Dear everyone, Open Space is going on holiday and will return to posting on January 3. Before I sign us off for a well-deserved winter rest, I want to take a moment to say thank you to the many, many people who contributed to Open Space in 2010. I am honored to be able to continue to work with so many brilliant, passionate, and articulate people.
To the 56 columnists, guest writers, Collection Rotation contributors, SFMOMA curators, and SFMOMA staff who’ve written, produced, and labored on the front side of the blog:
Darrin Alfred • Brecht Andersch • Joseph Del Pesco • Chris Cobb • Michelle Tea • Renny Pritikin • Meg Shiffler • Scott Hewicker • Iain Boal • Brandon Brown • Brion Nuda Rosch • Eric Heiman • Kevin Killian • Duane Deterville • Stephanie Syjuco • Rebar • Dodie Bellamy • Cedar Sigo • Margaret Tedesco • John Davis • Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young • Dana Ward • Tyler Green • Cindy Keefer • Patricia Maloney • Lindsey Westbrook • Ariel Goldberg • Tammy Rae Carland • Yedda Morrison • Lynne McCabe • Julian Myers • Anne McGuire • Caitlin Freeman • Jessica Tully • Allyssa Wolf • Okwui Enwezor • W. J. T. Mitchell • Joshua Chuang • Sarah Miller • Brenden Fay • Sharon Lerner • Xiaoyu Weng • Joanna Szupinksa • Erin O’Toole • Apsara DiQuinzio • Frank Smigiel • Lisa Sutcliffe • Tanya Zimbardo • Alison Gass • Janet Bishop • Rudolf Frieling • Sandra Phillips • Henry Urbach • Anne Walsh
Special thanks also to more than a dozen others behind the scenes, who get no front-side glory and without whom Open Space couldn’t do all the things it does:
Anne Bast, our intellectual property associate, who vets every SFMOMA collection image we put up, easily hundreds this year • Ian Padgham, SFMOMA Facebook/Twitter man • Dana Mitroff Silvers and Andrew Delaney, that is, our (entire) SFMOMA web team • Gilbert Guerrero and Jacqueline Waters, our freelance web developers/crisis managers • Kirsten Ericson, who’s answered a thousand frantic phone calls • Anne Ray, our proofreader • Stella Lochman • Zmira Zilka • Chad Coerver • Dominic Willsdon • Lauren Fliegelman, our first-ever Open Space intern • Thanks everyone on the headline news team • Christie Herring, and everyone post-production on 75 Reasons to Live • Tammy Fortin, Open Space emeritus • and of course, the tireless Megan Brian, education and public programs coordinator, who does everything, period
And to all of you who continue to read, respond, and to engage — our readership nearly doubled this year! locally, and far and wide — thank you.
Happy holidays, everyone. See you in the New Year.
Open Space is taking a break, but SFMOMA is open. Click here for holiday hours.
75 Reasons to Live: Kaja Silverman on Robert Rauschenberg
Kaja Silverman, art historian and film theorist, on Robert Rauschenberg’s Cy + Roman Steps (I – V) (1952).
75 Reasons to Live: Lisa Robertson on Eva Hesse
Poet Lisa Robertson, on German artist Eva Hesse’s Sans II (1968). “Identity is the state’s authority.”
75 Reasons to Live: Rachel Rosen on Eadweard Muybridge
Rachel Rosen, director of programming for the San Francisco Film Society, on Eadweard Muybridge’s Panorama of San Francisco from California Street Hill (1877).
To Various Persons Talked to All at Once
Because this is my last post for 2010 I wanted to reflect on a few photographs I took when I was living in San Francisco. Having been away from the Bay Area for almost two years now, there are certain moments I recall vividly, in full color and in 3-D, if you know what I mean. One such moment was when I was taking pictures at Southern Exposure in 2005, I think, when I happened upon Larry Sultan, Jim Goldberg, and David Ireland talking together.
Of course these three guys had been key figures in the Bay Area art community for decades and have done as much as anyone to help shape the art culture there. Trying not to break up their interaction, I gave up any pretense of taking a good picture. I think Jim Goldberg saw me coming before I even knew I was going to take the picture. That kind of ESP sense is something he just seems to have.
