January 28, 2015

Richard Nixon's Last Look

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Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow over Dark Blue, 1964-5, from a suite of 27 color lithographs, ed. 29/75, loaned to Henry Kissinger for display in his White House office. Collection: SAAM

Who was Henry Kissinger's favorite artist? Ellsworth Kelly. But that's not important now.

While searching through the White House art loan records for the Nixon administration yesterday, I noticed that over the years, Kissinger borrowed several Kelly prints for his office, including the one above. It was a gift of the artist in 1966 to the National Collection of Fine Arts, which became the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Claes Oldenburg, Scissors Obelisk, aka Scissors as Monument (Scissors Obelisk, Washington, D.C.), 1967 or 1968, ed. 144. Collection: SAAM

I first started wondering about art in the Nixon White House a couple of months ago, after I stumbled across a NY Times article describing a 1978 NCFA White House Loan inventory that showed hundreds of artworks missing, mostly from the Nixon era:

More than 100 prints, including a Claes Oldenburg poster, "Scissors Obelisk," and an Andy Warhol "Flowers" poster, borrowed and displayed in the White House, at Camp David, and in the Presidential helicopter during the Nixon Administration, have not been found where they were supposed to be.
The reason I'm writing this should now be clear: Richard Nixon had art on his helicopter.

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I was doing some research in the Smithsonian Archives this afternoon, and I stumbled across this letterhead from the National Collection of Fine Arts, the precursor to the American Art Museum. That kaleidoscopic star is fantastic, and it still looked like it had been engraved yesterday.

I tried to find the designer, so far to no avail. But I did find this rather slapdash 1965 NCFA flag, where the design of the star outshines the star-eats-earth logo of the Smithsonian itself.

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National Collection of Fine Arts Flag, 1965, image: siarchives

That star-within-a-star reminds me of the US Bicentennial logo, which was created by Bruce Blackburn, the same guy at Chermayeff & Geismar who designed NASA's mod "worm" logotype.

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It also kind of reminds me of Gabriel Orozco's geometric drawings and paintings. Orozco, of course, shows with Marian Goodman.

January 20, 2015

Overpainting Photographs

It was the first thing I thought of when I saw them, and so I noticed when Roberta Smith's otherwise incisive review didn't mention it, and thought maybe it was just me. Then my very sharp friend Sam emailed, shocked at the omission, and the more general lack of discussion of the connection. Which was a relief, then a puzzle.

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Urs Fischer, 2014, huge, image via gavinbrown.biz

Because Urs Fischer's giant, printed overpainted photos at Gavin's last month felt like such clear shoutouts to Gerhard Richter's overpainted photos it was ridiculous.

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Gerhard Richter, Overpainted Photograph, image via hatje cantz

The differences actually feel like similarities. Richter has been smearing, wiping, knifing, and dripping paint on 10x15cm snapshots for more than twenty years now. Combining his paint-covered squeegees and family photos, Richter captures a single, quick gesture that works, and the photo lives, or doesn't, and the mess goes in the trash. The survival rate's around 50%. The first survivors ended up in Atlas; they proved themselves and became their own thing. A couple of deliberately made series became artist books. He's given them away to friends and studio visitors; he's used them as party favors; and he has quietly sold overpainted photos through Fred Jahn, a dealer in Munich. They had their first dedicated show and catalogue in 2009.

Richter's overpainted photos exist as documents of chance, while Fischer's show definite marks. Fischer paints on photographs. I would say that this, not the size, or the printing, is the main difference.

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Man with palm tree outfit next to Urs Fischer, 2014, image: gbe

On the size: Fischer's works are gigantic, like 9x11 feet. I imagined the contortions I might undergo to get one in our apartment; which window would I cut out to load them in? Since our ceilings are only barely 9 ft, could we live with it, under it, like a lean to? We're gonna need a bigger house.

Conversely, in discussing Richter's works, Markus Heinzelmann writes of the artist's central interest in monumentality:

The overpainted photographs, despite their extremely small format, make an extremely monumental pictorial impact because the intricate photograph entices viewers into studying microscopic details. Encouraging viewers to increase their visual acuity in this away automatically transfers to photograph-related painting.
Only the Fischers are disoriented by their enlargedness, but both artists clearly like what the disparity between the paint mark and the photographic space underneath it does to a viewer's sense of scale. [Fischer's painting-related photographs feel like they began as 8x10-in prints, or maybe even bigger. That'd make them the size of a small but real canvas.]

