The Hirshhorn Museum offers non-hearing or non-sighted visitors transcripts of audio or video artworks they exhibit. In some cases those transcripts come from the artist or their dealers. For the video art show in the lower level, you can read along for the entire performance of a Polish opera in Jasper & Malinowska’s Halka/Haiti, or [no thanks] all of Frances Stark’s sex chats. [The transcript for Arthur Jafa’s Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, though, only includes the lyrics to the Kanye West song he laid down, not the dialogue in his video montage.] When they don’t exist, though, the Hirshhorn produces their own descriptive, transcriptive text.
Anyway, I noticed the existence of these transcripts while watching Gretchen Bender’s Dumping Core (1984), a rapid-fire, multi-channel video installation that plays out over 13 monitors arrayed throughout a black box gallery.
The improbability of the existence of one of Bender’s major works was already next-level. MoMA apparently helped restore or recover the work, which had only been exhibited as an abbreviated documentation video like my pic above, as recently as 2013. But the idea of a translating a frenetic video wall into a narrative text seemed too intriguing to ignore. And translating that back into an audio experience? If Bender wouldn’t have approved, I think she’d disapprove in the right way.
I don’t want to steal any of Tulliach’s thunder; only one of the images is in ready circulation online, and they may come from the 1942 report on protecting the patrimony she referenced later. The encasement only gets passing mentions, though, in histories of art preservation in the midst and aftermath of WWII, and I, for one, am psyched to know more.
The director of the Accademia at the time was Ugo Procacci, and he undertook the massive effort to evacuate what artworks he could from the city, and store them for safekeeping in remote villas around Tuscany.
What’s so great is these forms themselves. They’ve been called silos, but I’d think they have to be solid, more like a cairn. In another context, their form is obviously a lingam; and we all know Michelangelo loved the lingam. But anyway, there they are, in a museum.
It turns out to be very difficult to find out exactly what Michelangelo said, or what Vasari said he said, even, about a statue existing in every block of stone, and it’s the sculptor’s job to free it.
But it could be a sculptor’s job again to remake these forms, with a Michelangelo-shaped void at the center of each one. We can bring these back. And we should.
It could be like Your House, that intricately die-cut book Olafur Eliasson made with MoMA’s library, but out of bricks.
In 1991 the artist David Hammons was invited by Mary Jane Jacobs to create a site-specific work in Charleston, South Carolina for a new, visual arts program linked to the Spoleto Festival. Jacobs had patterned the exhibition, “Places With A Past”, after the Skulptur Projekt Münster. Spoleto founder Gian Carlo Menotti hated the whole thing; the exhibition divided the board and got the director fired (he came back a couple of years later, after Menotti quit), but the show’s art historical reputation has only grown.
That said, Hammons’ is the only one of 61 installations left standing, thanks in large part to his early decision to collaborate with Albert Alston, a local builder, who seems to have maintained and championed the work over the ensuing 27 years.
Hammons and Alston built House Of The Future on a vacant, city-owned lot on Charleston’s segregated East Side using architectural fragments and materials from renovation and demolition projects nearby. It is a 6×20-foot teaching model of Charleston’s signature style, with labels for each component. At some point, a young, local artist used the ground floor as studio space, and Alston oversaw other public programmatic uses. On the back of the House, Hammons painted a quote from African American writer Ishmael Reed:
The Afro-American has become heir to the myths that it is better to be poor than rich, lower class than middle or upper, easy going rather than industrious, extravagant rather than thrifty, and athletic rather than academic.
[Though Reed gets–and takes–credit for the quote, it seems that it actually originates with musician/composer/sociologist Ortiz Walton. Reed quoted Walton’s critical history of cultural exploitation, Music: Black, White & Blue in a 1973 review for Black World Magazine. Reed & Walton seem to have been frequent collaborators and interlocutors, so maybe this is one more of those Hammons/Alston situations. In any case, the quote itself was criticized by some in the community, and it has disappeared and reappeared from the wall of House Of The Future with various repaintings. According to an unrelated 1995 lawsuit by a disgruntled muralist, though, it was integral to the community’s embrace of the installation that helped preserve it after the Spoleto Festival ended.]
At some point after the May 1991 opening of “Places With A Past”, Hammons’ second element was realized kitty corner from House of The Future. America Street is a small, grassy bump of a park on another vacant lot, where Hammons’ iconic African American Flag flies from atop a 40-foot pole. A black and white photo of a group of children looking up, as if at the flag, filled a sidewalk-scale billboard that had previously featured ads for liquor and Newports. From this 1996 account of the Spoleto fallout over “Places With A Past”, it sounds like the works survived some entropy, if not straightup neglect. But both the flag and the picture have been replaced over the years.
