and then joined their colleagues, forming a massive, trembling orgy of unstable Atlasses: a crumbling pedestal. The performance was nervy and rough and nobody cared, because it was honest. The sense of collective trust was palpable. Strength in anonymity. No PR.
Portico with Atlantes, sculptor: Alexander Terebenev, archictect: Leo von Klenze, 1830. Image courtesy of The State Hermitage Museum.
Temporary Driftless Residents Show Performative Streak
Move over cheese, there’s a new sheriff in town. Lately the Driftless region of southwest Wisconsin has been teeming with performance art.
This development is due in part to ACRE Residency’s 2nd Session artists such as the ABBA-inspired Zoe Berg, Kittisak “Wa” Chontong, Sanaz Sohrabi, Sonja Dahl, Thomas Friel, Local Honey and more.
Leading the charge was Local Honey, an artist from New Orleans who took “glamping” to previously unseen heights. Local was always on, activating every space and green leaf on the property as their step and repeat. WTT? sincerely hopes to see a series of images from Local Honey out soon.
Local Honey on the first day of Session 2.
Performing on August 1st, Sanaz Sohrabi also used the expansiveness of open space to background her performance at the River Cabin. Using audio recordings for the first time, Sohrabi’s text whispered at the audience, “Beyond this coating of the ground, whatever it may contain or conceal, there lies another piece of land, stretching to the horizon, open sky and speeding clouds.” That same evening at the stage, Thomas Friel’s also went to great lengths, promising extraordinary wealth if only you could get it up.
Sohrabi’s River Cabin performance.
On the subtler side, Kittisak “Wa” Chontong offered himself as an assistant and became engaged in a variety of projects during the two week residency, including the People’s Pasta, Virginia Aberle’s sculpture, and Sonja Dahl’s Ice Coffee Cart.
Dahl offering coffee to fellow resident, Danny Giles.
Inspired by her trip to Indonesia and the fact that hanging out is a part of daily life everywhere, Dahl’s multipurpose coffee/cocktail cart delighted anyone who encountered her dragging the hefty wooden cart across the residency campus. The addition of a second pair of wheels was a must.
Local residents in the neighboring towns of Stueben and Boscobel seem unfazed. Bob of “Bob & Lou’s” was reported to have said, “Those weirdos? What else is new?” and Boscobellians retorted with their own avant garde performance, a “Muskets & Memories” Civil War Reenactment featuring a Battle Royale and Ladies’ Garden Party (period dress required).
Session 3’s residents have yet to reveal if they will carry the torch.
Cargo Space Outside the Walker Art Center.
B@S & Cargo Space Occupy Open Field at Walker
Minneapolitan’s still recovering from bus sighting
There’s a street art bus on the loose, and it’s coming for you Chicago. After first arriving at the Poor Farm to present work by Rahul Mitra and David Krueger, the keeper of the bus, Christopher Sperandio, hit the road with Duncan MacKenzie and your faithful gossip columnist, to see ACRE, the Walker and ended up in Chicago last Friday where it will be prepped for an exhibition at A+D Gallery running August 14 through September 20. Oh, and did we mention the exhibition is also hitting Milwaukee at the same time using the bus as a conduit?
Work by Rahul Mitra at the Poor Farm.
A converted Blue Bird, the bus itself is quite a site to behold. Built as an escape pod for Houston resident, Sperandio, the roving artist residency can accommodate 5 artists (soon to be 6) and has already traveled 2,000 miles on it’s tour of the Midwest.
Look out for Sperandio and his art chariot around Chi through September.
Who Wore it Better?
Color blocked chambray and clear framed glasses? So nice, we had to see it twice. Artist Andrew Holmquist, left, and Nick Butcher of Sonnenzimmer, right, at Medium Cool on Sunday, August 10th.
Header image features people having a ton of fun on the bank of the Little Wolf River near the Poor Farm Experiment.
Work by Amikam Toren, presented at the Poor Farm, curated by Nicholas Frank.
Most Epic Tube Ride Ever Proves to be Epic
Poor Farm Experiment Tube Ride Historical, Best in History
You may know Brad Killam and Michelle Grabner’s project the Poor Farm as a Kunsthalle style exhibition space (aka an art gallery) built from an actual Poor Farm in Little Wolf, Wisconsin.
Rafters with a bouy named Desire.
While the opening weekend featured exhibitions, screenings, conversations and readings, the most exciting spectacle of the weekend was without a doubt the annual Little Wolf River tube ride that took place on Saturday, August 2nd.
