On Kawara’s Guggenheim Museum exhibit “Silence” closes May 3, 2015.
On Kawara’s Guggenheim Museum exhibit “Silence” closes May 3, 2015.
The incredible Garry Winogrand retrospective that premiered at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last March is currently on exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City through September 21, 2014. Here is a wonderful introduction to Winogrand’s work from The Met’s website.
The first retrospective in 25 years of work by Garry Winogrand (1928–1984)—the renowned photographer of New York City and of American life from the 1950s through the early 1980s—will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 27, 2014. Garry Winogrand brings together more than 175 of the artist’s iconic images, a trove of unseen prints, and even Winogrand’s famed series of photographs made at the Metropolitan Museum in 1969 when the Museum celebrated its centennial. This exhibition offers a rigorous overview of Winogrand’s complete working life and reveals for the first time the full sweep of his career.
…Born in the Bronx, Winogrand did much of his best-known work in Manhattan during the 1950s and 1960s, and in both the content and dynamic style he became one of the principal voices of the eruptive postwar decades. Known primarily as a street photographer, Winogrand, who is often associated with famed contemporaries Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander, photographed with dazzling energy and incessant appetite, exposing some 26,000 rolls of film in his short lifetime. He photographed business moguls, everyday women on the street, famous actors and athletes, hippies, politicians, soldiers, animals in zoos, rodeos, car culture, airports, and antiwar demonstrators and the construction workers who beat them bloody in view of the unmoved police. Daily life in America—rich with new possibilities and yet equally anxiety-ridden and threatening to spin out of control—seemed to unfold for him in a continuous stream.
Yet if Winogrand was one of New York City’s premier photographers, he was also an avid traveler. He generated exquisite work from locations around the United States including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and the open country of the Southwest. “You could say that I am a student of photography,” he said, “and I am; but really I’m a student of America.” Winogrand’s expansive visual catalogue of the nation’s evolving social scene has led to comparisons to Walt Whitman, who also unspooled the world in endless lists of people, places, and things.
Winogrand’s pictures often bulge with 20 or 30 figures, and are fascinating both for their dramatic foregrounds and the sub-events at their edges. Even when crowded with people or at their most lighthearted—he was fond of visual puns and was drawn to the absurd—his pictures convey a feeling of human isolation, hinting at something darker beneath the veneer of the American dream. Early on, some critics considered his pictures formally “shapeless” and “random,” but admirers and critics later found a unique poetry in his tilted horizons and his love of the haphazard.
“Winogrand was an artistic descendant of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, but differed sharply from them,” says Leo Rubinfien, guest curator of the exhibition. “He admired Frank’s The Americans, but felt the work missed the main story of its time, which in his mind was the emergence of suburban prosperity and isolation. The hope and buoyancy of middle-class life in postwar America is half of the emotional heart of Winogrand’s work. The other half is a sense of undoing. The tension between these qualities gives his work its distinct character.”
After serving in the military as a weather forecaster, Winogrand began working as a photographer while studying painting on the G.I. Bill at Columbia University (1948–51). During that time, he also studied briefly with Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research. While pursuing his personal work, he supplied commercial photographs to a number of general-interest magazines such as Life, Look, Sports Illustrated, Collier’s, and Pageant, which were then at the height of their power and reach. His career was shaped further by the decline of those magazines and the rise of a new culture of photography centered in the art world.
While Winogrand is widely considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, his overall body of work and influence on the field remain incompletely explored. He was enormously prolific but largely postponed the editing and printing of his work. The act of taking pictures was far more fulfilling to Winogrand than making prints or editing for books and exhibitions, and he often allowed others to perform these tasks for him. Dying suddenly at the age of 56, he left behind proof sheets from his earlier years that he had marked but never printed, as well as approximately 6,600 rolls of film (some 250,000 images) that he had never seen, more than one-third of which he had never developed at all; these rolls of film were developed after his death.
“There exists in photography no other body of work of comparable size or quality that is so editorially unresolved,” says Rubinfien, who was among the youngest of Winogrand’s circle of friends in the 1970s. “This exhibition represents the first effort to comprehensively examine Winogrand’s unfinished work. It also aims to turn the presentation of his work away from topical editing and toward a freer organization that is faithful to his art’s essential spirit, thus enabling a new understanding of his oeuvre, even for those who think they know him.”
The exhibition is divided into three parts, each covering a broad variety of subjects found in Winogrand’s art. “Down from the Bronx” presents photographs made in New York from his start in 1950 until 1971; “A Student of America” looks at the same period during journeys outside New York; and “Boom and Bust” addresses Winogrand’s late work—from when he moved away from New York in 1971 until his death in 1984—with photographs from Texas and Southern California, as well as Chicago, Washington, Miami, and other locations.