David and Larry both passed away in 2009, but their impact is still strongly felt. David started the Capp Street Project and did a lot of work at the Headlands Center for the Arts. He was a man of many talents and came to art only after first living a romantic life as a safari guide in Africa. Strange but true. David was one of those gregarious people who was also a great cook and would have a dozen guests over for dinner at his house and it would be delicious. Also his Capp Street Project hosted residencies for interesting artists from all over the country, exposing them, often for the first time, to Bay Area audiences. Similarly Larry collaborated on a number of interesting conceptual art and public art projects with artist Mike Mandel and later became very well-known for photographs of his parents in their suburban home. SFMOMA presented a large exhibition of Larry’s in 2004 called The Valley, a collection of portraits of porn stars he had somehow made the acquaintance of. The two of them were consummate “people persons,” if one can say that. Great humor, could talk to anybody, knew everything about everything. That’s why this moment sticks in my mind.
Another picture that pulls me back to San Francisco is this one from 2005, when the San Francisco Art Institute brought in the seminal sound and performance artist Terry Fox to do a summer class. Terry had been an important part of the Conceptual art movement during the 1960s and 1970s in the Bay Area, along with Paul Kos and Tom Marioni, Doug Hall, Chip Lord, William T. Wiley, and others. They produced a lot of very of interesting work, to say the least.
And as a testament to their teaching many of their students (Bruce Nauman, Karen Finley, Nancy Rubin, etc.) went on to have amazing careers. But Terry was different — he was the quintessential expatriate Conceptual artist who went traveling around Europe doing art shows, living the good life, and making installations that always had a poetic edge coupled with an interest in language and its construction. His best-known work is a performance that he did with Joseph Beuys in 1970 called called Isolation Unit. I met Terry a few times and he told me that he just sort of hung out at the Kunstakademie Dussledorf where Beuys was teaching. When he saw him he asked Beuys to do a collaborative performance & Beuys said o.k.. Then they just went and did it. No pretentious bullshit, just one artist to another. But that was just one of Terry’s many interesting works. He passed away in 2008.
When I lived in San Francisco I lived in Chinatown. I was at the corner where North Beach, the Financial District, and Chinatown meet. At times it is so noisy and crowded you would think you were in Times Square. But you weren’t.
This is a picture I took one morning on the way to work. It is at the corner of Sacramento and Kearny, right at the bottom of Nob Hill.
Because of the numerous tall buildings in the area there would often be pockets of bright light reflecting off the plate glass windows illuminating whoever happened to step into the reflected glare. It’s a very common occurrence in the Financial District — periodic bursts of angelic soft, glowing light filling a space where ordinary passers-by suddenly and unwittingly become lit up as if they were movie stars on a movie set. It’s no wonder so many car commercials are made down there. The corner is also in the middle of an area filled with amazing architecture. The buildings combined with the dramatic light were backdrops for many movies, including Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness and Michael Douglass’s The Game. But regardless of all the noise, all the traffic, and all the people, every morning it was my corner.
However, at night my neighborhood changed. Chinatown shuts all its produce markets down by about 7:00 p.m. As it gets dark, and because of the strip clubs nearby, people sometimes did crazy things – spontaneous things.
For example — one night I was out walking and saw this group of naked people running around. It was on Kearny and Broadway. They were streaking. I guess streaking used to be a big thing in San Francisco, but more so in the 1960s and 1970s. I am used to seeing half-dressed junkies on the street or mentally ill people taking their clothes off to freak people out — but streaking? Who does that anymore? They were all laughing, so maybe it was a dare. But they had been running around in circles — both the guys and the girls. With their penises and breasts flopping up and down it just seemed really weird. They didn’t seem drunk and they weren’t hurting anyone, but I knew I might not come across another scene like that. So I took this picture as they inexplicably walked towards me. This image reminds me of the San Francisco attitude. Free, unafraid, wide-eyed, open and up for anything.
The Way the Wild, Wild Art World Works
The photography exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape was originally presented at the International Museum of Photography of the Eastman House, Rochester, New York, in 1975. It marked the emergence of a different kind of art photography, one that was difficult, cerebral, political, deadpan; it extended the landscape/cityscape tradition into the suburbs, concentrating on the destruction of the land in the name of development. Without this movement, there might not have been a Center for Land Use Interpretation, for one example of the progeny of these photographers. Most prominent in the group has been Lewis Baltz, and the Bechers, as well as Robert Adams, Frank Gohlke, Stephen Shore, and the Bay Area’s own Hank Wessel. Their ongoing importance and relevance has been reiterated with the remounting of that seminal exhibition by Tucson’s Center for Creative Photography in 2009, and its still ongoing traveling tour currently at SFMOMA.