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Gerhard Richter, Overpainted Photograph, image via ndlr

Both artists are also equally interested in their pictures as objects. Heinzelmann entire essay is about Richter's overpainted photos as "objects of contemplation." Fischer, meanwhile, forefronts his works' physicality through description. They're not merely "prints on aluminum," but, "Aluminum panel, aluminum honeycomb, two-component epoxy adhesive, two-component epoxy primer, galvanized steel rivet nuts, acrylic primer, gesso, acrylic ink, spray enamel, acrylic silkscreen medium, acrylic paint."

Which is ironic, given how they converge so completely and float so freely online. I would really like to see the two artists' work side by side.

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Richter, 14.2.96, from the book

update: I've been looking through the Hatje Cantz catalogue again, Richter's are so fantastic. Several clear typologies emerge, including some that have been scraped after schmearing, but the actively worked over structure of this one, from Valentine's Day 1996, may be unique. Maybe the thing to do is blow a few of them up, Fischer-size. Or half-Fischer-size, to start. First, though, I'll wait and see if he sends me one for my birthday. He meaning Richter OR Fischer, I'm open.

Urs Fischer, 2014 exhibition [gavinbrown.biz]
Five years on, Gerhard Richter: Overpainted Photographs is getting expensive and staying awesome [amazon]

January 19, 2015

Ben-Day Trees

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Wow, I'm sure they'll grow in--what's the date on this Google Maps image? Maybe they already have--but the trees at Katzenberg's place have an incredible, all-over, Ben-Day dots feel, like they were laid out by Sigmar Polke. Hope that's what they were going for.

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Bonus points for those courtyards, though; that's a landscape photo for our times.

January 19, 2015

In The Beginning

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God, Elsa Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven, photo: Morton Schamberg, 1917, collection: metmuseum.org

The claim that Duchamp "stole" Fountain from Elsa Baroness von Freytag-Loringhoven was brought to the fore recently. The ostensible hook was a criticism of the reissue of Calvin Tomkins' Duchamp bio, which doesn't credit Freytag-Loringhoven. But authors Julian Spalding and Glyn Thompson's real goal is the delegitimization of Duchamp, and with him, the entire post-war art and theory that flowed out of Fountain. It's the reactionary art historian's equivalent of traveling back in time to kill teen Hitler. Here is Dr. Thompson trolling his commenters at The Art Newspaper:

Any of the global curatorial elite contemplating changing a label also have the problem of what to attach labels to, because the problem for a work art that draws its legitimacy from the acceptance by Duchamp of the attribution of Mutt's urinal is that it is now required to obtain it's legitimacy from somewhere else. Had Duchamp merely exhibited a urinal at the Janis Gallery in 1950 and explained it as homage to Elsa, whose urinal had been rejected by the Independents in 1917, there would be no problem, but there is, because the replica of 1950, attributed to Duchamp, and signed R Mutt, drew its authenticity from the attribution of Mutt's original to Duchamp, a process which had begun with no complaints from Duchamp in 1935.The implications of this conundrum for the future of avant-garde art must now be addressed...
"Duchamp's mean and meaningless urinal has acted as a canker in the heart of visual creativity," they kicked, "Elsa's puts visual insight back on to the throne of art," as if they would for a minute support the artistic reign of Queen Elsa, whose outrages and transgressions troubled even the Dada-est of her contemporaries.

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Fountain, 1917 assisted readymade by R. Mutt, apparently photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, as it was first seen and known via its publication in The Blind Man 2, May 1917

Which doesn't mean they're wrong. Their claims are not based on their own work, but on many years of carefully researched and argued publications of scholars like William Camfield, Irene Gammel, Amelia Jones, and Francis Naumann. Among the evidence: a letter Duchamp wrote to his sister in April 1917, just days after Fountain was rejected, attributing it to "one of my female friends," which was only discovered and published in 1983. Also bolstering the case: the similarity of Fountain to God, top, Freytag-Loringhoven's plumbing fixture-based sculpture of the same period. No brainer, right?

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Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, c. 1920, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, photo: Charles Sheeler, via francisnaumann

Except that for decades God was considered to be the work of Dada/precisionist painter Morton Schamberg. Schamberg was a close friend of decidedly un-Dada Charles Sheeler. Both Schamberg and Sheeler photographed artworks for money. Freytag-Loringhoven's found object assemblage Portrait of Marcel Duchamp exists only in Sheeler's photo of it, above, which was only discovered in the 1990s. They have separate billing. Naumann, who has written several of The Books On Duchamp, re-attributed God to Elsa in the mid-00's, but so far she gets, at best, shared credit. One of the photos Schamberg took of God includes his own machine-inspired painting in the background, but two do not. This is the only sculpture associated with Schamberg, who died in the 1918 flu pandemic.

