Last year, independent curator and writer Jessamyn Fiore organized the exhibition “112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970–1974)” at David Zwirner Gallery, which brought together many of the key works shown in the landmark noncommercial venue. A new book copublished this month by Zwirner and Radius Books shares the title of that exhibition and features extensive interviews with many of the participating artists. On Thursday, July 26, Fiore will discuss her research at 192 Books.
AFTER RUNNING THISISNOTASHOP, a small alternative art space in Ireland, I found myself yearning for a few historic examples of similar independent exhibition venues for inspiration, and that’s when I began investigating 112 Greene Street. I was already quite familiar with one of its founders, Gordon Matta-Clark; my mother, Jane Crawford, is his widow, and I basically grew up with his estate. But I was surprised to discover a scarcity of published articles about the history of the venue. There is one lovely book by Robyn Brentano, which she compiled between 1978 and 1980, when the organization left Greene Street and became White Columns. Unfortunately today that text is out of print. I ended up writing my master’s thesis at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin on 112 Greene Street, and in doing so I discovered a treasure trove of fascinating stories from interviews with the original artists, which made me I realize how important these primary resources are. It only made sense to have this book take the form of an oral history.
Today 112 Greene Street exists mainly as legend, since so much of the art that was shown there was ephemeral or destroyed. There are some incredible documentary images, but the bulk of the information about the space really comes from the recollections of the vibrant artistic community who worked, lived, ate, and partied there. They used the building as their own creative laboratory, as a site to experiment with multidisciplinary forms of practice. It’s really their stories that capture the essence of that moment. It was important for me to make a primary resource of those narratives for future curators and researchers to take from and use for their own projects. But this book is really just scratching the surface. It would be exciting to see it inspire more exploration about not only 112 Greene Street but other spaces like it, particularly in connection to those that exist now, since they play an essential role in supporting artists and deserve recognition.
The amount and diversity of work that happened at 112 Greene Street in such a short time is truly humbling, and that’s one reason I wanted to include the time line in the book. In the four years I focus on—its earliest years—you can see that hundreds of artists passed through the space. So many of the great stories in the book about these artists are centered around Jeffrey Lew. He was like the ringleader of a circus there, making it a place where really interesting things could happen. For instance, he did not care about having a pristine space; he left it rough so you could dig holes in the basement and carve holes in the walls. George Trakas did a piece in 1970 where he actually had a sculpture come up through the floor from the basement to the first floor. Though Jeffery was irked at first, he grew to love that work, and many said that piece was a key moment in the venue’s history.
Another important point is that 112 Greene Street was just one in a constellation of alternative venues. Nearby, at Chatham Square, Tina Girouard, Mary Heilmann, and Richard Landry were renting a building where they hosted large dinner parties with music and dance performance. Simultaneously, Carol Goodden, Matta-Clark, and Girouard were organizing the restaurant Food. The latter became a gathering place for the community while also giving employment to those who needed it and providing a venue for food performance. When it came to artmaking and exhibitions, they would help each other out and critique each other’s work. It becomes clear in the book how essential that networking and peer review was to some of the artists in strengthening their practice and helping them pursue successful careers.
Another aspect that stood out to me during my research was the important role that women played at 112 Greene Street, in not only producing so many shows there but also contributing greatly to the running of the space. Rachel Wood was Jeffery’s wife and she was involved in the day-to-day operations, as was the artist Suzanne Harris, who also lived in the building with her husband, Paul. I think her work is some of the most exciting from that era, but sadly it has been largely ignored by art history. I tried to push Girouard’s and Harris’s art to the forefront in the show at David Zwirner, and I hope that through this book art historians will become more interested in their output. One of my most sincere wishes is that these two artists get a second look. They are both among the great, but unfortunately often forgotten, artists of that generation.
View of Amanda Ross-Ho’s studio, June 2012.
“TEENY TINY WOMAN” is the first solo museum exhibition in Los Angeles by Amanda Ross-Ho. On view at the MoCA Pacific Design Center from June 23 to September 23, this show finds Ross-Ho characteristically spanning the disciplines of sculpture, photography, collage, and installation in a deliberately self-referential project that draws from and remixes her own output and artistic history of the past several years.
