Stand Still

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 5.43.56 PM A jewel box of a museum, tucked in downtown Denver, devoted entirely to the work of Clyfford Still—a man made enigmatic by his own agency. Having removed his art from the public eye at the height of his career (by severing all ties with commercial galleries and most with museums), he spent his final years living and painting in rural Maryland. And when he died, he left his entire oeuvre to an as-yet-determined American city under rigid stipulations that said city would agree to build or assign permanent quarters for his art to be exhibited and studied in perpetuity, and to never sell, give or exchange anything from his collection. For two decades, his widow Patricia Still searched for such a site. Meanwhile, the collection remained off-limits to all. Finally, in 2004, Denver stepped forward as the chosen home of the Clyfford Still Estate—some 825 paintings on canvas and 1575 works on paper. To house the collection, the city enlisted Brad Cloepfil and his Allied Works Architecture. Cloepfil rose to the challenge of sheltering the work of a singular artist by imagining a single form—a solid mass of concrete, crushed granite and quartz made luminous by natural light.

What could architecture offer to Still’s work? A challenging and charged context. A building that opens visitors to the emotion and power of the work. A building that offers time to stand with the work, a sense of intimacy and immediacy.

The eloquent space, opened in 2011, speaks to the profundity of Still’s paintings—their jagged contours of color, seemingly torn from existing layers like wrenching natural phenomena. Presaging the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, Still began shifting from the representational paintings of his early days to abstract Color Fields in 1938, to wide/wild acclaim (“a bolt out of the blue,” said Robert Motherwell of a 1946 show). As critic Clement Greenberg wrote in the Partisan Review in 1955.

When I first saw a 1948 painting of Still’s . . . I was impressed as never before by how estranging and upsetting genuine originality in art can be.

Me too, some 60 years later. Impressed, upset, astounded by the soaring experience set a mile above Still’s sea level.

 

Grosse negligence

  Katharina Grosse's temporary public art installation in the Rockaways paired with Roberto Cavalli's Kimono-print gown.

There she goes again: After a series of recent interventions in the tri-state area, Berlin-based Katharina Grosse has applied her large-scale locational painting to a neglected Fort Tilden aquatics building in the Rockaways of Queens. The structure’s decay has been sublimely derailed by her spray-painting technique: A fuchsia phoenix, ready to rise (or fall—the building is slated for demolition). Exploding notions of traditional landscapes and sculptures, Grosse traipses beyond the strictures of form to include, in this instance, the sand, trees, sea grass and pavement surrounding the beachside hovel, ultimately creating an interfacing composition that sprawls with motion and gumption.

This temporary public art piece is part of Rockaway!, an ongoing collaborative program presented by MoMA PS1 alongside the Rockaway Artists Alliance that began in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Two summers ago found solo projects by Patti Smith, Adrián Villar Rojas, and Janet Cardiff as well as a group show at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club. Grosse’s contribution continues the bold momentum of the Rockaways’ creative resurgence.

Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA PS1 director and Rockaway! mastermind, invited Grosse to the peninsula after seeing her work for Prospect.1 in New Orleans, “where she painted a small house that was abandoned and condemned after Hurricane Katrina,” he told designboom.com. “I was deeply moved that a building just waiting to be taken down was given this temporary, proud, and fragile beauty. When I heard that the aquatics building in Fort Tilden was to be demolished following Hurricane Sandy, I immediately wanted to invite Katharina to do a project at the site.”

A stunning sunset for a forlorn structure.

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Frame of mind

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 2.50.05 PM And body. The world’s most playful/stylish climbing wall is the work of nendo, a limitlessly talented Japanese design studio. Striving to find the “!” moments in our everyday, nendo is responsible for a spate of truly innovative structures and installations around the world (documented on Yellowtrace). Here, in Tokyo, the studio rose to the challenge of designing a gym in the high fashion esplanade of Omotesando. Building on the brand—“becoming beautiful through movement”—nendo reimagined the rugged sport of rock climbing as a scramble up a salon-style gallery wall replete with animal mounts, bird cages, mirrors and vases. Pitch perfection.

 

A cascade

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 4.14.34 PM .... of calamities, most recently in Nice. Today, Olafur Eliasson’s “Waterfall” installation at the Palace of Versailles in France feels like a solemn sentinel to the outpouring of sorrow felt around the world for Nice, Baghdad, Orlando, Dallas (the list goes on). Set on the central axis of Versailles—the Grand Canal—the installation is part historic fulfillment—Louis XIV’s landscape architect Andre Le Notre never realized his vision for a grand fountain—and part tribute to engineering. The water seems to flow from no where, a phantom font, a misty mirage that cleverly obscures its own making: The slender scaffolding built according to the specs of the rest of the court, its structure exposed—as we all are in times of suffering. Perhaps solace can be found in such moments where humans seem capable of more than they are, capable of sublime intervention, of beautiful collusion with nature.

