July 24, 2016

Tantas Sombras

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Teresa Margolles' La Sombra, installed at Echo Park Lake, photo: Carolina Miranda/LAT

Teresa Margolles has contributed a memorial to Current: LA Water, the "public art biennial," which started last week. La Sombra (The Shade) is near Echo Park Lake and looks to be the most significant and prominent work in the program, which runs, incredibly, for less than a month.

La Sombra is a six meter-high...pavilion? Awning? Structure? In her onsite report for the LA Times, Carolina Miranda calls it an installation, a memorial, and a monument. It looks like it's made of concrete, but if it's going to disappear in a couple of weeks, I suspect it's gunnite or stucco sprayed on a plywood box.

Which hurts. Margolles created La Sombra as a memorial to 100 Los Angelenos murdered with guns in the last 18 months. The sites of these killings were visited, washed, and the water re-collected for use in mixing the concrete. This circulatory element echoes Margolles' previous works which incorporate the water used to wash corpses in the morgue in her home city of Juarez.

La Sombra is a stark, powerful form that draws people to it, especially on a hot, sunny day. In this way, perhaps, the deaths of these hundred people might yield some comfort to the living. Maybe family and friends can come sit under it. Maybe people will be motivated to act against gun-related violence.

"I wanted [La Sombra] to be on the scale of what has happened," says Margolles in the Times. "I wanted it to have presence."

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Donald Judd, One of 15 Untitled Works in Concrete, 1980-84, 2.5m x 2.5m x 5m, Chinati Foundation, image via wiki

The scale and presence of La Sombra are indeed notable. It seems quite large. It looks like it could be concrete-Judd-in-Marfa-fields-size, but it is actually 4x that. It has an architectural presence and is not slight. It feels like about the right scale for 100 people. Maybe it is even the size of 100 people standing within it, I don't know.

Memorials use scale to convey their meaning. Some memorials, like for the people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing and the AA77 crash at the Pentagon, use a cemetery-like field of individual-scale objects-chairs and benches, respectively-to represent the dead. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World Trade Center Memorial, meanwhile, incorporate individual names into a larger, holistic experience of loss. nodding to a larger, shared sense of mourning, of a community, a nation. It really depends on the scale of death, whether it is thousands (58,195 or 2,977), hundreds (168 or 184), or one.

By remembering 100 otherwise unrelated deaths with one La Sombra, Margolles appears to have found a new scale for memorialization: a memorial unit that modulates between societal tragedy and individual loss. [I just remembered that the Pentagon Memorial actually called the benches "memorial units".]

There were not just 100 people killed in LA with guns in the 18 months Margolles bracketed; there were 975. Even if it was just because of the prohibitive the logistics of washing down all those murder sites, the artist knew her temporary memorial alone could not account for that "scale of what has happened." She'd need nine more La Sombras, just in LA. With an average of 55 people being killed each month, that's another La Sombras every two months.

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Imagine these 3-meter tall Judd concrete sculptures at Chinati are actually 6-meter tall Margolles La Sombras, each commemorating 100 people killed with guns. image: chinati.org

And now scale them up. There are 30,000 gun deaths in the US-half a Vietnam War or ten September 11ths-each year. Margolles' La Sombra could be the optimal form and size for memorializing the people killed by gun violence across the country. But some details would need to be worked out. How far back in time do we go? We could need thousands of La Sombras right from the start. Seems impractical, at least at first.

Where should they be placed? Do we combine them all into one sprawling site, like an AIDS Quilt of concrete, an ever-growing Holocaust Memorial for a slaughter we refuse to stop? I think a La Sombra site could take into account the hundred people it memorializes within a city or perhaps a state, without getting too granular with your data; you wouldn't want them to pile up and stigmatize a neighborhood, though having a few together could totally work.