I first encountered the X modifier in my youth. As an aviation enthusiast I was introduced to the radical X-3 Stiletto. The X-3 Stiletto was an experimental jet aircraft designed and manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the U.S. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The NACA was the precursor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The X-3 looks like a personification of the beaked-nose white spy from Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy, with its a slender fuselage, a long tapered nose, and ultra-modern white-on-white paint scheme. The X-3 was part of a series of experimental United States airplanes, helicopters and rockets used to test and evaluate new technologies and aerodynamic concepts, referred to as “X-Planes”:
The majority of X-Plane testing has occurred at Edwards Air Force Base. Some of the X-planes have been well publicized, while others, such as the X-16, have been developed in secrecy. The first, the Bell X-1, became well known after it became, in 1947, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight. Later X-planes supported important research in a multitude of aerodynamic and technical fields, but only the North American X-15 rocket plane of the early 1960s achieved comparable fame to that of the X-1. X-planes 7 through 12 were actually missiles(used to test new types of engines), and some other vehicles were un-piloted (some were remotely flown, some were full-on drones). (Wikipedia: X-Plane)
X has many other uses in addition to designating an experimental aircraft: it is a common variable for unknown or changing concepts in mathematics; in astronomy, X stands for a comet of unknown origin; X is a symbol on a treasure map to mark the spot where the treasure is buried; in bowling X signifies a strike; and X is a placeholder for the legal signature of an illiterate person. On a more romantic note, Xs symbolize the kisses paired with the Os of hugs in warmhearted salutations.
Besides these common uses, the X modifier is often deployed as branding shorthand to differentiate some person, product, or service as being advanced, audacious, bleeding-edge, bold, contemporary, daring, earth-shattering, forward-looking, fresh, game-changing, genuine, ground-breaking, gutsy, innovative, modern, newfangled, novel, original, pioneering, rejuvenated, sophisticated or unique. The use of X is everywhere, and seems to be the gift the keeps on giving. So I decided to look into the origins of the X that so often marks the spot. Here is a brief summary of my findings.
1895 | X-Rays: Physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovers X-rays. Röntgen named it X-radiation to signify an unknown type of radiation. [Read more…] about A Brief History of X (1895-2014)
Last week NPR’s Studio 360 announced the winners of its 2014 Collective Nouns contest. Host Kurt Andersen challenged listeners to create collective nouns for this group of people: Conceptual Artists, Critics, Djs, Hipsters, Indie Filmmakers, IT Guys, Opera Goers, Trekkies, Venture Capitalists, and Yoga Instructors. James Lipton, perhaps best known as the host of Inside the Actors Studio, served as the judge. Turns out James Lipton actually wrote the definitive book on the subject:
Generations of word lovers have been turned on by James Lipton’s An Exaltation of Larks. The book details the provenance of more than 1,100 “nouns of venery,” as they are were called in the 15th century, including a pride of lions, a smack of jellyfish, an ostentation of peacocks, and many more.
In his research for the book, Lipton discovered that linguists in 1486 delighted in making up names for people, as well: a superfluity of nuns, an eloquence of lawyers, an incredulity of cuckolds. “And that’s when I began to play the game,” he says. He would invite his friends over to invent new ones — the playwright Neil Simon suggested “a mews of cathouses.”
Here is the audio clip of the Studio 360 segment:
And here, dear reader, is the list of winners selected by Mr. Lipton:
This weekend on NPR’s All Things Considered there was an incredible and moving segment devoted to music producer Lou Adler’s gospel rendering of a collection of ten Bob Dylan songs from the 1960s, including The Times They Are A Changin’, I Shall Be Released and Lay Lady Lay. The album, “Dylan’s Gospel,” by The Brothers and Sisters, was recorded in 1969 and features an all-star line-up of gospel singers recruited by Adler from Baptist churches throughout South Central Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the album fell quickly into obscurity due to record company
blunders, scuffles and snafus. Renowned singer Merry Clayton was one of the featured artists on the album, and is interviewed along with Adler in this insightful and inspiring piece. Definitely worth a listen, or two.
In addition you can sample the recently reissued album at Light In The Attic Records.
In a recent issue of The New Yorker, a Goings On listing written by Richard Brody noted that the Museum of the Moving Image was screening the Jerry Lewis film, The Ladies Man. In the movie, Lewis plays Herbert H. Heebert, “a high-strung and wounded young man who seeks a secular sanctuary from sex and ends up in Hollywood, as a handyman in a women’s boarding house.” Brody goes on to write, “The house where Herbert lives and works is one of the greatest and most influential sets of all time,” which got me thinking about where else have I seen this “colossal dollhouse-like cutaway” approach before and, for that matter, since.