Above water

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 10.19.22 AM A weekend of waterborne celebration, both at home and afar: leagues away from the floatilla we crafted, global art pilgrims feted the full expression of conceptual virtuoso Christo’s long-held design for “The Floating Piers.” The two-week installation found a 1.9-mile saffron walkway bobbing across Lake Iseo in Northern Italy, an ephemeral experience of walking on water—or “perhaps the back of a whale,” Christo has said—a dream realized by the artist's tenacious team over 22 months, a yellow-brick road formed by 220,000 cubes anchored to the uneven lakebed by a crew of French deep-sea divers and Bulgarian athletes.

In the 1970s, Christo and his late wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude set out to create a transcendent commute for people living in harbor communities, otherwise bound to boat travel. After considering multiple sites—including Río de la Plata in Argentina and Tokyo Bay in Japan—the widower Christo landed on the perfect location linking San Paolo, the private island inhabited by the Beretta family, with the islet of Monte Isola and the shores of Sulzano. “The Floating Piers” recalls his last outdoor installation with his wife, “The Gates,” which draped Central Park in 7,500 saffron panels in 2005. As with all of their ambitious concepts,“The Floating Piers” was free and open to all. “There are no tickets, no openings, no reservations and no owners. The Floating Piers are an extension of the street and belong to everyone.”

Everyone and then some. All told, the pedestrian piece drew more than 1.2 million visitors, doubling projections. At times, the tiny hamlet was overwhelmed, forcing transit suspensions to quell crowds and nighttime closures of the artwork to allow for clean-up. Still, come its closing Sunday, the installation began its deliberate vanishing act, with all materials removed and recycled. A nomadic dream, now memory.

Sneak peak

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 3.10.26 PM Save the date: On July 23 in (my favorite) Marfa, TX, the matchless Chinati Foundation will open Robert Irwin’s magnum opus with a weekend-long celebration replete with a dawn to dusk viewing and community BBQ. The 13,000 square-foot work—17 years in the making—builds upon the C-shaped footprint of the Fort D.A. Russell hospital. Painting with space and light rather than pigment and canvas, Irwin devised subtle tactics to frame and refocus the endless Trans-Pecos landscape and sky within the rebuilt bones of the military hospital. At the center, Irwin has planted a Stonehenge-esque grouping of basalt columns and paloverde trees. Upon completion, the Chinati project will be the only freestanding architectural structure designed by Irwin—an artists’ artist revered for his ephemeral, philosophical approach to place and temporality.

More to come on Irwin, but the meantime, I’ve got three open seats in my mid-summer caravan to West Texas.

Windows dress

 

 

On the road

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 4.47.24 PM The 65mph by which people now drive by Seven Magic Mountains belies the five years it took to realize the public art piece in the desert outside Las Vegas. As Andrew Russeth recently reported in ARTnews, the ambitious installation of seven neon totems required road improvements, complicated permits, warning signs, and a special law (greatly reducing liability), i.e. patience and tenacity from its producers—the Nevada Museum of Art and Art Production Fund.

No wonder the Day-Glo work required such effort; Ugo Rondinone specializes in bold strokes, like the “Hell, Yes” light piece that graced the façade of the New Museum in 2007. Seven Magic Mountains is the inverse of an idea he explored several years ago—a coterie of monumental Stonehenge-esque stick figures at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. That piece placed “something raw within an artificial environment—Rockefeller is the most highly artificial place,” Rondinone told Russeth. “Now [I’m] going to the desert with the same material, but just creating the contrary—setting something artificial into a natural environment.”

Artificial yet familiar; Rondinone drew inspiration from nature’s own hoodoos, the globular spires that protrude from rock formations in arid basins like Utah—funky remnants of erosion. His thirtysomething-foot-tall totems also recall the meditation practice of balancing stones. Or the navigational cues of cairns. Seven Magic Mountains seems “both primordial and pop,” Russeth writes. “It is a uniquely jaunty piece of public art for the area, sharply contrasting the austere, canonical public works staged in the West by artists like Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, and Jean Tinguely.”

A piece attuned to place and time, reflective of the economic optimism returning to Las Vegas. “New Age objects perfectly befitting the present moment,” writes Russeth. On view for two years, Seven Magic Mountains will be seen by some 16 million people driving along Interstate 15, en route to or from California. I do believe Jack Kerouac would have stopped for a look-see.