THE IDEA OF THE RETROACTIVE GAZE is a consistent factor in my work, but not in the sense of cultivating historical distance or nostalgia; it is more a backward way of thinking, an understanding of something by turning it upside down or inside out. Dissection. So the invitation to prepare a survey exhibition simply afforded me an opportunity to broaden the arc of a rigorous investigation that was already heavily evolved in my output. For some time now I have been reaching back into the origins of my own production—extracting, cannibalizing, and translating forms. For me this is less a reclamation or recuperation of individual artifacts as it is a way of mapping the structure and scale of the bigger project as a large holistic organism with a looping logic. In a way, my entire practice is a “survey” of sorts, and typically I employ an omnipotent point of view. This exhibition aims to perform this infinite regress/progress through a heightened or somewhat hyperbolic theater of my own activity.
Since I moved to Los Angeles in 2004, I have been interested in the idea of collapsing authentic gesture with authored or performed gesture. I guess initially I thought I was proposing that the two were one and the same. More recently I think I have located the distinction that rather through their collapse, a third, more compelling form emerges: a hyperaware activity that embodies intuition and immediacy as well as total intentionality and consciousness. I’m invested in cultivating a scenario in which I play the roles of maker and observer, oscillating between these roles to create slippage between the subjective and the objective.
The architectural schema for my MoCA exhibition is a reiteration of a large installation I made in 2008 for the California Biennial. In this work, Frauds for an Inside Job, I excavated the walls of my studio and imported them into the museum, presenting their accumulated residue of activity as formal compositions. For MoCA, I’m performing a “looping theater” or inversion of this. I had walls built at the museum to the exact perimeter and height measurement of my studio, and then had those walls moved to my space. Ultimately, the structure of the exhibition is a result of embedding layered redundancies into the work. The architectural exchange repeats the grand gesture of that former artwork, permanently altering the singularity of reception for both projects. Within this context, individual images and objects enact similar repetitions that mediate my immediate surroundings as well as the vocabulary I’ve cultivated.
Within the individual images and objects in the show there are recontextualized versions of former artworks, reflexive references to my existing lexicon, and found stand-ins for works from my own creative history. There are also direct translations of primal gestures and there are forms located within incredibly recent popular culture that find root in something personal or intimate. In this sense I am interested in deboning time and suggesting something more cyclical, organic, and multidirectional. For this show I made a diptych, UNTITLED ONE AND UNTITLED TWO, which is a direct translation of a pair of paintings I made when I was four years old. The process of laboriously re-creating the intuitive marks made by my own hand thirty-three years ago was an intense exercise in muscle memory and regression. For me this creates a loop between my current production and the deep origins of my practice.
After I had worked within this doubled studio lining for several months (producing work for this show and other projects), the walls again accumulated authentic activity but also afforded the opportunity to perform gestures onto their surfaces in anticipation of their eventual exhibition in the same manner. This created a self-conscious space of intentionality, in which I was extremely mindful of every move, and every gesture became meaningful. In addition to producing the works you will see in the show, I made several large-scale pieces directly on the wall surfaces and then removed them, leaving only their residue. I will release these works within other projects at a future date. I love the idea that in the future, by closely examining the long view of the work, you could identify this reversal. To me this strengthens the bones of the work. It’s a method of decentering by scrambling the sequences of production and reception, and allowing access to the absence or trace of something before being given access to its primary form.
Susan Morgan is a Los Angeles–based writer and contributing editor at Aperture. With Kimberli Meyer, she cocurated the 2011 exhibition “Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design” at the MAK Center/Schindler House in LA. Morgan recently edited Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader, the first gathering of the diverse writings of Esther McCoy (1904–1989), a critic who significantly impacted cultural understandings of midcentury modern California design. The collection is the debut title from East of Borneo Books.
I MOVED TO LOS ANGELES just over twenty years ago. I’d always lived on the East Coast, in New York and before that in Nantucket, where the town council would meet to decide whether the pitch of a residential roof could be altered a few inches. When I arrived in LA, the variety of architectural styles seemed like a Whitman’s Sampler: a Spanish hacienda next to a Norman castle next to a concrete modernist structure. It was daunting and hard to read. A friend recommended Five California Architects and I immediately fell in love with McCoy’s writing. For any writer, the question of how to translate visual and spatial information to the page presents a real challenge; McCoy was able to do that successfully in a clean, direct, and evocative way. Her writing about architecture is very different from standard histories or theory-based discussions.
As I read more by McCoy, I was surprised that so many people didn’t know about her. People interested in midcentury design were familiar with Julius Shulman’s photographs but McCoy’s writing on the same subjects was often overlooked, eclipsed I suppose by Shulman’s flair for self-promotion and theatricalized images. Although she was generally recognized for having written about the Case Study House program, it was her subjects—the houses and architects—that became known. Even readers of her architectural writing were unaware of the incredible range of her work: novels, radio plays, short stories, and progressive journalism. McCoy is really a major social critic of the twentieth century. This book brings together articles, lectures, correspondence, memoirs—writing that had appeared before only in those more ephemeral formats.