Spread them out at least a bit. Though maybe a city or state could decide to stack them up in a public space, magnify their presence, so the absence of the dead can't be ignored. Of course, you'd also want to avoid gamifying them, having them treated as kills to be racked up by violent forces in society, or even just a run-of-the-mill gun-toting psychokiller. They need to stay present in the landscape, but also just ominous and uncomfortable enough to prick the consciences of we who remain.

An artist's imposing new monument at Echo Park Lake honors Angelenos killed in violent crimes [latimes]
Current: LA Water, LA's Public Art Biennial, runs through August 14. [currentla.org]

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Luanda, Encyclopedic City, installation view, 2013, via beyond entropy

In 2013, Luanda, Encyclopedia City, an exhibition by Edson Chagas at the Angola Pavilion, won the Golden Lion for National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It was the first time Angola had participated in the Biennale, and the first time an African country had won. It was Chagas's first solo exhibition in Europe.

The exhibition comprised images from Chagas' ongoing series, Found, Not Taken (2009 - ), in which he photographed an object from various cities' streets in front of a carefully selected background. The curators of the pavilion, Paula Nascimento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera of the firm Beyond Entropy Ltd, selected 23 images of Luanda.

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Luanda, Encyclopedic City, installation view via tankboys.biz

The commissioned title, Luanda, Encyclopedic City, is an unabashedly direct callout to the main Biennale exhibition, Encyclopedic Palace, curated by Masimiliano Gioni. The pavilion was the Palazzo Cini, a private museum of Venetian painting just off the Grand Canal.

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From Found Not Taken, installation of inkjet prints on pallets, title via moma.org, image via beyond entropy

Chagas's images are appealing, but not groundbreaking. They feel like painterly Gabriel Orozco photos where journalism replaces self-conscious lyricism. What was most striking about the exhibition was its sculptural and spatial qualities. Offset prints of the images were placed in large stacks on pallet-like plinths, providing a stark contrast of both content and form with the palazzo's ornate galleries and collection.

While I've found no mention of Orozco's work in discussions of the show, the references to Felix Gonzalez-Torres were clear, broad, and abundant. Indeed, it felt like Chagas's works were the most powerful and effective use of the replenishable stack since Felix put the form on the contemporary map 25 years ago. Beside the bases, one innovation was a large, printed folder, which turned visitors' sheafs of free prints into a tidy, transport-friendly exhibition publication.

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Ocean of Images installation shot with Edson Chagas's Found, Not Taken, Luanda, 2013, image: moma via aperture

When MoMA included five images from Chagas' Found, Not Taken series in last year's Ocean of Images show, they showed the stacks, minus the folder, with the pallets. Or again, pallet-shaped plinths, since the stacks involved actual, non-sculptural pallets, too. The works were now credited as coming from the Founding Collection of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. [You know what collectors say: biennials before Basel.]

The stacks' appeal, as Felix knew, is their distributive power. As MoMA's Kristen Gaylord put it, "they require the interaction of our thousands of visitors, who take them away to hang on a wall, toss in the garbage, or give away, distributing Chagas's work throughout the world."

So it's kind of amazing to find out that the stacks weren't Chagas's idea; they came from the graphic designers' for the Angolan Pavilion, a two-person firm in Venice called Tankboys. In the official press release, the curators were described as collaborating withsomeone called Thankboys on "design and art direction," but almost no other mention of a Thankboys can be found online. Tankboys, however, Lorenzo Mason & Marco Campardo, lists the pavilion on their un-Googled website:

Our role as designers was to find an adequate setting for the contemporary artworks while also creating a dialectic relationship with the permanent collection present on the site. While observing the space, we have decided to create a physical and imaginary landscape, adding another layer to the location by creating 23 towers with posters of the 23 photographs selected by the curators. The physical structure of the exhibition has allowed us to obtain two goals: we have been able to give shape and structure to the photographs while also creating a physical encyclopedia (as the title suggests) of the artworks displayed. Twenty-three posters scattered around the room, 70 x 100 cm large, can be collected from the piles and bound together using a red cover especially designed (the chosen typeface was our interpretation of Aldo Novarese's Forma) to hold the prints together.
This is how your Venetian sausage is made. Other of the firm's projects include finely crafted wood tables, so I assume they created the plinths, too.