Several trips back and forth were made by Killam and Alex Regan in order to ferry eager tubers and their neon pink and green tubes to the launch site. The two heroically spent hours driving back and forth to the site all in the name of a good time.
Steady loungin': Artist Sabina Ott and writer John Paulett on the Little Wolf.
Artists Jasmine Lee and Mark Beasley achieving maximum chillage.
Hosted by Richard Galling and John Ripenhoff, “Lazy River, Keep Showing Me Your Rafts,” was billed as a “a raft building competition and float,” though it is more accurately described as a party afloat featuring a tubin’ boombox, a buoyant beer cooler and a buoy named “Desire.”
Brittany Ellenz of American Fantasy Classic during the tube.
The ride was a swift 3 hours, with many riders immediately expressing the desire to “do it again!”. Reports on the final head count vary with some putting the number as high as 100 tubers. More conservative estimates report 70-80 tubers, though all agree that the float was the largest ever in Poor Farm history.
Tubers returning to the Poor Farm.
Shirt by Sara Caron, sold at her “Poor Store” during the opening weekend.
Medium Cool Continues Maximum Chill
Fair expands cool impact with object fair.
This years edition of Ria Roberts’ Medium Cool Art and Object Fair in the West Loop managed to improve an already pretty radical summer occurrence. As soon as the press images came out (featuring the hands of yours truly), we knew that Roberts would pull out all the stops. We wanted EVERTHING but spent our limited allowance on a book by Evan Robarts from LVL3 and a to-die-for Brancusi inspired necklace by Shikama. Here are some other highlights from this years edition hosted by Western Exhibitions on Saturday, August 9th and Prairie Productions Sunday, August 10th.
Molds and impressions by Press Play, a 3-D printed museum making toy by Tom and Holly Burtonwood.
Brand new collage work by Eric Fleischauer presented by Document.
We couldn’t get enough of Menil Kara’s ceramics featured in UTOTEM’s gorgeous booth of artist designed objects and furniture.
Ria and Ruby Roberts holding it down outside the Doner food truck.
Kara restocking some of her sad face dildos for UTOTEM.
Sonnenzimmer inverse record made from glue. We don’t quite understand it, but we love it all the same.
The Garry Winogrand retrospective had been full of images chosen and printed in Winogrand’s lifetime, as well as chosen and printed posthumously without Winogrand’s permission; he, who can only be assumed to have been a city person, had the reputation of being an aggressive photographer. Standing among the milling people outside of the Metropolitan Museum, I wondered about that word, aggressive.
The photograph that came to mind, not present in the exhibition but emblematic of the predatory approach, is the image of Winogrand’s shadow elongated onto the back of a woman, onto her fur hat possibly. Somewhere, every photographer shooting strangers has a version of this shadow.
But Winogrand chose to print it. Look at that picture. He has to be right in it – in the middle of it – of the situation, and in the center of the crowd, to take the picture.
Isn’t that the premise of most street photography? “If the picture wasn’t good enough, the photographer wasn’t close enough,” I think the old saying goes.
Not so with Robert Frank photographs, which are close to the action but idealistic.
New York, 1965, Gelatin silver print, Collection of Randi and Bob Fisher
Winogrand rarely took pictures of celebrities other than political figures, or even inherently glamorous people, but his photographs are glamorous. Born in the Bronx, Garry Winogrand frequently photographed Manhattan and grew up in a big city, where in the 60s people came and still come, to be photographed. His photographs show bodies against bodies in only the way a city can force them together.
Aggressive. I think of Wegee listening to the police wire for reports of homicides. I think of Cindy Sherman staging herself as seen by a predator through her bathroom door. I think of Diane Arbus approaching misfits spotted in the park –
But Diane Arbus is empathetic with her subjects.
I’ve never believed someone’s asked permission is necessarily empathetic.
And, Cindy Sherman could never be called aggressive. Her pictures are staged. The viewer observes not the action, but the staging.
The city and those who fill it. Groups of people clamoring – clamoring around each other, anonymous people gathered around and whispering, around some action, the president’s arrival, or more so, anonymous people drawn to the center of Winogrand’s attention – like a woman head thrown back in front of a store laughing. If a person in a Winogrand photograph is alone, the person is usually a drifter skirting a scene. Or a fragment of a larger pocket. A photographer directs our attention: cast in the afternoon light, women on their lunch breaks are enshrined.