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Morton Schamberg photo of God, image via christies

This Schamberg-less Schamberg photo of God sold at Christie's in 2011. The estimate of $5-7,000 was in line with his market history; the result, $390,000, makes me think that the Baroness's history was a factor and that someone out there believes in her God.

This God talk was weighing on my mind for a couple of months when I stumbled across a 200+ page oral history from UCLA of the pioneering West Coast abstractionist Lorser Feitelson, whose career began in New York in the 1910s and 20s:

[Freytag-Loringhoven] would come up to visit us, ...and she'd bring up all kinds of --I think I told you this--a cluster of pipes that she picked up right around the corner (they had razed one of those buildings), dragging this thing up the stairs. [It sounded like] somebody was busting the building. And she said, "Isn't this a grand sculpture?" And she wasn't kidding. Accident made this thing. What the hell difference does it make if the guy intended it or not? It wasn't difficult to convince us.
The awesomely gossipy Feitelson tells the Baroness's endless demands for sexual services from men and women alike, and of her many arrests for indecent exposure for "the way she dressed, in batik, with an opening there and dyed pubic hair, walking down Fifth Avenue." And of how taking his young nieces to Elsa's studio turned out to be "the worst mistake I ever made in my life," when she identified the glittery pink nebula painting they were looking at as a belfie.

For all this, though, Feitelson's most interesting story is of his first, daunting encounter with Freytag-Loringhoven, who picked up the young student at a live modeling session in Gertrude Whitney's Studio Club and took him home.

Geez, I mean, what the hell kind of a gal is this? And here on the walls were shovels and all kinds of things. I said, "Marcel Duchamp." She said, "Yes, I know him very well." I don't mean to say that she took it from him--and I'm not sure. She was playing around with "found discoveries." She would take the shovel and put it up against a background of some kind of a colored paper or materials. She had many such things, and they were wonderful.
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God, cast iron plumbing trap on miter box, 1917, attr. to Schamberg & von Freytag-Loringhoven, collection: philamuseum

In a deal engineered by Duchamp, God was acquired in 1950, along with many major Duchamp works, by the Philadelphia Museum.. The Large Glass joined the museum two years later. God is currently credited to both Schamberg and Freytag-Loringhoven.

What if Elsa took the original In Advance of A Broken Arm? What if she helped make it? What if she and Duchamp conspired to create R. Mutt's Fountain--which, remember, was identified almost immediately as a Buddha--and submit it to the Independents? Feitelson wrapped up his discussion of the Baroness with a segue to Duchamp: "[s]he had to have this terrific conceit and faith in her convictions.
And I still say you cannot talk about Marcel Duchamp detached from other people." In its own fitful way, the art world's conversation is starting to shift.

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Untitled (Andiron Attributed To Paul Revere Jr.), 2014, whoops, 2015, obv

[UPDATED, see below; UPDATED AGAIN, see below that]

I am stoked (pun recognized and allowed to stand) to have a new work in the Metropolitan Museum. Despite its minty freshness, Untitled (Andiron Attributed To Paul Revere Jr.), 2014, is currently on view in The American Wing, Gallery 774, the Luce Visible Storage Gallery, officially known as the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art.

I have not seen it installed yet--I just made it a few minutes ago, cut me some slack--if you're at the Met, maybe swing by and send me a pic? Ideally, the piece should be installed just as it's depicted in this beautiful photo.

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image: via usnews

I may have tweeted smack about it when I thought it was just old newspapers and coins, but that's only because initial headlines of Samuel Adams' and Paul Revere's time capsule in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House criminally underplayed the presence of this amazing, engraved silver plaque.

THIS is EXACTLY the kind of thing people should put in time capsules: slightly-precious-but-not-too items handmade to commemorate the occasion. These artifacts capture the moment, but more importantly, they retain an historical significance, and who knows, in time they may accrue an aesthetic aura as well.

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image via reuters

The Boston time capsule plaque also benefits from the connection to the still-relevant Revere brand; whether he actually made it or not, it feels plausible, authentic. There is also the handmade aspect: I have an engraved ring, and a stationery die, but a whole engraved plaque? That's something.

[It's not the intern who wrote this USNews piece's fault for describing every item in the time capsule in terms of its market value, and the impact a Revere attribution & provenance might have on it. Every report has that. It's just another sign of who we've become as a culture. Like Antique Roadshow.]

A more interesting cultural change is the invisibility/illegibility of whatever the plaque actually says, and what it might mean. The Masonic context goes unremarked or glossed over in the mainstream coverage of the plaque. He that still hath ears, two hundred years on, let him hear, I guess.