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Ibrahim Mahama and Edson Chagas installation view at Palazzo Gallery, 2015

Chagas' other exhibitions of Found, Not Taken included c-prints of images from the cities where he lived-London and Newport as well as Luanda-framed, editioned, and hung on the wall. For example, in a victory lap after Venice, he had a two-person show with Ibrahim Mahama at Palazzo Gallery where things are framed. The stacks appear to be a direct product of the exhibition conditions in the Palazzo Cini. Which were then bought by the Zeitz and repeated at MoMA. With no mention of Tankboys' formative contributions at all.

I don't mean to denigrate Chagas' images, or to assert he has any less than total claim to authorship of his works. I'm sure Chagas had ample opportunity to consider the options and proposals for presenting his work. But I can't shake the feeling that I misunderstood the works in Luanda, Encyclopedic Pavilion, and my misperceptions were reinforced at MoMA.

Megan Eardley wrote about Luanda, Encyclopedic City for Africa Is A Country:

Enter Africa, the expert in European fantasies. At the Angolan pavilion, Edson Chagas has crafted an elegant response to the encyclopedic project, which begins with the title of his photographic series. "Found Not Taken," thumbs its nose at the Europeans who cannot stop carting off the world's knowledge to its curio shops, laboratories, and museums.
And yet I can't help but feel it's the opposite now, that the western art system has safely processed and subsumed another African artist for consumption. Independent curators took a particular, localized tranche of a little-known African artist's work, and poured it into an instantly recognizable form, one long associated with a canonical contemporary artist, whose work deals with identity and power, and optimized it for propagation at the art world's greatest curatorial circus, where it wins top prize and spawns hours-long lines. It's like Venice gave the Golden Lion to itself.

But what about the stack? Can we have stacks now that nod to Felix without being necessarily and only an appropriation? Can they work outside of the high-traffic, souvenir-hunting environment of a biennial or a museum? Maybe when Tankboys grafted Felix's concepts of print-as-sculpture and the endlessly free, devalued original onto Chagas's work, they helped create a place for the stack apart from Felix's legacy. For Chagas's otherwise unrelated images, the stack functioned as an exhibition device and a publishing & distribution strategy. Maybe the stack can now begin to function as a platform, not just an object, like how Seth Siegelaub's Xerox Book was at once a book and a show. Maybe. We'll have to see. [h/t to Paul Soulellis for the impetus to revisit the stack]

July 16, 2016

Sforzian Boardwalk

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Hillary Clinton speaking at the closed Trump Plaza in Atlantic City July 6, 2016, image: philly.com/Tom Gralsh

I missed this while I was out of town, but Hillary Clinton hit a Sforzian jackpot when she gave a campaign speech on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, in front of the closed and failed Trump Plaza Casino.

Carl Icahn owns the building now, and the vestiges of Trump's failure are literally written on the wall, providing a readymade Sforzian backdrop.

Or two. According to Amy Rosenberg's report at philly.com, the Clinton campaign had originally wanted to stage their event a block inland, with the casino's de-Trumped tower in the background, but it would have blocked traffic to Caesar's. So they wedged in to a less optimal but still effective corner of the boardwalk, the ghosts of T-R-U-M-P lingered on the classy, glassy marquee.

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same, this time via Asbury Park Press/USAT/Tom Costello

If you don't count his kneejerk tweets blaming anyone else for his business's failures while crowing about skating out of bankruptcy with a wad of investors' dough, Trump's reaction came Thursday. The Press of Atlantic City reports that the traces of Trump's name were removed "for good" from the boardwalk facade. "Black paint has been applied to cover up any mention to Donald Trump."