As director/curator of the small museum at UC Davis (The Nelson Gallery), I was recently looking through our collection for ideas for an exhibition I needed to organize at our satellite gallery on campus. I started cataloging images for a show of urban landscapes across time and across disciplines. I stumbled upon a suite of photographs I had never noticed before by a man with the unlikely name of Terry Wild. It turned out that his was the third of three bodies of work we had obtained at the same time, some 40 years ago, that had together formed an exhibition titled The Crowded Vacancy, at the Pasadena Museum in 1971. The other two artists in the show were Lewis Baltz and Anthony Hernandez. This exhibition made the same argument as the New Topographics, but four years earlier; however, with only three artists, and at a smaller, West Coast museum, it did not reach the tipping point that the subsequent show did. Baltz, who was in both shows, achieved international recognition; Hernandez has had a substantial career in his own right. Wild has disappeared from the art world, and does not appear in art history.
One of my favorite haunts in San Francisco is the San Francisco Antique and Design Mall, tucked away near the end of Bayshore Drive near Industrial, just before it reaches over into Visitacion Valley. It’s one of the few places in the city where, once inside, one can truly feel like they’re on vacation, or at least in another, much smaller town where these kinds of antique malls are more prevalent. The place is huge, and one can easily spend a couple of hours strolling the two floors of large booths and the myriads of showcases that are either filled to the brim or sparsely empty with a unique confluence of the old and the odd. It’s almost better than a museum.
The showcases are in the front section of the mall, and I usually save browsing them for when I’m getting ready to leave. There’s so much to look at that my eyes need to take in the larger rooms of furniture, paintings, musical instruments, and memorabilia toward the back and upstairs, before they can be honed down to focus and take in the vast arrays of tiny objects, knickknacks, and collectibles.
It was back in September when I was there buying antique glass slides for a glass slide projector I just bought that I first noticed something odd about one of the showcases. It didn’t hit me right away. I was perusing the banks of shelves that are normally crammed with stuff, and I came upon this showcase that only had a few items, about one on each shelf, very attractively displayed. That in itself wasn’t unusual. I mean, there had to be at least one dealer out of the hundred or so operating that thought perhaps a few choice pieces elegantly displayed would stand apart from the crowded cases that crammed World War II memorabilia and perfume bottles next to porcelain figurines of Disney characters and old issues of Playbill.
Maple Jesus (Part 2)
I don’t drink coffee, so let’s have a beer… My posts are always collaborations and are presented in two parts. Part 1 is a summary of a shared experience with my collaborator(s). Part 2 is a response often in the form of a project created specifically for this blog.
After a three-week bout of pneumonia, it’s good to be back to work on the blog. Keeping with my initial intent of creating conversant pairs of posts, I’m going to follow up on my previous post about Maple Jesus.
Gretchen Bennett, a remarkable Seattle/Brooklyn-based artist, mines pop culture, the urban landscape, and art history for inspiration. She works in a variety of media, including drawings, stickers, video, installations, urban interventions, and small sculpture. No matter what media Bennett is working with, she has a signature style that combines a delicate aesthetic with emotional punch. Her strength lies in an ability to create works that distance themselves from their aggressive or controversial subject matter — most of the time stripping the subject back to a more poetic and raw shadow of itself. For example, for the past 10 years she’s returned often to examining the life and early death of Kurt Cobain (1967–1994), and lately Antony Hegarty (born 1971), the multi-talented lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons, has crept into her visual vocabulary.
As I stated in my previous post, on a recent trip to NY I sat down with Gretchen and writer Emily Hall. Gretchen told us about the new work she’s been making during her time on Governor’s Island, courtesy of a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Swing Space Residency. Adding to her small but potent lineup of complicated, misunderstood, fragile geniuses, Gretchen has turned to British critic John Ruskin (1819–1900) and his never-faltering adoration of the landscape painter J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851). Gretchen is the only person I know that could get from rapper Notorious B.I.G. (1972–1997) to John Ruskin in one fell swoop. Biggie was the first celeb on the scene to wear a Maple Jesus pendant (although his was gold). Gretchen explained that she recently spent some time reading Ruskin and felt that she wanted to memorialize him in some way, and the Maple Turner is for Ruskin. When a group of kids came to visit her studio, she said that they took one look at her pendants and, referencing Biggie, knew immediately what she was doing, even though Ruskin and Turner were unknown to them.
Emily said that “talking to Gretchen creates this feeling of spiking out in a million different directions but constantly circling back to the same topics — a kind of riches.” That’s what keeps me engaged with her work over time — I never know where she’s going next, but there’s always a completely unpredictable thread leading from the past to the present. I’m happy to share our conversation (in two posts) and introduce a bit of her new body work to the Bay Area.
