Lorax view

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-5-35-18-pm Can you see the forest for the trees? Scottish artist Katie Paterson hopes so: her Hollow exists as a microcosm of all the forests ever on Earth, a miniature sprouting 10,000 unique tree species into a single sensory snapshot of bio-history. Commissioned by the University of Bristol and made in collaboration with architects Zeller + Moye, Hollow will live in perpetuity at the Royal Fort Gardens in Bristol, England. Paterson worked with evolutionary biologist Dr. Jon Bridle to collect tree samples from every country (including some now extinct). The cocoon-like enclosure accommodates one or two people at time as they contemplate the sweeping relationship between organic beings.

The artist’s desired effect: Standing “inside a forest of every forest” ever in existence. Much more than matchsticks, the installation includes a who’s who of tree-story: A sample from the mysterious 4,846-year-old Methuselah tree (found in California’s White Mountains); a trimming from the UNESCO-protect cedar trees of Lebanon (the favorite of Egyptian pharaohs); a branch from the Banyan Tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment; a shard from the Atlantic City Boardwalk destroyed by Hurricane Sandy; and an offcut from a Japanese Gingko tree that survived the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Hollow isn’t Paterson’s first foray into forests: in 2014, she launched Future Library, a project which will cultivate 1,000 trees over 100 years as an arboreal anthology. In every installation, she speaks for the trees.

Cool cats

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 2.28.48 PM Street art became island adornment when Ygor Marotta and Ceci Soloaga of VJ Suave enrolled in the Walk&Talk residency on São Miguel Island, part of the Azores in Portugal. The São Paulo-based duo projected their animalian animations on trees, cliffs and shores, capturing their interventions through nocturnal long-exposure GIFs. Go wildcats.

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.

 

Ahead of the game

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.49.46 AM This athlete—a refugee—did not make it to the Olympics. Despite the avian grace of his dive into the sea. Despite the grandeur of his current presence as public art. The newest iteration of JR’s Inside Out Project—a global initiative to raise the visibility of otherwise overlooked persons—the Rio installations present portraits of athletes otherwise shadowed by their refugee status. Technical triumphs, each piece is a stretched print on fabric strung up on scaffolding (“My first flying piece,” JR announced on Instagram). As the Olympics welcome the first refugee team, JR’s art suggests more should be done to celebrate heroes who are as yet unsung.

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In the case of this athlete, his physical feat is all the more awesome when set 25 stories high. Earlier this week, JR introduced his vaulting subject as Mohamed Younes Idriss, a 27-year-old athlete from Sudan who lives and trains in Cologne, Germany. On Friday, JR contextualized Mohamed’s larger-than-life presence at the Games in spite of his inability to qualify for the new refugee team.

80 years ago the Olympics happened in Berlin. Hitler wanted to use them to demonstrate the supremacy of the Aryan race. Today they will open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a "mixed race" country ("país mestiço"). Even though Brazil is going through political and economic turmoil and the necessity of the Games at this moment can spark controversy, the Olympic spirit will joyfully be welcomed by the people tonight. This is Mohamed, a Sudanese athlete who couldn't make it to the Games because of an injury. He still came to Rio and jumps over a building in Flamengo.

City of culture

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 3.00.58 PM Amid the Olympic melee, I would seek refuge in Rio’s new Cidade das Artes, a massive cultural complex designed by French architect Christian de Portzamparc. Wedged between the sea and the mountains, the Cidade sits atop a flat plain crisscrossed by highways, now reimagined as a fledgling district, Barra da Tijuca. Unveiled in January, the complex exists as a city unto itself with a concert hall, cinema, galleries, rehearsal rooms, studios and a restaurant. Anchored by a vast elevated terrace—designed as a public gathering space—the Cidade is an eloquent expression of form: two horizontal slabs of concrete frame the first floor and roof, with elevated boxes, large curving fins and splayed columns adding interior elements. A dance of volumes and voids overlooking the sprawling city. Medal-worthy.

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.

 

As we speak

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Got to love when a conversation had at a summer BBQ resurfaces in a morning art bulletin: After listening to a friend talk about her recent Dancers’ Workshop teaching residency and its pan-creative curriculum based on Alexander Calder’s approach to static and dynamic motion, I woke up to find an e-notice of the new “Calder in the Alps” sculpture exhibition in Gstaad, Switzerland. Art synchronicity.

The exhibition, staged by Hauser & Wirth in collaboration with the Calder Foundation, features (through September 30) five large-scale stabiles and one standing mobile, 3 White Arrows (1965), a gentle trident last installed outside the Seagram Building in New York—a setting more in keeping with Calder’s aims: “My mobiles and stabiles must be put in open spaces, like [...] in front of modern buildings […] It must be designed as a real urban signal as well as sculpture."

Gstaad provides a fresh context for Calder’s work; less urban signage, more bucolic jolts. “These works will surely surprise viewers as they harmonize in unpredictable ways with their surroundings,” said Calder Foundation President Alexander S.C. Rower. Add to the context a finned denim top—unpredictable perfection.