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Untitled (Trump Plaza Black) Nos. 1-3, 2016, paint on panel, collection: Trump Entertainment Resorts/Carl Icahn, installation photo via Press of Atlantic City

Actually, from Jack Tomczuk's (or Michael Ein's, I can't tell) photos, the traces of Trump's name were not painted over, but were covered by painted panels. Five black monochromes were affixed to Hillary's Sforzian corner, and to the fenced off boardwalk entrance, where the ghost of Trump's made up crest remains visible but illegible.

The exhibition will remain on view at least through November. I would be stoked if you visit it and post photos.

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Untitled (Trump Plaza Black) Nos. 4 & 5, 2016, paint on panel, each in two parts, collection: Trump Entertainment Resorts/Carl Icahn, installation photo via Press of Atlantic City

Hillary Clinton takes on Trump in A.C. [philly.com]
Faded 'Trump Plaza' removed after Clinton appearance [pressofatlanticcity.com]

July 15, 2016

Yes, NO

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Jasper Johns, No, 1969, litho and lead on Arjomari paper, 56 x 35 inches [BIG], published by Gemini G.E.L.

This really seems like a lot of Jasper Johns for the money.

No is a four-color lithograph from Gemini G.E.L. made in 1969, and based on the 1964 painting of the same name. I hear four colors and think CYMK, but apparently the colors are three shades of dark gray and silver.

On the painting, the NO is made of lead, and attached to a long wire, hovering precariously over the unpainted spot it popped up from. In the print, the wire is printed, but there is a lead NO glued to the embossed surface.

Christie's has this example, no. 20/80, for sale online for a couple of weeks, but who knows whether the link will keep working.

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UPDATE: While poking around in the digitized photos of the AAA's Leo Castelli Archive, I found this portrait of Gianfranco Gorgoni, where Johns is flourishing copies of No.

First Open online only: Lot 468, Jasper Johns, No ULAE 71, Gemini 128, est. $4-6,000, sale ends July 28, 2016 [christies]
Gemini CR Catalogue No. 26.22, No, 1969 [nga]

June 28, 2016

Sforzian Recycling

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image of yahoo tv via @thegarance

Those who don't build a functioning campaign organization, including media and advance teams, are doomed to recycle 15-year-old Sforzian Backdrop techniques.

Yahoo's Garance Franke-Ruta rightly called this "the most passive-aggressive work of campaign advance" she's ever seen. This extraordinary wide shot of the scene comes from her Yahoo colleague Holly Bailey.

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image via @hollybdc

Alumisource is in Monessen, PA, down the Monongahela from Pittsburgh, but this backdrop is straight out of the early Sforzian playbook. I'm not sure if we're ready for a GWB election renaissance, or, frankly, if that kind of schtick even still works.

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Exhibition announcement card for Richard Prince's window installation, "Single man looking to the right", 1979, at the original location of Three Lives & Company bookstore, New York, via the catalogue for Edward Cella's exhibition, "Richard Prince: The Douglas Blair Turnbaugh Collection, 1977-88"

This is starting to become a habit.

This edition of Better Read features "Single man looking to the right," a 1979 text by Richard Prince, for a window installation he made at Three Lives & Co., a now-legendary neighborhood bookstore in the West Village. It's included in a show Prince recently announced/denounced, a huge pile of early stuff saved by an early friend and supporter, the dance critic Doulas Blair Turnbaugh. The show is at Edward Cella in Los Angeles through July 2016.

My interest was piqued by the light this early work sheds on Prince's development of his practice, on his experimentation and the paths not taken, and less for the possible insights into Prince's psyche or autobiography. This text seems to me both in sync with and apart from Prince's Bird Talk texts, just as the rephotographed works Prince showed at Three Lives resonate with yet differ from what's now generally thought of as his standard operating procedure. If anything, it's freedom from an S.O.P. that tips the scale for these photos; they're evidence of Prince's experimentation.

prince_three_lives_install_eklund_picgen.jpg
installation photo for Richard Prince's window at Three Lives & Company, 1979, from Doug Eklund's The Pictures Generation, p. 157

A small photo of the Three Lives installation in Doug Eklund's The Pictures Generation catalogue also makes me wonder about the fate of these large, black & white, and differently "ganged up" Single Men prints. They're not in Turnbaugh's collection/show, and I'm thinking if they're destroyed, they may have another life coming.

