On Kawara’s Guggenheim Museum exhibit “Silence” closes May 3, 2015.
On Kawara’s Guggenheim Museum exhibit “Silence” closes May 3, 2015.
The great poet, novelist and artist Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) created a number of wonderful “picture poems” like the one above, which also served as the title of my source for this image: The Argument of Innocence – A Selection from the Arts of Kenneth Patchen, by Peter Veres, The Scrimshaw Press, 1976. The painted text reads,
The Argument of Innocence
can only be lost
if it is won
Veres describes the evolution of the picture poems, and includes an elucidation of their genesis by the artist’s wife, Miriam Patchen (p. 53-60):
Although Patchen’s drawings of beasties and critters dated back to the 1950s, appearing on the handwritten pages of poetry in his silkscreen folios, it was only in the picture poems of the sixties (published by New Directions in black and white in Hallelujah Anyway, 1966, and But Even So, 1968), that the images and words achieved a truly integrated union, a symbiosis.
Patchen’s picture poems are magical, or, perhaps more properly, “fantastic.” They are messages from other lands, spoken in our vernacular by vaguely familiar creatures. Figures and words share a continuum of visual presence and form a counterpoint of meaning, an interchange of energies. Words as images, images as concepts, co-existing without subservience to each other, are combined to create a richer whole.
Patchen made nearly two hundred of these picture poems, all on very old off-white handmade paper, with uneven, uncut edges, all about eleven and a half by seventeen inches, which gives the impression of found, ancient manuscripts. Present in each of them is the spirit of the intensely personal and the intensely direct gift.
Miriam Patchen: It’s like so many things — inventors work all their lives on trying to do something. The thing they’re doing doesn’t happen and yet accidentally something else happens, and they discover or create something they hadn’t planned on.
In a way, this is almost what happened with Kenneth’s picture poems and painting poems. When he was very uncomfortable in Palo Alto [Patchen had an extremely painful, debilitating chronic spinal injury], bedfast and trying to do things, John Thomas, who is now and was then in the Department of Botany at Stanford, brought us, almost accidentally, some very strange old papers.
Kenneth always loved beautiful paper, lovely types, good books. But these very strange old papers were handmade, of great, great age. They were at Stanford and were used to press, or had been holding, botanical specimens that had come from France many, many years ago. Some of the papers literally went back to the days of Napoleon’s army, and John Thomas was rather shocked when he discovered that the paper was being thrown away and burned when they were reclassifying their botanical specimens. So he, too, was interested in paper and had a little press, and he and Kenneth decided that they might do a couple of Christmas cards on the paper or something like that. But he brought the paper to Kenneth, and Kenneth was just really so fascinated by the paper he would pore over it and pet it and look at it night after night when he couldn’t do anything else. Gradually he began to think that it would be a terrible waste not to do something desirable with the paper. Fine to do the Christmas cards and some printing, yes, but this paper should exist, and continue to exist, because it could; since it was pure rag paper, it could continue to exist for some purpose other than just being around.
He experimented a little with this and a little with that and gradually tested it with color, and that began to intrigue him more and more. And began to make him think of painting on the paper and doing color. Then color began to open up his mind to putting color in a sense visually into his poetry. That led to painting on the papers.
He did some black drawing pages on some of the paper, but still that wasn’t satisfactory enough for the paper’s honor. So gradually the painting forms evolved because of these papers.
My copy of The Argument of Innocence has a wonderful ring stain on the top right of the title page that seems to shine like a gray sun down upon on the title farther down the page. I liked this stained page so much I worked a copy of it into a painting a number of years back, also titled The Argument of Innocence. You can only lose it by winning.
Giovanni Bellini’s painting “St. Francis in the Desert” (c. 1480) is one of my favorite paintings, and arguably one of the greatest paintings of all time. If you have never seen it in person, you must go to the Frick Collection in New York and behold its brilliance. It recently returned to public display after a stint of conservation and study, which you can read about in this New York Times article, Alone in the Wilderness and the Spotlight. Our fair city of San Francisco, of course, was named after St. Francis.