I have not visited Hammons’ piece(s), except in Google Street View. The first thing I noticed was they differed in appearance from the historical photos. I realized GSV’s own decade of historical imagery is useful here, for marking the changes this tiny house and its neighborhood have undergone.
Clicking through the changes wrought by time on a piece of Southern vernacular architecture, I immediately thought of the work of my late neighbor, the photographer William Christenberry. He would travel back to his native Alabama year after year for decades, photographing the same houses, churches, and stores, usually documenting their deterioration and subsumption by kudzu.
What I was seeing in Hammons’ and Alston’s piece was the opposite: a structure built from the castoffs of renovation and gentrification, surviving thanks to a small but persistent maintenance effort. And through it all, year in and year out, no matter the storms or racial strife that battered some other flags in South Carolina, Hammons’ star-spangled banner is still there.
In the spirit of Christenberry, I decided to make some historic GSV printsets [prints of screenshots; GSV is a screen medium] of Hammons’ and Alston’s House Of The Future and America Street. I’ve followed Christenberry’s format, but I’m skipping the traditional photographer’s approach of making editions of a bajillion in a thousand sizes. Each set of 7-9 images is printed small (8×10 in.), in an edition of 2, plus 1 AP: one for you, one for the museum, one for me. Because srsly, why overthink it? If anyone actually wants to buy them, I turn into some kind of crazed Amazon artworker pick&packing prints all day? Hard pass right now, thanks. If you don’t move in time to get it, just make your own.
I’m off the sauce now, but there was a time in my life where I was pretty deeply interested in American antique furniture, and so the significance of the chair Kehinde Wiley depicted President Obama sitting in felt like a story waiting to be told. Because no one mentioned it at the National Portrait Gallery event; I didn’t think to ask him about it until later; and none of the hottest takes I’ve seen have really taken up the subject.
Also, that chair felt terribly specific, and yet it is also pretty confounding. Its stylistic details do not line up easily with any period of 18th or 19th century American design. And if it wasn’t American, it might be British, and how did that happen? And if it wasn’t British, well, what could it be? The more I searched archives and museum collections and auction databases, the more convinced I became that the chair held a secret, especially when some of the similar comps out there were mid-19th century Neoclassical Russian. Oh damn, is that why Obama looks so serious? What sort of chair drop was this? [SPOILER ALERT: IT WAS NOT RUSSIAN.]
The details: an armchair with curved arms, with scroll ends that don’t reach the seat but have some kind of support, sometimes called an elbow chair. The arms are reeded, aka, they have grooves along the top. The skirt appears to have an inlaid pattern. The front legs are turned on a lathe. The back has both an oval top, which is either inlaid or carved, and a pierced splat below. All of this indicates a fine wood, either rosewood or mahogany. There are elements of Regency style, common in the 1800-10s or so, but most of the similar examples are from England. The round back feels like much later 19th century, though, and one super-savvy designer friend I asked suggested it was an 1870-80s American interpretation of earlier, Regency style.
So what does that mean? Where does it come from? Maybe the historical record is the better way to a solution? Except there is no remotely similar chair in the White House collection, or in portraits of previous presidents. (I think it was LA Times critic Christopher Knight who saw a reference in Obama’s pose to a seated Abraham Lincoln in a group portrait by George P.A. Healy. A salient reference, even if the chair is clearly different.)
I asked decorative arts curators, and an antique dealer, who all felt the chair was unusual, even odd, but no one could identify it or explain its significance. It felt like conceding defeat to ask the artist for the answer, which I did, two days later, via the NPG’s press office, since it’s their painting now.
Word came back, but no detail: Wiley had created the chair. It is an imaginary synthesis of design details for which there is no explanation. At least it’s not me, I thought. And I wondered whether this fixation on decoding stylistic quirks, the foundation of antique connoisseurship, was a foreign language of exclusion and privilege (yeah), and whether that came to bear. Or maybe the point of the chair was simply visual, aesthetic, a requirement for how it functioned in the painting in terms of pattern, form and design (maybe). The flowers may transmit a coded signal, but the ornate particulars of the chair are noise.
Or maybe there’s more explanation to be had some day
I am pleased to announce that a work I thought was gone has perhaps come back on view in Washington, D.C. The title, obviously, is derived from Gerhard Richter’s 1971 work, Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo (below). But its creation, including all the vagaries involved, are inspired directly by Palermo’s work and practice.