...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Street wise

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Bound for Milan next week, I’m mapping out what not-to-miss and found this: “Borderlife,” a new series of outdoor installations by artist Briancoshock, transforms abandoned manhole covers into miniature rooms throughout Milan. In spite of their charming presence, the rooms are designed to draw attention to the plight of the more than 600 people who live underground in the sewers of Bucharest.

Of the paradoxical project, Briancoshock writes:

If some problems cannot be avoided, make them comfortable.

A sobering counterpoint to cultural travel.

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Living archive

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A Neo-Gothic former archive in Cologne reborn as a Bauhaus boutique hotel: Michael Kaune, editor of QVEST Magazine (a publication devoted to “fashion, culture & attitude”), spent two years meticulously renovating the 1897 building, preserving structural elements like the dark-oiled parquet floors and marble columns and adding Modernist pieces from his personal collection of museum-worthy furniture, photography and art (think iconic designs by the likes of Arne Jacobsen, Eames and Le Corbusier). All 34 rooms are different: some suites feature two-story ceilings and ornate filigree windows, while others boast hand-painted medieval rafters. One common dominator: In lieu of TVs, each room shelves a small library of books on fashion, art and design—my heaven.

Pop property

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 9.05.45 AM A firehouse with many lives—including an illustrious turn as Andy Warhol’s first NYC studio—hit the market this week for a cool $9.975 million. According to the listing, the 5,000-square-foot space entices developer buyers as a “a blank canvas to create boutique condominiums, mixed use rental, luxury townhouse, or community facility/medical use.” A very different blank canvas than the one Warhol envisioned when he stepped foot inside the brick space, then without heat or running water.

The building sat a few blocks away from the 89th Street townhouse where Warhol had been living with his mother for three years. To remedy the overcrowding of Brillo boxes and Campbell’s soup cans, he jumped at the discovery of the vacant firehouse, most recently occupied by a hook and ladder company. Warhol wrote a letter to the city and offered to pay $100 (the lease he signed sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for $13,750).

Concurrent to the move, Warhol decided he didn’t need to fabricate his own work anymore and hired an assistant, Gerard Malanga, to aid his exploration of the macabre in media. “I remember when Kennedy was shot,” Malanga told New York magazine in 1987. “We went back to the firehouse and made a silk screen of Dracula biting a girl’s neck.” Many such “Disaster” paintings began in the firehouse.

In the real estate mode, Warhol simultaneously scouted for spaces in midtown to base his first iteration of The Factory. A crumbling former hat factory on East 47th Street caught his fancy; he covered the walls with silver foil and metallic paint, and opened the Silver Factory in 1964.

The Factory and the firehouse attest to Warhol’s singular spatial aesthetic. “Andy was attracted to the space because it didn’t appear to be your typical artist’s studio, with wood floors and big windows looking out on a grand urban vista,” Malanga said. “It didn’t have that artsy aura. It had, more or less, an anonymous feel to it. You walked into it and you weren’t quite sure what it was or what had gone on there previous.”

Hopefully people now prospecting the firehouse will know what it is and some of what has gone on there.

300 game

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 5.32.55 AM A few years ago, Vince Kadlubek applied for a marketing job at the Jean Cocteau Cinema, an indie movie theater in downtown Sante Fe resuscitated by “Game of Thrones” creator George R.R. Martin (a Santa Fean since 1979). Shockingly, the interview involved sitting down with Martin himself. A foot in the door and then a pitch: Would Martin be interested in helping back his art collective Meow Wolf’s purchase of an old bowling alley? Instead, the fantasy kingpin offered to buy the building and rent it back to Meow Wolf (with another $3 million to pump construction). A scheme cemented.

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On March 17, Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation, House of Eternal Return, opened atop the sprawling lanes. Imaginations (young and old) are welcome to run wild in the 20,000 house, built upon a non-linear narrative of the fictional Selig family, the former occupants who mysteriously up and left leaving food in the fridge and flowers in bloom. Free to roam at will (as Bugs does), visitors stitch together what happened from hypercolor clues, a fantastical romp fueled by snooping.

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The exhibit is one part of Meow Wolf’s reinvention of the site as a community hub. Other elements include a makerspace, educational studios, galleries and a performance venue. A triumph of constructive creativity spawned by page-turning fantasy. Bowling 300 all around.