The End of the Internet
Winter Solstice 2010
4.30 AM, BERKELEY—Later today, in the hours between total lunar eclipse and the longest night, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be discussing an Order (drafted by its chairman and Obama appointee) which spells the end of the Internet as a common carrier, and will allow “paid prioritization” by big capitalist firms. For the arts community and cultural workers, not to mention commoners everywhere, the implications are serious indeed. The lockdown of image banks is already well advanced; the historian of San Francisco, Gray Brechin, admits that the cost of illustrations for his Imperial San Francisco — once freely accessible in the State Library — would now be prohibitive.
We have lived through the opening military-socialist phase of the planetary telecommunications system, whose infrastructure required public subvention and state action far beyond the ability of private capitals — cold war informatics and telemetry, DoD-funded materials science, Pentagon rocketry, NASA space and satellite R&D, eminent domain and state seizures as necessary, etc. Now Big Telecom is poised and the electromagnetic enclosures are beginning in earnest; the camel’s nose is the (de)regulation of the Internet in its ethereal mode, the so-called “mobile services.”
The opinion of the citizenry counts for naught, and the silent compliance of public servants and officials is at this stage a given, as when in 1800 the seizure of the English common lands could be completed, no longer in “letters of blood and fire,” but with the stroke of the pen in the Parliament by means of private members’ Bills of Enclosure. In 2010 it takes a comedian-turned-US senator, aghast at the idea of Comcast customers being blocked from Netflix, to describe the prospects:
“Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it … For many Americans — particularly those who live in rural areas — the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections. Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).
It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet — but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called “paid prioritization” (the creation of a “fast lane” for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern. It sure is — but that’s exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination.
But grassroots supporters of net neutrality are beginning to wonder if we’ve been had. Instead of proposing regulations that would truly protect net neutrality, reports indicate that Chairman Genachowski has been calling the CEOs of major Internet corporations seeking their public endorsement of this draft proposal, which would destroy it. No chairman should be soliciting sign-off from the corporations that his agency is supposed to regulate — and no true advocate of a free and open Internet should be seeking the permission of large media conglomerates before issuing new rules.
After all, just look at Comcast — this Internet monolith has reportedly imposed a new, recurring fee on Level 3 Communications, the company slated to be the primary online delivery provider for Netflix. That’s the same Netflix that represents Comcast’s biggest competition in video services. Imagine if Comcast customers couldn’t watch Netflix, but were limited only to Comcast’s Video On Demand service. Imagine if a cable news network could get its website to load faster on your computer than your favorite local political blog. Imagine if big corporations with their own agenda could decide who wins or loses online.” [Al Franken, Huffpost, December 20th]
The tireless tribunus populi, Alexander Cockburn, as editor of a dissenting online newsletter, knows what is at stake, and in the fortnight since he sounded the following clarion call in his CounterPunch Diary [December 10/12] the stakes have become even clearer as the first full-blown popular cyberwar unfolds, with its unlikely epicenter at Ellingham Hall, the ancient seat of Norfolk gentry in the Waveney Valley of East Anglia, where Julian Assange is out of gaol and under “manor-house arrest,” the guest of Vaughan Smith, an ex-Grenadier Guardsman, crack shot, and organic farmer. In honor of two fallen photojournalist colleagues — in Iraq and the Balkans — Smith founded the Frontline Club in London as a hub for unembedded journalism. It is a converted Victorian plumbing factory with a restaurant sourced from his Norfolk estate at Bungay (which in one of those historical ironies had been common land before his forebears enclosed it in 1806 with permission of Parliament). There is a suite of members’ rooms upstairs, and an event space on the third floor hosting over 200 talks and screenings a year. While he was staying in one of the flats for visiting independent journalists, Julian Assange could feel the noose tightening. Cockburn understands the connection between l’affaire Assange and the meeting today of the FCC in Washington, D.C:
“The WikiLeaks sites have vanished — though more than 1,400 mirror sites still carry the disclosures. Amazon, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and the organization’s Swiss bank have shut it down, either on their own initiative or after a threat from the US government or its poodles in London and Geneva. Attorney General Eric Holder is cooking up a stew of new gag stipulations and fierce statutory penalties against any site carrying material the government deems compromising to state security. Commercial outfits like Amazon are falling over themselves to connive at the shutdowns, actual or threatened.
As I outline at greater length in my Beat the Devil column in the current Nation, one of the biggest lessons for us all comes in the form of a wake-up call on the enormous vulnerability of our prime means of communication to swift government-instigated, summary shutdown.