As I noted in a previous post (In praise of the artist John McLaughlin), the California artist John McLaughlin (1898-1976) is one of my favorite artists. McLaughlin’s favorite artist was a 15th century Japanese monk-painter named Sesshu Toyo. Here his the Kyoto National Museum blurb about the Sesshu painting shown above:
This masterpiece depicts a bird’s-eye-view of the famous sandbar in Tango province, one of the Three Famous Scenic Spots in Japan. It can be dated by the coexistence in the painting of the two-storied Chionji temple pagoda, which was built in 1501, and the buildings of Nariaiji temple, which burned down in 1507. It is remarkable to think that the artist, who was well into his eighties at the time, climbed to such heights to paint the scene! The painting’s combination of soft, wet ink tones, precise brushwork and sublime composition represent the acme of Sesshu Toyo’s (1420-1506) art.
This painting can be considered the masterpiece of an artist who went to China to study painting from life and the art of the Song and Yuan Dynasties and sought the unity of Zen and art throughout his life.
John McLaughlin lived in Japan for three years in the 1930s, and after that opened a Boston gallery that sold Japanese prints. “During World War II, he used his fluency in Japanese to do Marine Corps intelligence work in China, Burma and India,” wrote art critic Christopher Knight in his article about McLaughlin, Open your eyes to John McLaughlin. Here is an excerpt from that article, where Knight discuses the influence of Eastern art and thought on McLaughlin’s work:
For McLaughlin, though, the void was fundamentally different. His is a visionary envelope, an open space of expansive thought, creative energy or the spirit. It’s a void that represents the highest aspiration within Japanese aesthetics rather than Western tradition.
McLaughlin had deep admiration for traditional Japanese and Chinese painting. He was inspired by it as much as by Mondrian or Kazimir Malevich, the spiritual Russian Suprematist. In fact, Sesshu Toyo, the 15th century Japanese monk-painter, was his favorite artist.
Eastern painters were aware of Western perspective, but they rejected it. Instead, they designed paintings to draw a viewer into a profound visual excursion through time and space. McLaughlin did too. The modern Western tools of color and shape in geometric abstraction fuse with the Chinese manner of monochrome painting. Solid merges with space, line with shape.
McLaughlin’s easel paintings, never more than 4 or 5 feet on a side, also dispense with the public scale of a mural, which New York School painters demanded. His paintings are instead designed for intimacy — for the one-on-one experience of contemplative interaction that describes, say, a single Japanese scroll hanging in a tokonoma alcove. The modest size maneuvers a viewer into an optimal place a few feet away, from which to cogitate in splendid isolation.
“I want to communicate only to the extent that the painting will serve to induce or intensify the viewer’s natural desire for contemplation,” the artist once said, “without the benefit of a guiding principle.”
See also: In praise of the artist John McLaughlin
No particular reason to post this, other than that I find it beautiful and inspiring. But what else could possibly matter as much as that, anyway? The beautiful images of slime molds I posted earlier today in a story about intelligent slime molds must have got me thinking about Twombly’s work.
See also: Cy Twombly, April 25, 1928 – July 5, 2011.
What is going on here? What incident has taken place? It is a mindblowing 1991 installation at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, by the great Russian artist Ilya Kabakov, called The Bridge. Below are some excerpts from the book, Ilya Kabakov: The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away, 1996, by Amei Wallach, describing this strange and haunting installation:
Passing through a small dark corridor, in all two meters long, the viewer opens an old door that has been painted green many times, ascends a slight incline, and winds up on a narrow wooden bridge with handrails suspended above the floor. The viewer walks along this bridge to the center of the room, whereupon the bridge turns to the left, and one can get down from the bridge only through the opposite door, which leads out of the installation. The viewer cannot get off of the bridge and walk around the room: the handrails and the bridge are tightly pressed against the doors, and it is only possible to go in one direction, toward the exit.