A recent example of an epic “dollhouse effect” is Wes Anderson’s set piece for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which featured a fantastic cutaway/bisected research vessel dubbed the Belafonte. The Belafonte, complete with mini-sub and helicopter, is of course a loving homage to oceanographer Jacques Cousteau’s vessel, the Calypso. And yes, Harry Belafonte played calypso music on an album called Calypso. Seu Jorge, on the other hand, is a Brazilian Samba musician and the Belafonte’s resident recording artist who performs haunting David Bowie covers at intervals throughout the film. But I digress. The point is, after doing a little research on the making of the Belafonte set I stumbled upon Anthony Balducci’s blog, which itemizes a half-dozen examples of this visual trope, which apparently has been around for at leat 95 years.
Here are some examples, traveling back in time from the present:
Arthur Samuel Mole and his partner John D. Thomas were commercial photographers who made a mark for themselves during World War I by creating a series of “living photographs.” These original “crowdsourced” images required tens of thousands of soldiers arranged to form massive compositions that when photographed from an 80-foot viewing tower revealed various patriotic images. Images includes the American eagle, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Army Shield and, as seen here, President Woodrow Wilson. The Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago has a nice set of Mole & Thomas’ work online including a pretty incredible print of “The Living Uncle Sam” from 1919. While there, check out the marvelous text paintings of Jesse Howard.
See also: Wikipedia: Arthur Samuel Mole
No.98: Japan Airlines
In 1989 after Japan Airlines and Japan Air System merged, Landor Associates was hired to rebrand the airline. Landor’s efforts resulted in “grounding” the airline’s majestic red-crown crane livery, above, called tsurumaru (鶴丸) or “crane circle,” in favor of a drab-on-drab all-type treatment with decorative red box and complimentary gray rectangle. This visual travesty somehow managed to elude the brand authorities for nearly thirteen years. I know, I cringed every time I witnessed a JAL flight climbing out of SFO during this period; yes indeed, if getting stuck on the 101 freeway could be any worse, Landor’s design somehow managed to make it utterly unbearable. So when in 2002 JAL announced another rebranding campaign, you can imagine how excited I was; but that renewed sense of of hope quickly turned to horror when Landor was tasked — again — for the redesign. Needless to say, the ensuing nouveau drab-on-drab sans-serif all-type treatment with action swoosh de jour was no improvement.
Thankfully in January, 2011, following its corporate restructuring, Japan Airlines returned to the classic tsurumaru logo:
The Tsurumaru JAL logo was created in 1958 by Jerry Huff, the creative director at Botsford, Constantine and Gardner of San Francisco, which had been the advertising agency for Japan Airlines from its earliest days. JAL had used several logos up until 1958. When the airline arranged to buy new DC8, they decided to create a new official logo to announce the inauguration of their jet service world wide.
In the creation of the logo, Huff was inspired by the personal crests of Samurai families. In a book he’d been given, We Japanese, he found pages of crests, including the crane. On his choice of the crane, he writes: “I had faith that it was the perfect symbol for Japan Air Lines. I found that the Crane myth was all positive—it mates for life (loyalty), and flies high for miles without tiring (strength.)” (Wikipedia: Japan Airlines)
This harkens back to a bygone era in which a creative director could “have faith” that he had created the perfect design, without relying on market research, focus groups and quant maps to bleed the soul out of a design.
As I stood marveling at this On Kawara painting at the Art Institute of Chicago over the holiday, a young boy and his mother approached the piece. The boy turned quickly to her and said, “it’s only a day,” and I was reminded of an NPR interview with art critic Jerry Saltz that I recently heard. Saltz said in regard to Jackson Pollock’s work, “I just think those paintings put off more energy than went into making them, and that’s one of the definitions of art.” A work that emits more energy than went into making it. I think that’s a wonderful description of what I experienced with the On Kawara painting.
Here is the Wikipedia description of On Kawara’s “Today Series” of date paintings:
Since January 4, 1966, [Kawara] has made a long series of “Date paintings” (the Today series), which consist entirely of the date on which the painting was executed in simple white lettering set against a solid background. The date is always documented in the language and grammatical conventions of the country in which the painting is executed (i.e., “26. ÁG. 1995,” from Reykjavik, Iceland, or “13 JUIN 2006,” from Monte Carlo); Esperanto is used when the first language of a given country does not use the Roman alphabet). The paintings, executed in liquitex [acrylic paint] on canvas, conform to one of eight standard sizes, ranging from 8×10 inches to 61×89 inches, all horizontal in orientation. The dates on the paintings, hand-painted with calculated precision, are always centered on the canvas and painted white, whereas the background colors vary; the paintings from the early years tend to have bold colors, and the more recent ones tend to be darker in tone. For example, Kawara briefly used red for several months in 1967 and then returned to darker hues until 1977. Four coats of paint are carefully applied for the ground and each allowed enough time to dry before being rubbed down in preparation for subsequent coats. Eschewing stencils in favor of hand-drawn characters, Kawara skillfully renders the script, initially a sans-serif, elongated version of Gill Sans, later a quintessentially modernist Futura. Each work is carefully executed by hand. Some days he makes more than one. If Kawara is unable to complete the painting on the day it was started he immediately destroys it. When a Date Painting is not exhibited, it is placed in a cardboard box custom-made for the painting, which is lined with a clipping from a local newspaper from the city in which the artist made the painting. Although the boxes are part of the work, they are rarely exhibited. Each year between 63 and 241 paintings are made.