So here we have a public “commons” — the Internet — subject to arbitrary onslaught by the state and powerful commercial interests, and not even the shadow of constitutional protections. The situation is getting worse. The net itself is going private. As I write, Google and Facebook are locked in a struggle over which company will control the bulk of the world’s Internet traffic. Millions could find that the e-mail addresses they try to communicate with, the sites they want to visit, the ads they may want to run are all under Google’s or Facebook’s supervision and can be closed off without explanation or redress at any time.
Here in the US, certainly, we need a big push on First Amendment protections for the Internet: one more battlefield where the left and the libertarians can join forces. But we must do more than buttress the First Amendment. We must also challenge the corporations’ power to determine the structure of the Internet and decide who is permitted to use it.“
Sandra Phillips: “Fragility”
The exhibition The More Things Change samples SFMOMA’s collection to present a range of works made since 2000, offering a selective survey of the art of the last 10 years and a thematic and psychological portrait of the decade. Some common themes emerge: fragmentation, fragility, entropy, metamorphosis, reconfiguration. The exhibition itself will continually change, with a varying array of works on view. TMTC is also an unprecedented collaboration among all five curatorial departments at the museum: over the course of the year, Open Space will present texts from each of the 10 curators.
In the past decade, many artists have sensed that the conditions under which we live are precarious, that what we have believed immovable and permanent has shifted, and that a climate of vulnerability and fragility is what best characterizes the last 10 years. This sense of precariousness is the focus of many works in the present show. Some artists reflect on changes that are observable and felt: the strange shifts in the earth’s climate; the anxiety and hyperbole that seem commonplace in (especially American) politics; the often unacknowledged sense that the beliefs and certainties of a world we knew not so long ago have changed irrevocably. Indeed, looking out over the landscape in which we now live, we sense that we are united more than ever by these uncertainties, and heading, all of us, toward a future of discord, waste, and anxiety. Many of the artists here choose to focus not only on the mutable, but on the fragile beauty they find in the world; this is especially the case with many of the photographers in the show.
Photography is especially suited to picturing the momentary, the intimate, and to documenting change. A number of these artists look at ordinary pleasures as momentous occasions, or as poignant phenomena. Barbara Bosworth, for instance, pictures people who work with wild birds, banding and releasing them to study their habits. Bosworth’s pictures honor the transient and reflect on the gestures of these ordinary people who devote their time to work with the tiny birds, their gestures perhaps resembling noble and grave movements in some Italian Renaissance paintings (Annunciations, for instance); that is, miraculous moments found in ordinary circumstances. Paul Graham photographs in sequences of pictures rather than selecting a specific and single point in time, the better to elucidate the variety and preciousness of everyday events. A man cutting grass near Pittsburgh strides behind his mower near a turnpike interchange in the suburban hills on a muggy summer day. The pictures, taken from slightly different vantage points, extend the moment and focus our attention on the muted colors of the suburban scene; the changes in weather (from overcast to rainy to clear to late afternoon sundown); the cracked and nubby asphalt on the parking lot. The piece is a reminder to look, to remember, and to take pleasure in passing, everyday life.
Both Abelardo Morell and Richard Learoyd use the camera obscura in making their photographs. Meaning “dark room” in Italian, the camera obscura — a 16th-century form of the present-day camera — is a small room with a tiny hole in it, and what is outside is reflected on the back wall upside down. Morrell finds rooms that he darkens, inserting a lens on one side that casts the image of the outdoor scene onto the opposite wall. A shimmering, especially lucent vision of a Venetian cathedral, or the landscape of Central Park, is thus reflected on private apartments indoors, and Morell then photographs the convergence of both. Learoyd also uses a tiny room he has constructed to capture a beautiful, unreal calmness in the people he photographs, who must sit very still for several seconds while he makes the picture. The characteristically palpable light of the ancient camera appears to transfix his sitters, whose strange immobility calls attention to the transcendent and fleeting.
We see a similar luminosity in a picture by Beate Gutschow, a landscape that suggests the idealized classical paintings of Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin. In fact, the picture is “too good to be true” — it was made from many different pictures assembled digitally and enhanced to make the light appear especially singular and lyric, more real than reality. Finally, the work of Michael Light shows a landscape — that of the area around Phoenix, Arizona — where the desert itself is carved and modified to create new housing and transportation systems. It is a study of a landscape we have thought immovable, shown in the process of change. As with other pictures in this exhibition, Light finds, in these constructions, new forms that seem at once permanent and dangerously fragile.
Sandra S. Phillips is senior curator of photography at SFMOMA. The More Things Change is on view on through October 16, 2011. Excerpts from these statements by curators will appear in the galleries at various points during the exhibition.