Park it

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 10.07.25 AM.jpg In the mode of summer scheming, a conversation last night introduced the reality that the national parks will likely be teeming with visitors in honor of their 100th anniversary. Surely a birthday to celebrate but also take heed of; ever the more reason to adventure early. In this special steed: Airstream has paired up with Pendleton—long-time loyalist to the national parks with its so-themed blanket series—on the 2016 Pendleton National Park Travel Trailer (getting cutesy with the centennial, only 100 of these limited-edition trailers have been produced).

Many Pendleton accoutrements accompany the cabin-chic design of the 28-foot trailer, from the custom Pendleton-designed embroidery on the leather banquettes to the Pendleton awning package (army green with primary stripes) and the stash of blankets (and pet bed). An ultra wide hatch makes the back feel almost like a convertible (lunchtime picnics, starlight dinners). Next to the stainless steel cooktop, a map of Yellowstone—the first national park, in my backyard, inviting personal annotation (bison jam here, hot springs hopping there). Too bad the price tag is so formidable (though $1,000 does go to the National Park Foundation). To enable adventuring, I may settle for this spritely towel poncho instead.

Cubano curiosity

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.40.44 PM.jpg As I live vicariously through the First Family, I imagine stopping by one of my favorite art sites in the world: Taller Experimental de Gráfica, a print shop and gallery in Habana Vieja that has been nurturing graphic artists for more than half a century. The workshop was founded in 1962 by mural artist Orlando Suarez with the support of Che Guevara, then minister of industry. The two times I’ve visited the Taller, the expansive space felt electric in its creativity, galvanized even as artists tinkered with antique presses and stacks of prints invited thumbing through, each work on paper more interesting than the next. As I wandered around, my curiosity was mirrored by the artists’ warm welcome. Who are you? Where are you from? What art do you like? Back and forth, sparkly conversation shared in a patchwork of Spanish and English.

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We all stand to benefit from greater exchange with Cuba and the Cuban people, as President Obama underscored in a joint press conference with President Raúl Castro earlier today. “I bring with me the greetings and friendship of the American people. We have a half-a-century of work to catch up on,” Obama said. “Our growing engagement with Cuba is guided by one over-arching goal: Advancing the mutual interests of our two countries including improving the lives of our people, both Cubans and Americans. That’s why I am here.”

Sea the light

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 9.05.55 PM Well done, SeaWorld. A necessary sea change. No longer black(fish)listed from my FL itinerary.

Without a critical mass of informed and energized people, humanity will never make the difficult decisions that are necessary to halt and reverse the exploitation of wild places and the extinction of wild species.

Joel Manby, President and CEO of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment

Ashes to dust

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 7.01.29 PM.jpg Date stamp: 1977. The Cold War raged on. Nuclear war felt like a real possibility. Unemployment was skyrocketing. The planet seemed to be dying. Amid the gloom, British sculptor David Nash offered a gesture toward a brighter 21st century: He planted a ring of 22 ash trees close to his home in Wales and sculpted their growth through fletching (a technique of bending, staking, slicing V-cuts). He made the commitment to stay with the sculpture over time, over 36 years and counting.

Some urbanites balk at Nash’s treatment of nature, abiding by the "Don't touch!" principal of environmental sensibility. But he sees his "site-appropriate" art within the practice of rural agriculture, of people working the earth. "Part of the point was that nature actually gets on very well when a human being is caring for it and lives with it," Nash said in a 2001 Sculpture Magazine interview.

And that care comes through: Nash likes to think of people who know nothing of his work stumbling upon his sculptures. "I hope they will get a sense of the light touch, that there is something here that serves as a stepping stone for the mind into the continuum of that particular place," he said. "To varying degrees, we spiritualize material by our work with it. Unconsciously we are creating a language that another human being can pick up on. We connect to the spirit quality that has been put into it."

An act of connection, an act of faith: Nash and his wife welcomed the millennium within the halo of Ash Dome.

Bright façade

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 4.02.43 PM Impossible to ignore: 14,000 life vests, collected from refuges fleeing from Turkey, wrapped the columns at the Konzerthaus concert hall in Berlin. Ai Weiwei created the temporary installation last month for the Cinema for Peace gala, for which he served as the honorary jury president.

A bright memorial of a dark plight: this year alone, more than 400 refugees have died while attempting the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. Ai collected the life vests from the northern shore of Lesbos, a tragic stockpile he documented on his personal Instagram account during his first visit last December. He has since opened a studio on the Greek island.

"What a waste. To put life in this jacket," he said. "It's not necessary. We can provide a better, safe passage for those people."

“As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles. I never separate these situations from my art.”