In a large room (15 x 10 meters) only the center is brightly lit by an oval of light. The corners and walls of the room are not illuminated, they are immersed in semidarkness. The illuminated center, at first glance, appears to be completely empty. However, just outside the borders of the light one can see all sorts of things in total disarray which have been pushed back against the walls–chairs, wooden benches, boxes, wrapping paper, a table covered with a green tablecloth–and behind all of this, flush against the wall and barely visible in the darkness, stand large and medium-sized paintings that have not been hung. The walls themselves, if one looks closely, are divided at even intervals by vertically hanging red panels, which lend the entire area a sort of pompous air, and the very color of the walls and the table holding a carafe containing water and glasses all indicate that, to all appearances, what we have before us is an official area intended for solemn occasions. But why are there such disorder and chaos in it?
A wooden board with an explanation is affixed in the center of the bridge at the very place where it turns toward the exit, and here the viewer may read to find out what is going on, or more precisely, what went on. From this text (cf. text “explanation” [below]) the plot/theme of the installation becomes clear, as does the significance of the five binoculars available along both sides of the bridge and through which the viewer will definitely look once he has read the text. Having looked through them, one will see that the illuminated circle on the floor, which seemed empty to the naked eye, is really covered in many places with groups of little white men. Their origin and their significance in this installation is still not quite clear, even after reading the “explanation.” Actually, the very installation itself raises these questions: What are these little white men, how did they wind up here, where are they from? And what really happened here? And what’s depicted on the paintings, of which there are many (eighteen) and which cannot be seen on account of the darkness and the chairs which are blocking them?
Wallach continues to discuss concepts in, and interpretations of, The Bridge, and a larger photo and installation diagrams are also included. This is, by the way, and extraordinary and beautiful book, that goes into great detail about all aspects of Kabakov’s work, from illustration to paintings to large installations such as The Bridge.
Here is the text “explanation” of this event that is mounted on the wooden board at the bend in the bridge, the prime viewing are for the “little white men”:
Text in the Installation
“The exhibit didn’t take place, something happened here.”
In the club of ZhEK No. 8 in Moscow, a place where meetings of the residents of the region are held, lectures are read, and comrades’ courts are convened, an important event it expected to take place at the end of March 1984: the public investigation of paintings which are of a harmful, “burgeois” nature, defaming our Soviet way of life, hostile toward our ideology. Important critics and art scholars were expected to arrive at the meeting. The paintings and posters which always hung on the walls of the club were removed for this occasion and the workers were supposed to begin hanging up the “works” that were being delivered since morning….
Suddenly, someone brought a strange message. On that day, something unusual, or even unheard-of, was supposed to happen in Moscow. Someone, or something, was supposed to appear on that evening, in the city, and not just somewhere, but right in the very middle of this hall which must therefore be vacated immediately for this event.
There couldn’t be any talk of a meeting at all. All the works were instantly pushed to the corners and walls, forming something like a circle in the center.
And the event which everyone anticipated, some with hope, others with disbelief, actually did occur around eleven o’clock in the evening. As to what really happened, the eyewitnesses disagree in the most resolute way. But one circumstance, strange and inexplicable, was obvious: after the event the entire floor in the middle of the hall was strewn with groups of little white people who were constantly changing places….
At the suggestion of the commission which was specially created to look into this, the entire place was left just like it was when the event occurred, and it was decided to build a temporary bridge over this spot, in the first place, as a special precaution, and secondly, for the purpose of observing these strange aliens, which can only be seen through powerful binoculars.
Source: Ilya Kabakov: The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away, 1996, by Amei Wallach. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York, pp. 198-191.
This intense, early landscape painting by New Zealand artist Colin McCahon compliments my previous post about McCahon’s later text paintings. McCahon divides the space in this painting according to at least three different conceptual models: spiritually, based on the Biblical six days of creation; phenomenologically, based on his snapshot visual observations of the New Zealand countryside as he traveled it by bicycle; and pictorially, puncturing the painting’s surface with the spaces of six different landscape views.
Below are several different commentaries that each shed light on this remarkable painting straddling the conceptual border lands between representation and abstraction, symbol and sensation, theology and phenomenology, memory and perception.