Within an academic context, people tend to talk about “Esther McCoy and her project.” That strikes me as curious, because when you’re a freelance writer with no institutional affiliation—like McCoy was—you don’t actually have a “project.” What you have is your writing, and all you can do is try to find subjects that engage you and are compelling to think and write about. McCoy called Los Angeles “a place that was not taken seriously” and she wanted it to be taken seriously. Southern California became a fascinating and rewarding subject for her.
It’s the quality of McCoy’s writing, though, that makes what she writes about especially memorable. Reading her work is like looking over her shoulder and seeing what she sees. During WWII, she worked as an engineering draftsman for Douglas Aircraft—one thousand drafting boards and blueprint girls on roller skates delivering drawings—and later worked as an architectural draftsman for R.M. Schindler. In 1945, she published her first architectural writing, an article about Schindler. In 1987, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth, McCoy wrote a terrific memoir about their first meeting and a fresh, sympathetic appreciation of his talent. She wrote: “He simplified everything, from the filing system based on vowels, storage of nuts and bolts, and an address book filled mainly with the names of plumbers and electricians and carpenters. He had simplified his life. He had simplified his design and made it more complex.”
McCoy closely observed how things come together and are constructed, whether a building or a story. She credited her childhood love of fairy tales as a major influence on her own concisely drawn modernist prose: No detail is arbitrary and every element of the story absolutely delivers.
Robert Morris lives and works in New York and is known for his significant contributions to Minimalism, Land art, and process and installation art. Not long after moving to the city in 1961, he began performing with the Judson Dance Theater, an informal group of artists and dancers working at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. This summer marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first concerts at the theater, and to commemorate the occasion, artforum.com will present a series of interviews with key participants in the group.
THE JUDSON CHURCH was well known to those who lived downtown. There was a gallery downstairs, and performances, plays, concerts, and readings went on in the basement gym as well as in the church proper. All of these activities were supported and encouraged by Howard Moody, the pastor of the church. Jim Dine’s Car Crash was the earliest event I recall attending at the Judson Gallery.
In the early 1960s, Robert Huot lived and worked in a loft across Church Street from me. We had a friendship that had a certain edge; we argued a lot and insulted each other. Huot, who was physically quite powerful, once grabbed me as we were walking down the street and threw me on top of a car. I no longer remember what I said to provoke him to do this. One day we were discussing the dangers of peace and came up with the idea of having a combat. Each of us would make our own armor and weapons. It came about that we would enact our “war” in the basement gym of the Judson Church as one of the events of an evening of performances. I believe the other events were all billed as dances. So by default our performance of War was categorized as a dance.
I knew Mark di Suvero from having worked in a small studio below him near the old Fulton Fish Market before moving to my loft on Church Street, and I asked him to make me a steel gong. He cut a four-foot circle from a plate of steel with his cutting torch. The heat caused the circle to deform slightly into a concave/convex shape, which seemed perfect for a gong. I made a large wooden frame in which to hang the gong and asked La Monte Young to “play” this instrument for the combat-performance. We performed War on January 30, 1963, and it was my first involvement with the Judson.
We never rehearsed War. It started with La Monte just hitting the gong for fifteen minutes in pitch-dark in the gym. Then the lights went up with Huot at one end and myself at the other. We began running toward each other and we slammed into each other with our shields. We were each holding a pigeon. I had bought the birds, after first trying to trap some in Washington Square Park. When we hit we let them go and they flew into the audience. The piece consisted of us hitting each other with fake swords and maces until all was demolished. Then the lights went out. I gave the gong to La Monte. Six months later he called; he wanted me to listen to a recording he had made with it. He had wired it with contact microphones and played it with a bow.
Robert Morris, Site, 1964
Our weapons were made to break and our costumes were sturdy. Neither of us sustained injuries. My costume was made with mops for epaulets, and I had a large foam rubber muscle on my right arm tattooed with a red heart and an arrow through it. There were plywood greaves; two rubber bath mats were worn like a kind of skirt. A real fox fur and two beer cans dangled down in front between the bath mats. I had a plywood shield with a photo of Eisenhower on it and medals attached, one of which was the Iron Cross. I remember Huot’s armor was made with many license plates.