Each Date Painting is registered in a journal and marked on a One Hundred Years Calendar. When Kawara finishes a painting, he applies a swatch of the paint mixture he used to a small rectangle that is then glued onto a chart in the journal. Under each colour is a number showing the painting’s sequence in that year and a letter indicating its size. The journal therefore records the details of the painting’s size, color and newspaper headline, while the calendar uses colored dots to indicate the days in which a painting was made, and to record the number of days since the artist’s birth. Kawara has now created date paintings in more than 112 cities worldwide in a project that is planned to end only with his death.
Happy New Year!
NPR aired a wonderful feature on Teller’s new documentary of inventor Tim Jenison’s attempt to paint in the manner of 17th century Flemish master Johannes Vermeer. You can hear the entire interview at NPR; here is an excerpt of the interview, Teller Breaks His Silence To Talk ‘Tim’s Vermeer’:
Jenison was inspired by Vermeer’s paintings and by the book Secret Knowledge, in which the contemporary English artist David Hockney theorized that Renaissance painters might have achieved photographic accuracy by employing tools that anticipated photography.
He proposed they may have used the camera obscura, a darkened room with a small aperture that a painter would have sat in as if he were inside a giant pinhole camera — along with lenses, possibly, or more likely concave mirrors.
Jenison brought an inventor’s mind to the task of putting these theories to the test, and Tim’s Vermeer, which explains the project and documents the results, is narrated by Jenison’s friend Penn Gillette, of the magic act Penn and Teller, and directed by the other half of that duo.
Though Penn and Teller’s act usually involves the latter working strictly in silence, Teller took himself off mute to speak with NPR’s Robert Siegel about the film and the method he believes Vermeer used.
“In the 1600s in Holland and that area of Europe, lenses and mirrors were quite popular as things for science hobbyists,” he says.” The telescope had just been invented, so the chances that Vermeer had very good access to all sorts of lenses and mirrors is very high.” [Read more…] about Tim Jenison’s Vermeer Machine
NPR’s Michel Martin interviewed Pivot’s “docu-talk” host Meghan McCain recently. Here is a brief excerpt and you can read or listen to the complete interview as well as watch a clip of the program at Tell Me More.
Meghan McCain comes by her maverick credentials honestly. As the daughter of Arizona Sen. John McCain, she is no stranger to the political limelight. But that doesn’t mean she always agrees with her dad or Republican political orthodoxy.
It’s that unique perspective that is at the center of her new television show, Raising McCain. The newly launched Pivot network describes the program as a hybrid “docu-talk” show. Each episode features a different co-host and is filmed in a documentary style. But don’t expect crying on couches or gift baskets under the seat. She’s tackling topics like feminism; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights; and young people in the military with an eye on her millennial target audience.
On her inspiration for Raising McCain
I’m such a child of the ’90s. I grew up watching MTV News and watching their “Choose or Lose” correspondents interview my dad. And I always thought they were such interesting, cool people. Tabitha Soren has had such a profound impact on my life. … I just wanted to do a talk show for young people that was discussing serious issues, but not doing it in a way that talks down to people that don’t have it all figured out.
On being an advocate for LGBT rights
You know I’ve never considered myself a journalist, ever. I’ve always considered myself a commentator. I mean I was born into a bias. … If someone wants to watch a more even opinion about coming out in America or gay rights, I’m not the girl for you. I have such a strong opinion. … What I’m always secretly trying to get is that young Republican kid in the middle of the country who is maybe struggling with how he feels about social issues and just knowing that there are other people out there that struggle with that.
On the government shutdown
The government shutdown right now — because we have this innate capability to compromise and work together — it makes me so sad. I don’t know when we’re going to this tipping point where hopefully things will come back around. But I was just talking to my father on the phone right before I came in here to do this interview and he’s saying that this is the worst time in Congress he’s ever seen in his entire career. I mean, what does that say?
On who is to blame for the current political climate
I blame cable news. I blame politicians as well. But at a certain point, I don’t understand some portion of the American public that supports radical personalities. I’ve never understood it. I always want to compromise, and I always want to find the other side of the opinion and see if I may be wrong. I’m open to my opinion being changed. I’m open to the idea that I could be wrong. And it’s just scary, crazy times that we’re living in. And Congress is a bunch of petulant children that can’t work together.
More: Read our Pivot Case Study.
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