Los Angeles, 1969, Gelatin silver print, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Reading and re-reading descriptions of social groups taking forming across the Atlantic Ocean at the same time, in the 1970s, in the Parisian clans of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, the question occurs: What would it have looked like for Winogrand to photograph out-right exhibitionism of the fashion world, rather than the unidentified cast of the street? Seen by Winogrand, what would a photograph have looked like where Warhol is adjusting his wig, and in mimicry of the accessorized wig, Karl Lagerfeld fanning himself with a fold-out fan?
A viewer of the exhibition wandered through, saying, “He is unemotional. I was never a fanatic – although Winogrand captured his time.”
One of the most alone photographs – one not marked to be printed by Winogrand but selected from contact sheets after his death – is the picture of a woman lying in the gutter of a passed automobile, a discarded person. Shot between 1980 and 1983, the woman looks like the remains of the previous era’s photographs, that era full of political conventions, post-war tuxedo balls, and bouffant hair. Lying in the gutter, the highest rides dropping the lowest afterward, the woman embodies this quote by Winogrand, “Literal description, or the illusion of literal description, is what the tools and materials of still photography do better than any other medium.”
Los Angeles, 1980 – 1983, Gelatin silver print, Posthumous print (frame not marked by Winogrand on contact sheet), courtesy The Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona
In his grant application to the Guggenheim Foundation, Winogrand wrote that he could not accept the evidence collected within his own photographs, and this was the reason in fact to keep photographing, to find something other than – a dystopic American life.
He must have loved to have been downtown. Not prone to leaving the sidewalks, the businessman cigar-in-mouth, and the automobile. He sought the intrusions most easily found in public. He did not want to be intruded upon, but wanted to look at by-chance encounters between groups of people. Sometimes the encounter existed between Winogrand and a stranger, and the term aggressive is applied, because Winogrand is expectant, and the other person unexpectant. Sometimes divergent groups are observing each other, or even more, encroaching upon each other.
Another remembered anecdote about photographers, paraphrased I think from Diane Arbus, “Photographers like to be around people and alone at the same time.”
Some photographers meet a person outside and bring them inside, but Winogrand was not interested in knowing more. He was intent on knowing what could be found in a split second. Winogrand’s photographs are a belief that all important information will be provided in an encounter. Not a performance and not a staging. By definition, a photographer likes to encounter.
Favorite Winogrand pictures: some of the lascivious Ball pictures. And actually, all of the automobile images, though I usually dislike pictures taken in cars. Plus a picture taken from above, looking onto an afloat swimmer. What about you?
The detail of the chain linked inside a man’s blazer and the picture of sock and loafer feet lying to the side of a gathered crowd. And car pictures, yes, mostly one of a man shouting, or yawning, in the driver’s seat.
The detachment of observation is not unemotional but –
emotion appears as a brusque welcome.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was flooded on a Saturday, the remains of the museum emptied onto the stairs at closing. People rubbed elbows with one another in a rush to reach the sidewalk first.
New York World’s Fair, 1964, Gelatin silver print, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Dr. L.F. Peede, Jr.
It doesn’t feel right to report on this exhibition in a digital format–a piece of writing that will likely never be tangible evidence of its existence. The only proper way to engage with this work seems to be on a typewriter, with words scratched out and penciled-in corrections. Next to me, should be a waste basket overflowing with crumpled up pieces of disregarded words in a room only half-filled with light from a blinded window. I should wear spectacles too–the ones that magnify my own words to inexorable sizes and hang on the precipice at the bridge of my nose. I should chain smoke cigarettes and smash half-smoked butts into a circular plastic ashtray–a relic in its own right–that is as sated as my trash can. There should be an industrial era lamp hanging over my workbench where the smoke pools in its conical mouth piece. This work transports me to another place, and another time–indistinctly not my own. Yet somehow, I feel like I know it well.
Hunkering, the Last Gabberjab, augmented by Henrik Drescher, Patrick JB Flynn, David McLimans, Peter Sis, William Stafford, and John Wilde 2006 handmade, hand-printed book 10 1/4 x 7 1/18 inches
Walter Hamady’s most recent show entitled, “Merit Badge” at Corbett vs. Dempsey is a colossal exhibition with meteors of information contained within small vessels. It serves as a miniature survey of a man’s career–though after reading the exhibition catalog, I get the impression that this show is but a small sample of a lifetime of prolific production in a variety of media. Whether working in collage, assemblage, bookmaking (in its own infinite capacities), or his personal diary, Hamady seems to have relentlessly recorded his life. His perspective. His place in space.