Before I moved to New York I had been living in San Francisco and was married to the dancer Simone Forti, who was working with Anna Halprin. I became involved with Simone in setting up a workshop in San Francisco to explore areas of performance and dance we both felt were ignored by Halprin. We met with a small group of dancers, painters, musicians, and poets on Sunday evenings where we experimented with sound, light, language, and movement in a workshop situation. This was my first involvement with dance-related explorations. When I moved to New York in 1961, these investigations were still fresh in my mind, so the open forum of the Judson appealed to me—although I don’t remember specifically how Huot and I got our collaboration War into that basement for a performance.
I stopped choreographing works when Yvonne Rainer, with whom I was living at the time, told me, “One dancer in the family is enough.” This was after Check, a work for fifty-plus performers, was first performed in Stockholm in the fall of 1964. It was the last work I choreographed. I can no longer recall particulars of time, place, or context, but the words themselves have stuck in my mind, as they precipitated my decision to stop working with dance.
I have many memories of working at the Judson Dance Theater, but to set them down, even to describe the works I performed there, would perhaps generate too long a text. So I will cite one example here. Carolee Schneemann suggested that we collaborate on a work and I agreed. We met twice in the basement of the Judson to improvise together to see if anything would come of it. I felt at somewhat of a loss at the first session and now can’t recall, or perhaps have repressed, what I did. I do remember distinctly what Carolee did. She took off her clothes and began to paint her body, and I found this distracting. The second time we met Carolee did the same thing. I stopped whatever it was I was doing (probably running around banging into walls) and announced to Carolee that it wasn’t working. I suggested that each of us should have a turn making something in which the other performed. I said I would go first and think of something that would include her. What I came up with was Site, a work in which Carolee did take off her clothes, got painted white, but did not move. She never made a work with a role for me as a performer. This may have been because she disapproved of my casting her as Manet’s Olympia in Site. Still, she did not refuse to perform in the work.
Lara Favaretto is an Italian artist known for site-specific installations that limn the ephemeral and the absurd. The Turin-based artist’s current show, “Just Knocked Out,” is on view at MoMA PS1 through September 10. Favaretto has exhibited previously at the Fifty-third Venice Biennale (2009) and Frieze Projects (2007).
THIS SHOW is ultimately more about atmospheres than objects. It comprises a mix of new and old works, and each piece operates in tandem with the others, establishing connections that arise because they are installed in this specific space and scheme, not as they were previously or will be the next time. For me, creating this installation was akin to building a landscape, and I’ve come to understand it in the aggregate, as a unique piece unto itself.
I select objects that add parallel lives to my installations, objects that already have a history, especially those that have been submitted to various kinds of energy, power, and weather conditions—all agents that intervene on the materials that compose each artifact. Central to the exhibition is the overhead scaffolding, Grid After Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue, 1921: a site-specific installation arrayed in the ceiling space of each gallery. Taken together, the orthogonal geometries of the pipes, threaded through with wool yarn in shades of red, yellow, blue, black, and white, replicate a 1921 composition by Piet Mondrian. I did not select the pipes: They were just there in my studio, having been procured from local building companies. Because I work with secondhand and found materials, my choices are limited to whatever is currently available. I can never determine in advance the characteristics (shape, color, size, etc.) of the materials that I am looking for. Sometimes I get objects that I really don’t like, and I could perhaps cheat and choose something nicer, or buy something new and make it look worn—but of course I can’t, because that element of randomness is central to my practice.
When installing this show, I never felt physically present when positioning the work, at that moment of selection. Like a dictator, the scaffolding’s grid decided the placement for me. Hence the title, “Just Knocked Out,” which can mean “only” or “merely” knocked out, or it can allude to that moment in boxing when one falls and completely loses consciousness, waking at a loss of where they are, what they were doing, and where they are from. This is precisely the feeling that overcomes me when I stand beneath the scaffolding.
A deep sense of frustration persists in my work. While at first glance it may appear carefree and lighthearted, these qualities subside as one moves into each piece. For example, Tutti gia per terra (We All Fall Down) is a sealed room filled with confetti and four stage fans. The confetti may initially amuse, but you soon sense something that you can’t reach. Cordoned in a sealed room, the confetti circulates without end, forming a system with its own internal logic that cannot be breached. The viewer has the option to experience the work on a superficial or critical level: It is pegged to the individual’s desire, the extent to which he or she wants to enter the work.