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Invisibility was one of the qualities of engraved text that appealed to Walter De Maria early in his career; he made a series of polished steel or aluminum works with engravings on them: Garbo Column (1968) had a list of the reclusive actress's 27 films; Melville (1968, above, which I have swooned over before) features the opening of the author's first hit novel, The Confidence Man.
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The Barnett Newman-scale monochrome painting De Maria asked Michael Heizer to make for him for Dwan Gallery's 1968 Earthworks show has its title engraved on a polished steel plaque in the center: The Color Men Choose When They Attack the Earth. Can you read it in this picture?

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Walter De Maria, Silver Portrait of Dorian Gray, 1965, at the Prada Fndn's exhibit in Venice in 2011, image: @fabyab

De Maria created at least one work in silver. It was for his patron at the time, Robert Scull, who fronted the dough for the fabrication of a series of polished metal sculptures. Silver Portrait of Dorian Gray (1965) is just that: a mirrored silver plaque behind a velvet curtain that darkens and oxidizes over time. The artist's instructions on the back offer the owner the chance to wipe away the stains of aging, though: "When the owner judges that enough time has passed, this plaque may be removed to free and clean the silver plate." The promise of immortality, the opposite of a time capsule, at least for the mirror. Your call, Miuccia!

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image:

UPDATE A brief dive into the history of time capsules tells us we need to pay more attention to the Masons, and to the Egyptians. The birth of the modern/20th century time capsule is linked to the discoveries of relic-filled Egyptian tombs and pyramids. And in a list of the International Time Capsule Society's 1991 list of the Top Ten Most Wanted Time Capsules is this:

5. George Washington's Cornerstone
Today's custom of burying time capsules is in part an outgrowth of Masonic cornerstone-laying ceremonies. Through the centuries, Masons have officiated at rituals which often include placing memorabilia inside building cornerstones for later recovery.In 1793, George Washington, a Mason, performed the Masonic ritual upon the laying of the original cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. Over the years, the Capitol has undergone extensive expansion, remodeling and reconstruction, but the original George Washington cornerstone has never been found. It is unknown whether there is anything inside of it.
Here is a Mason's explanation of the cornerstone laying ceremony, one of the only public Masonic rituals. ["When the brethren are sharply dressed, and well-rehearsed, it's an awesome thing to behold." mhmm.] And Wikipedia's article on cornerstones has a brief account of a 19th century cornerstone laying ceremony in Cork, which involved "a trowel specially made for the occasion by John Hawkesworth, a silversmith and a jeweller." So maybe these engraved plaques are also a thing?

Coins, Newspapers Found in Time Capsule Buried by Paul Revere [usnews]
Previously, very much related: While We're On The Subject Of Polished Metal Objects: Walter De Maria

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Europe and next to Europe. Ho. Ly. Smokes, Turkey, what the hell is going on with your imperial warrior cosplay Sforzian backdrops? After showing Mahmoud Abbas around the new Presidential Palace, Prime Minister Erdogan took him to a feast and a live jousting demonstration at Ottoman Times.

Abbas welcomed at Turkish presidential palace by Erdoğan - and 16 warriors [guardian, image: getty]

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image: crowds at the Place de la Republique, via reuters, I think

Europe. The states of Europe, united against terrorism and intolerance as they marched through the streets of Paris yesterday, led by the families of those killed this week,

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image: ap

and the heads of dozens of countries--including those countries where journalists are regularly jailed, flogged, and killed--marching arm in arm, marching, mar--wait, don't march yet. Everyone in front, look up and...OK, march now.

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image by unknown, maybe TF1, via @rukhasgunsalu

As anyone who spent a moment contemplating the security nightmare might have guessed, the assembled leaders were actually not among the regular Charlies, but were instead marching in place, for the cameras, on a sealed-off street. If you thought otherwise, it might be because you were meant to. From the photos and slideshows, it sure could have seemed like one Paris March. As Twitter user Gonzalo put it, "Los líderes mundiales no encabezaron la Marcha de París, pero hicieron un montaje para hacernos creer que sí."

A montage to make us believe they are. Instead of simply crafting a single, standalone image, make a photo-op that blends seamlessly into the broader visual narrative of the event. I believe this colonization of a montage represents an advance in Sforzian technique which warrants more investigation. Stay tuned.

January 9, 2015

Uber, But For Artists

Monochromes. Why's it always gotta be monochromes?