“This painting I never explain but am often asked to. To me it explains itself. It was, I suppose, reconciling gains and losses, stating differences, hills and horizons. Simple. A bit of blood shed in the middle.” Colin McCahon is an outstanding figure in New Zealand art of the twentieth century. He was a great painter and a profound thinker as well as a teacher, critic and curator for ten years at this Gallery. In the 1940s the hills of Nelson and Canterbury were a familiar environment for McCahon, travelling to and from fruit-picking work. The fragmentary landscapes suggest glimpses flashing past the window of a bus or train, essentially similar, yet with varying moods. In response to a comment that New Zealand’s hills were monotonous, McCahon replied, “Monotonous yes, but with a cumulative grandeur, like Bach.” The “six days” in the title echoes the Old Testament six days of creation, before the arrival of humanity. McCahon extracts an austere beauty from these low hills, and at the centre of the painting he places water and the “bit of blood” spilt – symbols of grace and redemption. A beautiful, contemplative work, and one of the outstanding achievements of his early career, this is an example of McCahon’s intense exploration of landscape as metaphor for the human condition, for the journey of life.
In the Christchurch years (1948-52) McCahon continued with the mixture of biblical narratives and landscape paintings he had practised in Nelson. Six days in Nelson and Canterbury (1950) is one of the best-known works of this period, nominally a landscape painting but with religious connotations deriving from the Genesis-reference of its title, while the streak of blood-red at the centre of the image alludes to sacrifice and redemption.
Source: McCahon 1953-60: Before Titirangi.
That McCahon’s career has long eluded the regard of the international art world comes as no real surprise. Apart from a bare few months spent in trips to Australia and the United States, he lived out his entire life and career in New Zealand. Born in 1919, he both endured and exploited his country’s geographical isolation, which persisted over much of his life (he died in 1987). Not that McCahon did a great deal to aid his own cause–though one doubts that he would have recognized international self-promotion as a cause worthy of his commitment. When he traveled to the United States in 1958, an ideal moment to assess the great decade of New York School abstraction, he did so in his capacity as deputy director of the Auckland City Art Gallery, rarely revealing, in scores of visits to museums, galleries, and studios across the continent, that he was himself an artist. Indeed, despite a fierce sense of vocation and prodigious productivity as a painter, printmaker, and set designer, he had difficulty imagining his art as a professional proposition until late in his life. On resigning his last paid, full-time employment–at age fifty-one–in order to devote himself only to painting, he wrote, “I am only now, and slowly, becoming able to paint in the mornings. After a lifetime of working–farming, factories, gardening, teaching, the years at the Auckland City Art Gallery–I find it hard to paint in the world’s usual work-time. It can be difficult to accept that painting too is work.”
The life story encapsulated in that remark sums up a saga of genuine hardship and punishing resistance to his ideas. It’s a time-honored avant-garde script, but McCahon lived it: When he painted Six days in Nelson and Canterbury, 1950, he had just journeyed several hundred miles on a bicycle looking for seasonal work in the fields; his first job at the Auckland City Art Gallery was as a janitor. The irony of his experience lay in his resolute pursuit of an unprivate painter’s idiom that could communicate in society as widely and immediately as possible. Any aesthetic nicety that stood in the way of this goal he sacrificed as an impediment and distraction.
Source: Spreading the word: Colin McCahon.
The late great California abstract painter John McLaughlin (1898-1976) is one of my favorite artists. He was mostly self-taught, and didn’t begin painting until he was nearly 50. When he did, he created an astonishing body of intensely beautiful geometric abstract paintings, along with collages and prints. The images here don’t do the paintings justice — you really need to see his work in person. McLaughlin is not nearly as well-known as he should be, but I think eventually he will be regarded as one of the great masters of 20th Century art, not merely an “early Los Angeles” “hard-edge” minimalist grandfather of what came in the 1960s. And he is no minimalist, as his exquisite use of color alone confirms.
The Los Angeles art critic Christopher Knight wrote an excellent article about McLaughlin, Open your eyes to John McLaughlin, last October in the LA Times. Here is an excerpt where Knight does a great job describing McLaughlin’s paintings and their impact on the viewer:
Shapes are geometric, mostly rectangles like the canvas or paper support. Paint application is smooth, uniform and flat, edges crisply defined. Black, white, gray and neutral taupe are common, but so are limpid hues — especially sky blue, vivid yellow and crimson, plus an occasional green. The colors are a distinctive variation on Mondrian’s enthusiasm for the endless possibility available from the primaries.
