Thursday, May 30, 2024

Mel Chin and Helen Nagge | Primetime Contemporary Art: Art by the GALA Committee as Seen on Melrose Place

Mel Chin and Helen Nagge
Primetime Contemporary Art: Art by the GALA Committee as Seen on Melrose Place
New York City, USA: Primary Information, 2023
40 pp., 8.5 x 11”, softcover
Edition size unknown

When first visiting Los Angeles, the thing that struck me most about the city is how many of the street names were already familiar to me. Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, Fairfax Avenue, and countless others I had heard mentioned in cinema or on television. Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive both have films named after them (by Billy Wilder and David Lynch, respectively). 

And of course Melrose Avenue is known for Melrose Place, itself a spin-off from Beverely Hills 90210. I’ve only seen a single episode of the latter (I recall every single scene ending with one of the two male leads storming out of the room indignantly) and I’ve never seen the former, but obviously it’s impact was huge. 

Mel Chin told Slate magazine a story about flying from L.A. to Georgia and looking down at the landscape below and being unable to shake the place he had just left.  “I started to think, L.A. is in the air,” he said, "It’s through microwave transmission, through the television that’s on down there. Television is the modern cathode ray etching products into our brains.”

Chin formed a group called the GALA Committee in 1995 and began a two-year, covert, viral, public art project using Melrose Place as his medium. 

Like a heist in reverse, "In the Name of the Place” involved members of the GALA Committee  (“GA” for the University of Georgia and “LA” for the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles) infiltrating the series with artworks they created specifically for it, a kind of ‘anti-product placement’. 

They tracked down Deborah Siegel, the Set Decorator for the series, and proposed to her that GALA would produce artworks for Melrose Place, at no cost. The show agreed. 

The group produced over a hundred pieces across two seasons of the series. These works covertly addressed subjects such as reproductive rights, AIDS, the Gulf War, domestic terrorism, drug and alcohol abuse, and corporate malfeasance. 

In one scene (involving unprotected sex) GALA dressed the character’s room with bedsheets adorned with images of hundreds of unrolled condoms. In another, an Absolute Vodka ad features an image of the Oklahoma city bombing. A bag of Chinese take-out is emblazoned the Chinese characters for  "Human Rights" and "Turmoil"; terms used by the Chinese government to justify the Tiananmen Square massacre.

I’ve read about other instances of covert props, but none to this extant, or with this wide reach. A queer production designer for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 smuggled in some objects that played up the (not so discreet) homoeroticism of the script, including the main character having a "No Chicks Allowed" sign on his bedroom door, and a board game in his closet called Probe. 

The bank robbery scene in Baby Driver was supposed to include Michael Myers masks from the Halloween series, but the studio was unable to obtain the rights. So director Edgar Wright reached out to Toronto comic Mike Myers and asked him to grant permission to use his likeness for the masks. He found the joke funny, and agreed. 

James Franco smuggled himself into a soap opera, ostensibly as some kind of art project. The film star appeared on General Hospital in 2009 and reprised the role in 2011. It later came out that the ‘intervention’ was for a forthcoming documentary, which has yet to see release. 

Similar to the General Idea AIDs “Image Virus” project, Chin characterizes the project as like a virus, symbiotic and invisible. The work was exhibited at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, in Los Angeles, in 1997, as part of "Uncommon Sense”, alongside The Cornerstone Theater, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Ann Carlson & Mary Ellen Strom, Rick Lowe and Karen Finley. 

In an otherwise negative review of the show, Christopher Knight in the LA Times singled out the work as "a conceptually elastic, wonderfully loopy exercise in post-Pop art.” He goes on to say that Chin "scrupulously avoids placing art on a pedestal above TV; he’s not holier-than-thou. It’s great fun to see the art turn up casually and without fanfare on TV, a place notably inhospitable to the genre. It’s also disorienting. The cartoonish unreality of the show suddenly becomes tangible, while the material presence of art assumes emphatically fictional proportions. The oddly refreshing result is a subtle feeling of critical participation in the usually passive act of TV viewing."

Following the exhibition, the props were sold at an auction at Sotheby’s to support several charities. The auction catalogue served double duty as an artists’ book, documenting the works and articulating the framework of the GALA Committee. It quickly become scarce.

Primetime Contemporary Art is a facsimile reproduction released by Primary Information, the Brooklyn publisher rightly heralded for their commitment to making rare and significant publications available and affordable. Following the re-publication of this project, the Wikipedia page for Melrose Place now features a section (after "Nielsen ratings", "Spin-offs”, and “Lawsuit”) about the GALA Committee and their intervention almost thirty years ago. 

Primetime Contemporary Art is available from Primary Information, for $15.00 US, here

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Jonathan Monk | Crackers

Jonathan Monk
Toronto, Canada: Paul + Wendy Projects, 2023
One size fits all
Edition of 50 signed copies

To commemorate Jonathan Monk’s Crackers collection reaching the milestone of fifty copies, Paul+Wendy Projects released this embroidered 100% cotton baseball cap emblazoned with the word, in an edition of fifty. 

The one-size-fits-all adjustable cap is accompanied by a card signed by the artist and is available for fifty dollars (CDN) from the publisher, here

"In my early teens my mother would often react to certain things I did or said must be crackers*...