When looking at the work, I read each individual object as a beginning, a rudiment, or a part of a whole which has not yet materialized. The work is suspended between ideas and does not admit the viewer beyond its physicality, nor does it posit answers to proposed questions. The total procedure forms a well-articulated system of knowledge for the maker, that seems to be independent of the histories that would claim a stake in its material manifestations. This work is not about art. It is art. It is not about an art-historical vernacular that co-opts an object’s meaning and intention. To me, this work is about magical thought and the type of operations that this way of thinking requires: adventure, risk taking, and an aloof position to the world in which it exists, while maintaining an acute awareness of it.
Post-Bastille Series No. 12, “The Focus of Soliptistic Desire” (Walter and his ubiquitous cutting die) 2013 Disparate cigar boxes, one sectioned and flocked, some sort of printer’s compartmentalized box (use unknown), doll house folding chair seat from Paul Douglas, pre WWI postcards die-cut with artist’s profile (ubiquitous), Austrian playing card from 19th c. (bought off Walter Schatzki on 57th Street in 1960), light meter scale, steel-engraved eye, foundry mold piece from Beloit Corp., inverted heart from (Traite, d’Anatomie Humaine, 1889) recycled from ‘Prototype for the Diptychial Romance Series’ pre-2005, grooved crate wood, small screws and painted washers, brass hinges, fairly old 9 X 11 1/2 x 1 1/4 inches
Magical thought should not be reduced here to the immediate associations that it may suggest–a peripheral and imaginative realm that may create only flippant trajectories of reason, that solely exist outside of tangible reality. Walter Hamady’s life work, seems to be a parallel form of acquiring knowledge–a distinctly individual methodology for understanding one’s position in the world. He seems to constantly question his own worth, the value of the work he makes, and the institutions in which the works seeks to gain acceptance with striking affect.
Hamady’s work exemplifies a relentless production schematic that operates as forced attrition seeking to thwart an inherit skepticism of all that aims to discourage him. It is a tale well-known by artists–one of denial, rejection, exclusion and the occasional acceptance. In the rare moments of approval, the artist acquires critical nourishment that helps propel their operations. In the exhibition catalog, there are several journal entries included as a glimpse into the way this artist recorded his life. One such entry is from April 15, 1964 in which Hamady alludes to the gravity of acknowledgement from artists whom he admired: “…and Robert Creeley was standing right behind me and had heard everything that I said and Keith introduced me as a ‘good, young poet’…and Bob put his arm around me and said, “Come on in I’ll buy you a drink.” And I went in, and of course, he signed my book and we talked…and I told him I was doing a book…and he said he would like to see it. So it was a very, very, very moving day for me…very critical.”
Parking Lots, (Clarence Major, illustrated by Laura Dronzek), 1992, handmade, hand-printed book, 9 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches
I get the sense that Hamady gathered an equal amount of critical sustenance from objects and solitary moments of engagement that provided him with the impetus to make something, to write something, or to simply etch a moment into permanence by jotting into his diary. On February 10, 1974 Hamady recorded a moment that may have required such permanence: “Coming in from sawing that oak I took the trail we cleared and came by the place in the drifts where we had fallen in (on purpose) that night of the full moon when we were out walking. That was a pleasure indeed to just fall with abandon & be surrounded by the enveloping coolness, firm holding you in the random position of the drop, the light of the moon, the invisible push of wind through the oaks tinkling the leaves. I think I would like to die this way.”
NS No. 14 / the difference for there to be a difference, 2002, cigar box of former box No. 194 (destroyed), Cutty Sark Whiskey case wood, projector lens from projector camera innards, 1/2 portable cribbage board from Ruth Evans Brinker, Brittish military pins, mapping symbols template, piano hinge, toolbox corner guard, lead foil, tin can lid, tin box snippets, 8 x 15 3/4 x 1 inches
In almost every sculptural work that is included in this exhibition there is an eye. A critical eye that is staring at the viewer. I can’t help imagining these eyes as staring first and foremost at Hamady himself–as a reflection of a person looking within to describe what is without. This self-reflexivity makes this exhibition a monumental description of time and of the sense of control that can be acquired through an articulate understanding of one’s capacity to record it. Walter Hamady is constantly striving for life’s merit badge, or more simply, the feeling of accomplishment one might have from doing something well. To me, “Merit Badge,” is about the constant inner dialogue every artist seems to have–a back and forth battle about the merit of one’s own endeavors. To earn that badge, one needs a little magic and Walter Hamady seems to have a surplus of it. See the show. See it twice. Grab a catalog.