What McLaughlin did with these stripped-down tools remains one of the great achievements in 20th century American art. Ignoring accepted rules, his sophisticated paintings pry open perceptual space. Almost surreptitiously, they grab hold of your optical apparatus and undermine conventional habits of seeing.
Here’s how: The paintings work against the natural tendencies of binocular vision. You’ve got two eyes and a brain, and they conspire to create depth perception and parallax vision, allowing us to see the world in three-dimensional motion. McLaughlin pulled the plug on that.
A typical McLaughlin canvas chucks established notions of good composition. Most of his paintings are divided right down the middle, forming roughly equal halves. The right-left division is sometimes made by juxtaposing pairs or groups of rectangles. Other times, one or more vertical bars cut the picture in two. Occasionally, the bars are wide horizontals — so wide that your eyes can’t take in both ends at once.
Sometimes a square is centered within a horizontally rectangular canvas. Then, the “empty” space at either side functions the way painted vertical rectangles do in other works: Each eye latches onto one, and the natural tendency for vision to converge in the middle is thwarted. It’s as if the painting is forcing your two eyes apart, letting light and space rush in to fill the yawning void that opens up.
In our era of cool distance, separation, irony, mass-production, and art-for-money’s-sake cynicism, the paintings of John McLaughlin are a tonic, and serve as a reminder of what can be accomplished by one person with a clear mind, conviction of purpose, and a lot of dedicated hard work.
A reminder: just two weeks left to see Charles Garabedian’s exhibit at the L.A. Louver gallery. Below is the press release in its entirety, and there is also a good Los Angeles Times review by David Pagel, Charles Garabedian: Works from 1966-1976 at L.A. Louver.
Venice, CA –- L.A. Louver is pleased to present an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Charles Garabedian. Created between 1966 and 1976, the works exemplify the rich diversity of form, image making, and materials that hallmark this early stage of Garabedian’s career.
Garabedian’s work is wonderfully perverse, since he is completely uninterested in abiding by the rules of good taste, draftsmanship, appropriate subject matter, formal composition, or stylistic consistency.
— Marcia Tucker
Garabedian’s work is frequently figurative, often narrative (although narratives are ellusive) and occasionally abstract. He tackles the extremities of life and death, offering a rich stew of passion, greed, sex, violence, celebrity and modernity, in distinctly personal work that embraces his love of literature, and of the ancient cultures of China and Greece.
The encroaching influence of the moving image projected into American homes is the subject of Daytime TV, 1966. Garabedian used Flo-paque (a plastic paint) and fired ceramic to make this collaged collision of images, and painted the TV’s surround to suggest a city scene outside the viewer’s window. The influence of camera lens perspective is evident in Restaurant (The Waitress), also 1966, with its female figure far-grounded, and dwarfed by the receding perspective of looming industrial-sized kitchen equipment aglow under harsh ceiling lights.
During this same period, Garabedian made three-dimensional abstractions in wood and resin after seeing an exhibition of Japanese sculpture in 1965. The current exhibition includes two of these works (dated 1967 and 1970); horizontal, floor-bound forms that he created intuitively. Garabedian has stated: “I started making sculpture and it was just wonderful. I had a great time. Stuff looked good, and I had no problems, no restrictions.”
Garabedian also used resin to make the vertical visual breaks and text of Wood China Wall, 1968; to create the cut-out shapes in Jack Nicholson, 1973; and to form layers in Go Get ‘Em Boy, 1974. Wood China Wall, together with The Meeting of Greece and China, 1970, demonstrate Garabedian’s fascination with, and self-described “fast-moving appreciation” of the cultures andCharles Garabedian, history of both countries. A book about Chinese gardens held Garbedian’s imagination for several years during this period, and led to a lyrical marriage of figurative and abstract forms in a series of works that he enigmatically titled Henry Inn after the book’s author.