In his recent NYT Magazine profile of Stefan Simchowitz Christopher Glazek writes about the emerging artist Kour Pour that "several artists I spoke with had initially assumed that Pour did not in fact exist -- that he was a computer-generated figment of Simchowitz's prodigious imagination." One reason Glazek gives is that Simcho's email was the contact link on Pour's website. Another, he infers, is because Pour's digital image tapestry paintings seem so perfectly suited to Simcho's Instagram- and minor tech billionaire collector-centric art dealing operation.

But Glazek saves the biggest reveal for his annotation of his own article on genius.com: he'd heard that Simcho had already fabricated an artist, and had put his work up for show and sale in 2011. That artist's market-optimized multi-culti name was Chen Obogado.

An artist told me Simchowitz had approached him to make paintings under a false name, though it seems possible that Simchowitz actually painted them himself. I'm not sure if money ever exchanged hands for the paintings. It may have been more of a prank than a scheme, and the art world is forgiving of pranks.
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China Art Objects, Mind Games, installation view with Chen Obogado [L] and actual artist Evi Vingerling [R], Jul/Aug 2011

Let's review Obogado's known body of work and brief exhibition history. It won't take long. As far as I can tell, Chen Obogado made his debut in a summer group show at China Art Objects called, appropriately enough, "Mind Games."

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Chen Obogado, MS6 01, 2011, resin, pigment, aluminum, image: caog.la

Like many actual artists at the time, simulated artist Chen Obogado [SimChO?]'s practice interrogated chemical process-based abstraction; two works are pigmented resin slabs, possibly on aluminum panels, but definitely in tray-like aluminum frames. They retain the traces of their skll-less pour [!]: bubbles, pour lines, and pigment mixed unevenly within each batch. I guess this is supposed to be works' content. If I were trying to sell them, I'd reference the foam scenes from Fischli & Weiss'sThe Way Things Go and let the zombie abstraction momentum do the rest.

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Chen Obogado, MS001PB001, 2011, polyurethane, aluminum, image: caog.la

The third, smaller work is made of polyurethane in aluminum. It is glacial, sculptural and reductive, and appears to be a piece of Stingel-ian insulation board that's been scraped with a solvent-dipped spackling knife. They have inconsistently formulated serial numbers for titles. Their irrelevance is a standout, even among the forgettable flotsam that seems to have washed up in Culver City that summer. [Like car crash videos in drivers ed, anyone starting a new painting series should be forced to surf 3-yr-old group show installation shots.]

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Chen Obogado, CO MSM 001 S1, 2011, resin, platinum powder, aluminum, est. $3,000, opening bid: $1,500. image: laxart

Which wasn't enough to actually forget them. The fourth and last Obogado to make a documented public appearance was in November, at the LAXART benefit auction. This work was made of resin and platinum powder on/in aluminum. Which sounds like it might be kind of metallic and shiny, a poor, stupid, unconnected man's Jacob Kassay.

It was listed as a "donation of the artist and an anonymous donor," which makes little sense in the benefit auction context, and even less if he actually didn't exist. But it does seem like the credit line of an artist who didn't exist who wasn't buying his own materials. Last summer Simcho told Artspace, "I help dealers decide which artists to represent, how to represent them." Was SimChO presented to CAO and LAXART as a Simcho joint? Was he pitching the glorious future where artists-as-brands soared free of the foibles and frailties of actual artists? The next step in the end of authorship? That would be more than a scheme OR a prank.

The Kassay mention above is interesting because Summer 2011 was when Kassay had his first show in LA, and L&M. And Henry Codax had his first show in New York. Is it too late to organize an east coast/west coast monochrome show of these two non-existent artists? Please say no. #Sumer2015

Though rumors of Kassay and Olivier Mosset's involvement in Codax's work were reported at the time, I've come to think that Codax must be a gallerist's dream: all that margin without all those hassles. Assuming it sold, of course, and you could keep it moving. And maybe that's what doomed SimChO's work: Simcho couldn't keep up the act well enough to sell it, or maybe it sucked so bad even his buy-it-now yesmen network didn't click, and so Simcho decided to eat the cost of two buckets of resin and call it a day?

It's worth considering Chen Obogado in the Simcho's own preferred, network/platform/disruptor context [My favorite quote, from another of Glazek's annotations: "All he demanded was a minimum level of respect. 'You can't say I'm bad--I created the post-internet movement!'"] Stories of artists feeling exploited by Simcho remind me of reports last year of the drivers who were the pawns in Uber's anti-competitive attacks against Lyft. Which LOLjobsWTF when Uber's CEO talked about how psyched he was to replace all the drivers with robot cars. If Chen Obogado's any indication, Simchowitz may feel the same way about artists.

Christopher Glazek annotates himself [genius.com]
When he has a fawning audience Simchowitz really lets the vision flow. Must read. [artspace]

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
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