So often, art is made to be put in an institution and preserved in perpetuity under Plexiglas. Yet, to me, this model no longer makes sense. When the boat was shipping my work from Italy to New York, I was hoping that it would sink and that my work would be destroyed. At MoMA PS1, the exhibition is very strong, but it’s also safe: The chances of an unexpected occurrence or effect are minimal, and as a result, the show becomes a matter of placing one piece here, one piece there. But if the boat had sunk, the exhibition would have begun afresh, with a much stronger energy and power. It would be, precisely, the absence of objects. Which is a controversial idea, of course.
Left: Kathryn Andrews, Rainbow Successor, 2011, stainless steel, rented costume, 73 x 51 3/4 x 48”. (Photo: Brian Forrest) Right: View of “First Among Equals,” 2012. Foreground: Kathryn Andrews, Serial Killer, 2012. Background: Mateo Tannatt (in collaboration with Jesse Willenbring), Studio Complex/The Yellow Book, 2012. (Photo: Aaron Igler/Greenhouse Media.)
This summer, the Los Angeles–based artist Kathryn Andrews is presenting work in Basel, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. For Art Basel’s Art Parcours program, her new site-specific performance event, titled Voix de ville (Voice of the City), will take place on June 13. In Philadelphia, Andrews presents Serial Killer in the group show “First Among Equals” at the Institute of Contemporary Art through August 12. Andrews has also been selected for “Made in L.A. 2012,” the first Los Angeles Biennial, for which her sculptures will be on view at the Hammer Museum from June 2 to September 2.
THE PIECE I’M MAKING FOR ART PARCOURS is a spectacle-type event with a series of five stage sets that each have different images: They’re all stock pictures of idyllic landscapes or people interacting with odd objects––a clown with a large balloon, a drunken man with a beer glass, a polished-chrome viewfinder overlooking an Italian city, a Swiss chalet. Within this architectural framework, which will be installed in a sort of zigzag, there will be a series of vaudevillian performances. My intention is to create a situation that questions how we locate the subject of the work and the viewer. The performers will do their routines, one will begin just as another ends, and their acts will be seductive, courting the viewer’s attention. The viewers will get drawn into the stage sets and caught there, framed by the acts. They may start to feel like both tourists and performers—constantly in motion, pursuing the next attraction, yet unable to move freely due to the spatial constraints of the sets. I’m excited about this, because most of my previous works deal with how we perceive a sculpture or painting as a static scenario rather than as an active event. I suppose I’m trying to take that question to performance and go another way with it: To what degree do we perceive something as seemingly lively as performance as image? And what happens when the viewer is involved in breaking its traditional frame?
The floor and wall sculptures I’m showing in “Made in L.A.” are among those active works of mine that have a theatrical quality; they function as props or sets. But the viewer is invited to consider himself or herself as their subject, as a performer. Complicating that, components in each sculpture––a clown suit, for instance––are rented, so each work exists in a temporal exchange that is ongoing. It implies a history of the bodies that once inhabited that costume, or the bodies that will inhabit it.
The piece I’m showing at ICA, Serial Killer, is something of a bridge between these two shows. The work consists of a mobile fence on wheels. Once a month a performer—a human statue—enters the space, grabs the fence, and moves it unusually close to another work within the show. The statue subsequently stands still next to the fence for two hours and then leaves. But the fence stays there for a month, when another human statue comes in and moves it to a new location. Over the course of the exhibition, this fence is constantly reframing the works. It creates a series of triangulations between the viewer, the performer, and the other artists’ pieces. It asks us how we construct notions of autonomy, and what it means to view an artist’s work as a contained situation. It pokes at the impossibility of that.
This work does not require agreement from the participating artists in the show. When museums curate group shows they don’t call up every artist and ask them where to place everything: “Who should we put next to you, and how many inches away?” Art institutions rarely do this; they wouldn’t be able to function. The curators asked me if they should ask each artist’s permission for my piece to be in proximity to theirs. I did not respond, leaving the problem of agency on the museum. I was later told that all the artists were “informed” that this piece would be moving throughout the exhibition, so everyone is at least aware of it.
Often in my work I’m trying to address the relationship of popular desire to specific materials and forms and what happens when that desire goes unchecked. We are all seduced by . . . whatever. There are millions of things out there that suck us in and it’s easy to be critical of their mechanisms and our willingness to embrace them. Instead of saying, “Hey, all that shit over there is bad, it dupes us,” I hope my work says something more like, “No, actually we suck ourselves in because we really enjoy having a mediated experience.” It is sort of a rabbit-hole problem. When we see our own attachment to these illusions, we can laugh at ourselves.