Mists of time

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 2.51.16 PM Another moment of aesthetic solace from Versailles, this time in the form of a misty halo. “Fog Assembly” fills the Star Grove with a nebulous yet grounded cloud, an elemental installation designed to “amplify the feelings of impermanence and transformation.” Shrouded so, the formal landscape becomes subsumed by experience. All part of Olafur Eliasson's plan: Stop your dazzled consumption, take control, the moment is yours alone to author.

Historically, the royal court at Versailles was a place of constant observation – of oneself and of others; the strict social norms of the time were enforced through a web of gazes. The Baroque architecture of the palace served to heighten visibility, becoming a stunning instrument of power held exclusively by the king. Today, however, we look at Versailles differently, and when I visit the site, I ask myself: how do you, the visitor, view this iconic site? What does it do to you? Have we all become king? The Versailles that I have been dreaming up is a place that empowers everyone. It invites visitors to take control of the authorship of their experience instead of simply consuming and being dazzled by the grandeur. It asks them to exercise their senses, to embrace the unexpected, to drift through the gardens, and to feel the landscape take shape through their movement.

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.

More Irwin

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 8.56.33 AM An excursus on Irwin: If traipsing out to West Texas isn’t in the cards this summer, consider day tripping to upstate New York, where Robert Irwin created a “site-conditioned” (his term) installation for Dia:Beacon. Conceptually, the evolution of Excursus: Homage to the Square³ began nearly two decades ago when the Dia Foundation commissioned Irwin to make a work for their former Chelsea site. Shape-shifting by design, the 1998 installation opened in April as Prologue: x18³ —18 interconnected rooms defined by transparent scrims. The gallery walls, covered in blue and gray theatrical gels, subtly changed in tone with shifting natural light. Come summer of 1998, Irwin pushed the installation further in terms of intensity, shifting the entrance and installing vertical fluorescent lights rooms in each room. Thus reborn, he renamed the experience Excursus: Homage to the Square³. Dia bought the work, and now, years on, asked Irwin to redesign the piece for the former Nabisco factory he helped reimagine as an epic art space. Such site-conditioning, as Irwin defines it, requires drawing out “the sculptural response draws all its cues (reasons for being) from its surroundings.”

In the 1950s, Irwin began his career as an abstract painter, but by the 1970s, he vacated his studio and turned to scrim (after discovering the diaphanous medium in Amsterdam). His “conditional art” approaches the environment as the form; his hand thus heightens the perception of space. Excursus represents a pivotal point in his career: the work is utterly undidactic. There’s no beginning, middle or end. There’s no front or back. Viewers decide how they explore/interact with the installation. And yet, at every turn, they encounter a moment touched by Irwin. As the exhibition introduction explains:

The presentation of Excursus at Dia:Beacon is particularly resonant, for Irwin was deeply involved with the museum’s design, including its exterior public spaces, main entryway, and windows. Moving from the work’s redesigned scrim chambers, through the building’s subtle spatial interventions, and finally to the landscaped gardens and forecourt, visitors have the unique opportunity to experience an environment of which virtually every facet has been touched by the artist.

Giddy up and go before May 2017 (in these excellent stirrup pants).

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

 

 

Surfing safari

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The beach is only blocks away—this is La Jolla, California after all—and yet, this mural by photographer Catherine Opie captures all of the melancholic longing for spending a day in sand and water. This should be you – walking into the waves, not walking toward shops along Girard Avenue. A hazy invitation issued as part of the ambitious Murals of La Jolla program, conceived by the impressive nonprofit Athanaeum Music & Arts Library as a way to enhance the civic character of the community. In only five years, the program has commissioned new works by John Baldessari, Ann Hamilton, and Opie, among many other banner artists.

Opie considers her offering within the context of the history of photography. By using the coastal motif of the California Pictorialists, she references this painterly tradition through blurry abstraction. Her images feel elemental, like light drawings, unmoored from the specificities of place, hovering in a visceral realm. A vision of oblivion, the sublime, the unknown. A sensory shoreline amid commercial cacophony. La la Jolla.

 

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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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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.

Bold as brass

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.50.12 AM.jpg The world mourns the untimely passing of Dame Zaha Hadid, the iconic architect whose designs live on in all corners of the globe. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before diving into architecture in London. Through her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, she left her imprint on 44 countries through 950 projects. Far more than her many firsts (first woman and first Muslim to win the Pritzker Prize), she set a non-normative, uncompromising course for modern creativity.

“I don’t really feel I’m part of the establishment. I’m not outside, I’m on the kind of edge, I’m dangling there. I quite like it,” she said last month on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs (for which she opened with Bryan Ferry, These Foolish Things). “I’m not against the establishment per se. I just do what I do and that’s it.”

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And what she did was revolutionary: At the February ceremony naming Hadid as the first woman to win the prestigious British Architects’ 2016 royal gold medal, architect Sir Peter Cook applauded his colleague’s iconic individualism.

For three decades now she has ventured where few would dare… Such self confidence is easily accepted in film-makers and football managers, but causes some architects to feel uncomfortable, maybe they’re secretly jealous of her unquestionable talent. Let’s face it, we might have awarded the medal to a worthy comfortable character. We didn’t. We awarded it to Zaha: larger than life, bold as brass and certainly on the case.

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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.