Download Better_Read_009_Single_Man_20160627.mp3 from Dropbox [dropbox, mp3, 7.3mb, 4:57]

Previously:
Better Read #008: Death By Gun
Better Read #007: Spinoza's Ethica from Sturtevant's Vertical Monad
Better Read #006: The Jetty Foundation Presents, Send Me Your Money
Better Read #005: Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up
Better Read #004: Why We Should Talk About Cady Noland, a Zine by Brian Sholis
Better Read #003: Sincerely Yours, An Epic Scholarly Smackdown By Rosalind Krauss
Better Read #002: A Lively Interview With Ray Johnson, c.1968
the Ur-Better Read: W.H. Auden's The Shield Of Achilles, Read By A Machine

June 24, 2016

Play It Where It Lies

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trump_nazi_golf_balls_naomiohreally.jpg

I have tried to avoid the Sforzian analysis of this election. It feels like we've moved, or morphed, or devolved, or fallen, so far beyond, away, from the days of cannily placed powerpoint backdrops.

Sometimes, though, attention must be paid. As when comedian Lee Nelson threw a bucketful of Nazi golf balls at Donald Trump's Scottish golf course press appearance.

Trump, who multiple sources confirm literally studied and embraced the speeches of Adolf Hitler-he kept them on his nightstand-was "surrounded by Nazi golf balls." Nazi golf balls. Nazi. Golf. Balls.

nazi_golf_balls_in_trump_hat_thejournal-ie.jpg

From The Journal:

After around ten minutes, Trump campaign operatives decided it might be a good idea to start clearing them away - and set about scooping them up with a few of his branded baseball caps.
Make America Great Again Filled With Nazi. Golf Balls.

OH PROTESTER BONUS: Nelson was also the guy who showered corrupt FIFA head Sepp Blatter with money [thejournal.ie]

June 22, 2016

Au Bout De La Nuit

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Isa Genzken's World Receiver in "Night" at The Glass House, image: Amanda Kirkpatrick

I was talking to a friend who recently got his first work by Isa Genzken, a World Receiver, (which really is the best first Genzken to get, and the third, and the seventh-they look great alone or in groups!) and it reminded me of one of the best installations ever of the radio-shaped cast concrete sculptures. Last fall a World Receiver was the last work in a fascinating 3-year exhibition called "Night", which took place on the coffee table in Philip Johnson's Glass House.

The Glass House is kept pretty much as Johnson left it, and that means almost no art. The Poussin on its stand is the famous exception. But for the first fifteen or so years, there was another work, a small plaster sculpture which sat on the Mies coffee table, and it appears in early photos of the Glass House, such as the 1949 Ezra Stoller image below. It was called La Nuit, and, obviously, it was by Alberto Giacometti. Johnson bought it in 1948 from the artist's first postwar US show at Pierre Matisse Gallery.

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By the mid-1960s, the plaster figure had begun to deteriorate, and Johnson sent the sculpture back to Giacometti's studio in Paris for repair. The artist's brother Diego worked on the figure, but Alberto was apparently dissatisfied and stripped it to its metal wire armature in order to remake it. Then he died. That was 1966.

And that might have been the end of it, if independent curator artist Jordan Stein hadn't gone archive diving in preparation for "Night". The Times' Randy Kennedy tells this story of "Night" and La Nuit in a 2012 article which I am trying mightily not to retype from start to finish.