Charles Garabedian was born in Detroit in 1923, and moved to California at age nine. During World War II, he was a gunner in the United States Air Force and served as staff sergeant. Following the war, Garabedian studied literature and philosophy at UC Santa Barbara on the GI Bill. He went on to study history at the University of Southern California, and earned his BA in 1950. Thereafter, Garabedian pursued several occupations that included working for Union Pacific Railroad. Encouraged by his friend Ed Moses, he studied painting with Howard Warshaw, and at age 34 entered the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1961, he graduated from UCLA with an MA in art, and stayed to teach at the university, holding several positions until 1973.
Garabedian’s work has been seen internationally, with his inclusion in important group museum exhibitions including the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial, 1975 and 1985; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA, 1976; the Venice Biennale, 1976 (also 1982, ’84 and ’85); The High Museum Atlanta, GA, 1980; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1984; Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY, 1989; the Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan, 1991; and the Corcoran Biennial, 1993. Garabedian received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1977, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1979, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters award in 2000.
Garabedian has been honored with several solo museum exhibitions: The La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art presented a survey of Garabedian’s work in 1981; and in 1983, the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, Massachusetts held a mid-career retrospective. In 2003/2004, a survey exhibition of works on paper was presented at the Luckman Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles, and traveled to the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah. More recently, the exhibition Charles Garabedian: A Retrospective, curated by Julie Joyce, was presented by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA, 22 January – 17 April 2011. Michael Duncan, Christopher Miles and Nevin Shriner joined Joyce in contributing essays to the accompanying catalogue.
Charles Garabedian: Works from 1966-1976 is part of L.A. Louver’s exhibition programming in conjunction with the Getty initiative Pacific Standard Time. Further Pacific Standard Times exhibitions that include Garabedian’s work are Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, 1 October 2011 – 13 February 2012; and L.A. Raw: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles, 1945-1980 from Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CA, 22 January – 6 May 2012.
Garabedian lives and works in Los Angeles, and continues to paint. An exhibition of new work recently opened at Betty Cuningham Gallery in Chelsea, New York, on view through 24 March 2012.
Concurrent at L.A. Louver, 22 March – 12 May, 2012.
Editor’s Note: The following text is a dramatic retelling of actual events it is based on painting lore, hearsay, a BFA, a few assorted books and television.
One morning in 1962 curator, art historian and critic Henry Geldzahler and Andy Warhol were having breakfast. Warhol was basking in his new found success over an order of dry wheat toast and black coffee. Geldzahler looked up from his newspaper and said: “Andy, You know you can’t just paint happy flowers for the rest of your life” Andy wiped his mouth with a stiff cloth napkin, squinted and replied “I can’t?” Geldzahler insisted “No you can’t, you need to start paint what’s going on in the world.” Andy sheepishly replied, “Going on, what’s going on?” Geldzahler picked up his newspaper wagging his index finger instructively at to the front page “This is what’s going on Andy, tragedy, agony and disaster.”
The tattered remnant of the Monday June 4th 1962 Volume 37, No. 296 of the New York Mirror pictured below is the actual newspaper Geldzahler presented to Warhol that morning, and which Warhol with great acumen rendered that afternoon. Besides being one of the most incredible paintings I have ever seen (yes it is in fact a painting not a silkscreen, and under close scrutiny this is truly one of those painters’ paintings we hear so much about), I admire Warhol’s ability to listen to his friend’s suggestion. But Warhol’s true brilliance is in his decision not only to follow the spirit of his mentor’s suggestion–i.e. paint more dramatically charged subject matter, but the fact that he literally follows thorough in rendering exactly what he was handed. This act demonstrates not only a profound suspension of ego (most painters/artists like to call the shots) and an incredible willingness to accept constructive criticism, but a good measure of personal courage as well, for through this painting (experience), Warhol might have been confronting, reliving and re-feeling the “accidental” death of his father when he was 13.
Death and disaster. Warhol would focused on this theme for the next year (Red Car Crash, Purple Jumping Man, and Orange Disaster). And if you would like the “official story” behind the Death and Disaster series, view this clip from PBS’s American Masters.
Image Credit: Andy Warhol, 129 Die In Jet (Plane Crash), 1962, Synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 254×183cm, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
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