Talking about his late student in a 1984 interview with Laszlo Glozer, Joseph Beuys said:
I believe that one of the most important things for art–and he knew it too–is the behavior of people in general. The way people live, the way they live in their space. The way people live was very important for him. The way they inhabit, the way they live, what chairs they sit on, or what they have around them, what they stuff into themselves.
I’d seen the painting first (what they have around them), but it was that charcoal (the way they live) and the horizontal blue passage on the upper left that made the work come into being (the way they inhabit). But that was last year.
Well, if I could, I would say one should perceive his works like a breath. They have something of a breath about them, a breath that vanishes…One ought to see his paintings more like breath that comes and goes, it has something porous, and it can easily vanish again. It is also highly vulnerable. Vulnerable, say, like a cornflower: when you out it into light, it fades very quickly. So one has to perceive that breathlike being as an aesthetic concept and not as a solid structure…
I still don’t know whether to post these matters, or whether it differs from filing it away, or from seeing it, or thinking it. I mean, it’s posted now because the house where this was installed last year came back on the market, with the same listing photos, and I saw them again. But what changes? Is the work still there? Would it matter if it is or isn’t? Does it matter what that crappy little painting even is?
Which seems as good a time as any to mention another work from last year, which I intentionally didn’t post, to see what it was like. Does it change now? Now that situation has been moved out and gut renovated for sure? Now that I can search for it in a different dialogue box? Now that someone else can, too?
For me the value lies in the wonder, the fleeting marvel, the tiny layers of history, of how some people lived overlaid with how other people staged. So I’m good.
I have reservations about directing too much of today’s outrage at a museum or a curator, so I’ll try to keep some perspective, and I urge anyone reading this to do the same.
But I find myself literally shaking with anger at the decision to cancel Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, 1988–2000, in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Florida high school yesterday afternoon. The work is a 3-night slide projection of a hand holding a gun and a hand holding a candle, flanking a bank of microphones. The decision was made, an unattributed update to the project’s press release said, “Out of respect for those affected, and in sensitivity to our public.”
I stepped away from my computer for a few hours to deal, and they added yet another update, a quote from the artist:
“To me, the silence feels most respectful. In this case, not showing the projection shows respect and sensitivity to the people who suffer from this great tragedy,” Wodiczko said.
Seriously? We all suffer. And while the artist and the museum join the NRA in silence, the ones suffering the most, the students, are stepping the hell up to the microphone. If silence is best, then why show the piece at all?
The sudden embrace of silence-as-respect belies the Hirshhorn’s and, apparently, the artist’s, claims and positioning for the work up to and while it was projected, as planned, on Tuesday night.
The press release led with this pull quote from Wodiczko:
“…the 30-year-old projection appears to me today strangely familiar and at once unbearably relevant. More than ever before, the meaning of our monuments depends on our active role in turning them into sites of memory and critical evaluation of history as well as places of public discourse and action.”
I guess the relevance really was unbearable, and instead of memory, evaluation, or discourse, the only action was to pull the plug.
“What his work did was suggest that art in the public sphere … could actually offer up ideas and commentary that was topical,” Chiu said. “It was about what’s going on today, but also ephemeral.”
Indeed it was about what’s going on today, which is why she disappeared it.
I would perhaps have let the whole thing go with a grimace except for the comments of Chief Curator Stéphane Aquin in a YouTube clip, positioning the work as a safely shocking spectacle from a lost, fascinating history:
In 1988, the artist made it very clear it had a pointed reference to the politics and issues at the forefront of the public debate. It was an election year in the States. The original context has waned, has dissolved in history. But those objects still speak to us with striking relevance, to all of us, in various ways. And so it remains a very powerful image.
Which, just, no. What were the politics and original context? In a Washington Post article from the original staging, in late October 1988, just weeks before the presidential election–an article which the Hirshhorn linked to three weeks ago– Wodiczko explains:
“For me, it is what I think of politics in this election, resembling more and more a crime story. For example, [Republican presidential candidate] George Bush on one hand is for the death penalty and on another is antiabortion, on one hand he goes on about ‘a thousand points of light’ and on another defends guns and a strong militaristic policy.
“Media and microphones are also used as weapons.”
What has changed? What has waned? What has dissolved into history? There is another, very similar clip, where Aquin says, “thirty years after, we’ve lost and forgotten about the original context” for Wodiczko’s work. But damn it, we have not. It is all around us, even more.