Stein, who worked on "Night" with the Glass House's curator Irene Shum Allen, found a 1974 letter from James Lord in Matisse's archive at the Morgan Library, that discussed the restoration of La Nuit. Lord's idea was to have Diego remake the plaster figure, and then to have it cast in bronze as a posthumous edition that somehow noted both brothers' involvement. "What would you think of having Diego remake the figure?" Lord suggested. "He-and he alone-could do it so that it would be virtually-but of course not absolutely-as if it had been done by Alberto. Indeed, there are more than a few pieces, if the truth were known, in which Diego had as much of a hand as that...I have spoken of this to Diego, and he would be prepared to do the restoration...Would Annette have to be consulted?"

Which, well, yes, Annette would have to be consulted, though in 1974 she was in no position to decide. I just re-read Marc Spiegler's 2004 ArtNEWS article [pdf] on the decades-long conflict among the Giacomettis' assistants, family, collectors, Associations, Fondations, and Stiftungs that had only then begun to settle down. This seemed like a stretch in 1974, and any possible restoration was mooted by Diego's death in 1985, and no resolution over its ownership was likely during the posthumous shitstorm over Giacometti's work. It was basically gone.

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1946 photo of La Nuit, early state, in Giacometti's studio, by Marc Vaux

Until 2007, when it turned up at the Pompidou in « L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti » a show organized with the new Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti. The catalogue had 1946 photos by Marc Vaux (above) and Cartier-Bresson of La Nuit in the studio. It was originally a maquette for an unidentified monument and, most amazingly, the walking figure was a woman. Or as Alberto originally put it, "a lanky girl groping in the darkness." I can't think of another walking female Giacometti; his attenuated women were always rooted in their spots.

giacometti_night_matisse_catalogue_1948.jpg

By the time La Nuit was shipped to Matisse's New York Gallery in 1948, though, it lost its outspread fingers and its "opulente poitrine"; the Pompidou catalogue said it had been "asexualized," but defeminized or regendered seems more apt, especially in retrospect. Giacometti also made a second maquette La Nuit, with a similar footed platform, but no box base. Both were included in their stripped/deteriorated states at the Pompidou.

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La Nuit original and second version, in current state, from the Pompidou's 2007 exhibition catalogue

With the bare metal armature protruding from a solid base, Johnson's La Nuit looked like nothing so much as a World Receiver.

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"Untitled" (Death By Gun), 1990, endless. collection: moma.org

We've come to reading the names of the dead, to intone them, as a form of memorial.

I've never felt Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled" (Death By Gun) was a memorial per se, more a statement. Remembering for different ends. But following the massacre of Latinx gay people at Orlando's Pulse night club, and the subsequent readings of their names, it occurred to me that I'd never read and did not remember the names of the people who appeared on Felix's 1990 stack piece.

I looked for the original Time magazine article that was the artist's source, and I couldn't find it online. I couldn't find it in libraries. I ended up buying an old print edition of the magazine itself on eBay. July 17, 1989.

better_read_008_death_by_gun_700px.jpg

And I transcribed the names of the 460 people who were killed in the US the first week of May 1989, the week Time chose to document, in the order Felix chose to lay them out, and had them read aloud by a computer.

Download Better_Read_008_Death_By_Gun_20160620.mp3 from dropbox [dropbox.com, 16.7mb mp3, 11:37]

Previously:
Better Read #007: Spinoza's Ethica from Sturtevant's Vertical Monad
Better Read #006: The Jetty Foundation Presents, Send Me Your Money
Better Read #005: Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up
Better Read #004: Why We Should Talk About Cady Noland, a Zine by Brian Sholis
Better Read #003: Sincerely Yours, An Epic Scholarly Smackdown By Rosalind Krauss
Better Read #002: A Lively Interview With Ray Johnson, c.1968
the Ur-Better Read: W.H. Auden's The Shield Of Achilles, Read By A Machine

FGT-N-2-SC.jpg
"Untitled" (Republican Years), 1992

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"Untitled" (NRA), 1991, collection: Astrup Fearnley Museet

25 years of this.

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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
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

find me on twitter: @gregorg

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