So why does he say this? Why return to this piece which, contrary to his lofty claims for its significance, was neither groundbreaking (it was Wodiczko’s 32nd projection) nor impactful. (When I tried to argue that Wodiczko should get the credit Doug Aitken’s vapid music video was getting for being the first projected work on the Hirshhorn’s exterior, Aquin’s predecessor Kerry Brougher cackled that it was barely more than a one-night slideshow that no one saw or remembered.)
Museum regimes change, but the motivation is the same. There is a desire for attention through spectacle and controversy in order to accrue power and capital, both social and political, at the moment. And in this case, Aquin and Chiu either are completely blind to the reality they’re showing in–which I doubt–or they’re calculating and manipulating for their own optimization.
When its relevance and topicality spike, like they just did, what is the instinctive reaction? To hold a candlelight vigil? To turn the museum and the Mall into a site of mourning or debate? Does Wodiczko’s work pose an opportunity for the Hirshhorn, or an inconvenience? Or possibly an existential threat? If necessary, would we rally to defend the Hirshhorn’s showing of this work? Is a museum that silences itself and artists it claims are of profound relevance, in mere anticipation of critique worth defending?
Unfortunately for those who thought art was the message, the message is cowardice. Museums in this town have died from such self-inflicted wounds. That’s history that should not be lost or forgotten.
[yet another update: by last night, Melissa Chiu was saying the work would be rescheduled, not simply brought inside to a video monitor. A sensitive announcement to that effect at the beginning would have averted much criticism, but it also seems clear that criticism was the catalyst for the change. Which only underscores the absence of critical thought and understanding that went into this entire presentation.]
The editor of Social Medium: Artists Writing 2000-2015, Jennifer Liese, alerted me to Francesca Balboni’s CAA Review of the anthology, which includes a very nice mention of my Erased de Kooning Drawing posts.
For me, however, the good moments outweighed those that were less than stellar. The biggest revelation was Greg Allen’s idiosyncratically obsessive and meticulously researched blog posts on Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (2011–13). Allen seems to answer Mike Kelley’s assertion to artists in “Artist/Critic?” (2001, another highlight) that “historical writing” can no longer be the project only of the art historian, if we wish to “escape the present limitations of critical discourse” (33). Allen’s blog offers an instructive example of the kind of art histories we might pursue instead. Mariam Ghani’s “The Islands of Evasion: Notes on International Art English” (2013) is as incisive as it is readable, as she summarizes and responds to the heated critical debate around Alix Rule and David Levine’s essay “International Art English.” I also enjoyed many of the selections in “Artists Writing as Art,” especially a bureaucratic love letter to the Liverpool CCTV from Jill Magid’s surveillance performance One Cycle of Memory in the City of L. (2004) and the script for Andrea Fraser’s biting institutional critique Official Welcome (2001).
It is still a sufficiently rare occurrence for me to see such reactions to my work, and it has definitely not gotten old, especially on a rough news day. [Are there any other kind lately?] But it also energizes me to be read as in dialogue with Mike Kelley, and to be discussed in the context of such artists and writers as these folks. I still find Social Medium to be an invigorating read, and am still really grateful to Liese for including me in it.
I went to the unveiling of the official portraits of Pres & Mrs Obama yesterday at the National Portrait Gallery, and I wrote about it for ARTNews.
You’ve seen the portraits by now, so I included a photo of them veiled, like fancied up David Hammonses. Which is a hot take I’d love to see.
I discovered that the Obamas created a playlist for the unveiling on Spotify, which I don’t use. But if someone wants to look it up, (“2/12 Obama Event Playlist,” if you can search for that kind of thing), lmk. (Update: it’s apparently not visible.) Meanwhile, here’s a partial track list so far:
Rise Up, Andra Day
When The Day Comes, Nico & Vinz
Matter of Time, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Black Gold, Esperanza Spalding (feat. Algebra Bresett)
Sign of the Times, Harry Styles
And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going, Jennifer Hudson
Mi Gente, J. Balvin, Willy William (feat. Beyoncé)
Bang Bang, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande
Boredom, Tyler The Creator (?)
Space Boots, Miley Cyrus
Book Of Your Heart, U2
On a visit to the Met this week to see Michelangelo, I also surveyed the status of three works there. As I approached, I figured I’d better perform Untitled (Koch Block) myself, in case no one else did.
I needn’t have worried. The kids are alright.
The #andiron is standing strong. I put in a request to view the photographs in the collection by Mrs. Flora Whiting, the donor of the andiron and many more objects; the appointment is not for several weeks.
After visiting Anne Truitt sculptures so much lately, I can’t stop staring at the little climate control stele. Maybe I’ll sneak a new coat of paint for it.
Speaking of painting, the Proposte monocrome, gris has been accepted. I’m not sure I agree with the choice, but it was really out of my hands.
I am now doubly intrigued by the stele again, which in this light seems to have been painted a different grey than the wall or the moulding.
Once again I am able to take comfort, of a sort, in at least knowing how I am different from Jasper Johns, who, when he once caught a glimpse out the window of a car of a wall painted red and black, did not pull over immediately, and photograph it. We stand on the shoulders of giants in the middle of the street.
virgil Abloh, J.W. Anderson, Diplo e Ricky Martin erano tutti presenti al progetto di partito di Carsten Höller
Se fossi a Londra intorno al 2008, potresti ricordare Il Doppio Club: un incongruo pop-up a tema congolese, ospitato in un magazzino del nord di Londra. Creato dall’artista Carsten Höller e bizzarramente sponsorizzato da Prada, il club / bar / ristorante temporaneo ha attratto celebrità, modaisti e club per oltre otto mesi. Probabilmente passerà alla storia come la più eccitante esperienza della vita notturna mai vista nella capitale.
L’EVENTO DI APERTURA DI MIAMI DOPPIO CLUB DI PRADA. FOTO: PIETRO BJORK
Quasi un decennio più tardi, Il Doppio Club è riportato in vita per la sedicesima edizione di Arte Basel Miami. Per soli tre giorni, questa seconda iterazione dell’installazione artistica esperienziale ha preso il sopravvento in uno studio cinematografico degli anni ’20 con un’imponente line-up, titolata dalla Principessa Nokia, Metodo Uomo e la Madonna Nera. È stato lanciato con una prestazione di Wyclef Jean, che ha radunato Miuccia Prada, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Chloe Saggio e Ricky Martin nel suo giardino tropicale illuminato al neon.
Il Prada Doppio Club Miami – in contrasto con la sua edizione originale di Londra – ha una divisione estetica, tra monocromatico e iper-policromatico. Mentre lo spazio esterno sabbioso e il suo palapa bar sono illuminati da neon colorati perfettamente proporzionati, la sezione interna sembra di entrare in un film di Tim Burton – nero, bianco e nient’altro consentito. “Prendo particolare attenzione ai dettagli”, spiega Höller, che aveva incaricato i buttafuori di confiscare le cannucce colorate all’ingresso del secondo spazio, per preservare la sua identità estetica.
VIRGIL ABLOH. FOTO: GETTY
L’artista tedesco nato in Belgio è noto per la natura interattiva del suo lavoro – spesso associato al movimento dell’estetica relazionale – in cui la percezione e il processo decisionale sono centrali. Per il suo sondaggio presso la Hayward Galleria nel 2015, i visitatori sono stati confrontati con una serie di scelte: tra la porta A e la porta B per entrare nella galleria; inghiottire una pillola da una pila sul pavimento o no (pensa Il Matrice blu e rosso); è stato buttato giù dal museo da una delle due gigantesche diapositive attaccate alla facciata della Rivasud (che ha fatto il suo acclamato debutto alla Tate Moderno nel 2006). Lo stesso concetto si applica al club di Miami, dove le persone dovevano scegliere tra due contesti drasticamente contrastanti (sebbene fossero liberi di viaggiare da uno all’altro).
E mentre il “divertimento” gioca chiaramente un ruolo importante nel lavoro di Höller (è in qualche modo sconcertante pensare di essere stato addestrato come scienziato agricolo), Il Doppio Club va ben oltre il puro divertimento. È un viaggio in cui arte, design e musica coesistono.
“IL PRADA DOPPIO CLUB MIAMI”, UN PROGETTO DI CARSTEN HÖLLER PRESENTATO DALLA FONDAZIONE PRADA MIAMI, 5-7 DICEMBRE 2017. FOTO: CASEY KELBAUGH CORTESIA FONDAZIONE PRADA
“A volte vengo a conoscere le culture attraverso la musica”, ci dice Höller, indicando la line-up caraibica e sudamericana del palcoscenico all’aperto (un momento saliente del secondo giorno è stata una performance del locale, 7-pezzo Tallawah Mento Banda ). “Volevo celebrare queste comunità, che sono così centrali nel tessuto culturale di Miami”, continua. Nel frattempo, la musica elettronica pesante ha dominato lo spazio al chiuso, grazie a spettacoli come Mimi Xu (conosciuto anche Coniglio Nebbioso) e il produttore di Chicago la Madonna Nera.
Allo stesso modo, nel 2008 a Londra, il dialogo tra culture occidentali e congolesi è stato al centro dell’attenzione. Höller (che divide il suo tempo tra la Svezia e il Ghana) ha viaggiato in Congo estensivamente negli ultimi 20 anni. Questo interesse, senza dubbio, fu alimentato dalla sua educazione in Belgio, la cui violenta eredità coloniale segnò profondamente il paese centro-africano. “Volevo adottare un approccio più positivistico”, racconta Höller. “Il Congo è un posto enorme. Volevo celebrare quella cultura in tutta la sua vitalità e potenza. ”
HANS ULRICH OBRIST E CARSTEN HÖLLER. FOTO: PIETRO BJORK
Ora, Arte Basel Miami – uno dei momenti più esclusivi dell’agenda culturale internazionale, in cui l’uno per cento affluisce da tutte le parti del mondo – non è esattamente l’ambiente ovvio per un autentico scambio culturale. Quindi, la diversità ha in qualche modo abbandonato l’agenda, a favore dell’esperienza esperienziale glamour e guidata dal marchio? “Tu hai l’intrinseca diversità di Miami, e in più la natura internazionale di Arte Basel”, spiega l’artista. “Era una folla molto variegata, imballata dall’inizio alla fine.”
Indipendentemente da ciò, Il Doppio Club sarà probabilmente ricordato come la cosa più bella che è successo a questa edizione di Arte Basel Miami. E, chissà, potrebbe anche creare un campo in una città vicino a te in futuro: “È certamente una possibilità”, dice Höller, che ritiene che gran parte del suo lavoro possa essere concepito come un doppio club. Si spera che la prossima tappa duri abbastanza a lungo per segnare davvero la coscienza collettiva locale.
“IL PRADA DOPPIO CLUB MIAMI”, UN PROGETTO DI CARSTEN HÖLLER PRESENTATO DALLA FONDAZIONE PRADA MIAMI, 5-7 DICEMBRE 2017. FOTO: CASEY KELBAUGH. CORTESIA FONDAZIONE PRADA
previously, suddenly related: Rem Casafresca
Here are photos of Betty Parsons’ sculptures on the dining tables at the opening dinner for the National Gallery of Art’s first exhibition of modern art, held in 1973. On the walls are many Rothkos.
The exhibition, American Art Art Mid-Century, curated by visiting MoMA alum Bill Seitz, was made up entirely of loans from private collections, because the NGA had basically no modern works, and had only barely begun to even accept works by still-living artists. [That Gorky, Kline, Newman, Pollock, Rothko, and David Smith were all dead by 1973 hadn’t helped them get into the collection.]
When J. Carter Brown became the NGA’s director he made the controversial decision to hold VIP dinners in the museum itself. NGA president Paul Mellon’s wife Bunny, renowned for her gardening and interior design acumen, took upon herself the role of planning flowers and decor for many of these special events.
I have yet to track down the checklist, but the show’s press release [pdf] says there were 26 works by 23 artists installed in the temporary exhibition galleries on the main level. Yet these photos show at least eight Rothkos, in a room which I believe is on the far west end of the ground level.
According to Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend, by noted centenarian socialite biographer Meryl Gordon, Mrs. Mellon asked Parsons to provide some of her painted found wood sculptures-a letter in the Archives of American Art [p.23] says “10 or so,” but Gordon says 14, and I count like 28-to “adorn [the] tables” at the dinner. Parsons’ datebook [p.132] shows she attended.
Mrs. Mellon was a frequent customer and friend of Parsons. Parsons exhibited her own sculptures and paintings in Washington DC’s Studio Gallery beginning in 1972, and would later show Bunny’s daughter’s artworks in New York. There is an invoice [p.16] in the Archives of American Art for printing table cards for the NGA dinner. I think they’re the gilt-edged ones in the bottom of the picture above.
Everywhere I looked, everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be exactly as it was, with nothing added. It was a new freedom; there was no longer the need to compose. The subject was there already made, and I could take from everything. It all belonged to me: a glass roof of a factory with its broken and patched panels, lines on a road map, a corner of a Braque painting, paper fragments in the street. It was all the same: anything goes.