Many years later, I read that Ed Ruscha said Crackers, published by Heavy Industry Publications, Hollywood in 1969 (the year of my birth), was the least popular of his artist books. It is also the cheapest and most readily available.

A combination of all of the above started my ongoing collection of the publication.

*crackers adjective (UK informal) silly, stupid, or slightly mentally ill (Cambridge Dictionary)."

- Jonathan Monk

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Robert Morris | Continuous Project Altered Daily

Robert Morris
Continuous Project Altered Daily
New York City, USA: Multiples, Inc., 1970
[18] pp., 11.5 x 30.5 cm., accordion-fold
Edition of 1200

Continuous Project Altered Daily documents an installation of materials such as earth, water, grease, wood, plastic, felt, string, light, photographs, and sound. The form was, as the title suggests, altered daily.

Edited by Marian Goodman for inclusion in the Artists & Photographs box (which also included Christo, Douglas Heubler, Allan Kaprow, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol and others) the leporello book presents 16 sepia-toned photos of the installation showing twelve stages of the work, along with detail shots of the piece.

"This cool and important accordion is the documentation of a work by Morris (1931-2018) which took place over a 22 day period at the dealer Leo Castelli's warehouse in New York. Scattered along a wall Morris brought in a cornucopia of different materials such as: earth, clay, asbestos, cotton, water, grease, plastic, felt, wood, thread waste, electric lights, photographs, and a tape recorder. Morris started the work on February 28th and over the next 22 day span he would move these materials into different combinations creating an ongoing work that never solidified into any one shape, thus eliding definition as a sculpture and moving into something much less definable and infinity variable. Visitors were invited to visit during the afternoons and Morris worked on the piece at other times. 

A pioneer and theoretician of the emerging minimal, process art, earth art and anti-form movements of the period Morris is an important historical figure. Morris would describe this piece as both "A reverse excavation, building up ruins,"(1) and "The most mythical thing I've ever done. Cain-like of dirt, a construction that goes nowhere, a constructed ruin built over an abandoned agricultural organization." Underlining the importance of this work within his larger career Thomas Kren, a former curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, remarked that "Robert Morris' entire oeuvre is a single work — 'a continuous project altered daily.'"

The accordion format is the ideal medium with which to demonstrate the changes that took place during these 22 days, and it's also one that offers the viewer a chance to see in one full sweep the constantly mutating processes that defined this work or non-work.”
- Stephen Perkins, Accordion Publications

Monday, May 27, 2024

Robert Breer | Flix

Robert Breer
Montreal, Canada: La Cinémathèque Canadienne, 1967
90 pp., 10.5 x 6.5 cm., staple-bound
Edition size unknown

In May of 2005, the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf hosted what they billed as "the world’s first comprehensive exhibition on the subject of the convergence of art, animation and film in the 20th Century”. Titled 
Daumenkino (or The Flip Book Show), the exhibition featured flip books from more than 170 artists and filmmakers, including John Baldessari, Tacita Dean, Julia Featheringill, Jårg Geismar, Volker Gerling, Gilbert & George, Douglas Gordon, Keith Haring, Sabine Hecher, William Kentridge, Sigrun Köhler, Jonathan Monk, Bruce Nauman, Stephanie Ognar, Tony Oursler, Dieter Roth, Miguel Rothschild, Jack Smith, Beat Streuli, Andy Warhol, Janet Zweig and Robert Breer.

Breer’s Flix was published by the Cinémathèque Canadienne in Montreal as part of a series of thirteen animated flip books commissioned on the occasion of the World Retrospective of Animation Cinema in 1967. The series also included Jan Lenica, Emile Cohl (twice), Yoji Kuri, Gene Deitch, Vladimir Lehky, and Otto Messmer, the creator of Felix the Cat. 

All are scarce, but Breer's - which features geometrical forms in black and yellow on a white background - seems to be the most rare - with prices ranging from $400 to $1600 US. 

Breer, who died at the age of 85 in 2011, had been called “the kinetic poet of the avant-garde”. 

Johanna VanDerBeek, Stan VanDerBeek, and Robert Breer at the World Retrospective of Animation Cinema in 1967.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

herman de vries | harvest

herman de vries 
Bogor, Indonesia: Roel Arkesteijn, 2016
50 × 30 × 11 cm.
Edition of 13 signed, numbered and dated copies [+ 1 AP, 2 HC, 1 PP]

Published on the occasion of the exhibition herman de vries. basic values at the Erasmus Huis, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2015, as part of the Jakarta Biennale, this work includes a Javanese rice sickle (arit), Javanese newspapers and a signed and numbered book basic values housed in a silkscreened wooden box.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Martin Kippenberger and Wilhelm Schürmann | Song of Joy

Martin Kippenberger and Wilhelm Schürmann
Song of Joy
Aachen, Germany: Neue Galerie Sammlung Ludwig, 1983
[20] pp., 29.7 × 21 × 0.1 cm., staple-bound
Edition size unknown

An early exhibition catalogue produced in an edition of approximately 800 copies. 

Available from Jonathan Hill Bookseller, here, for $300. 

“Song of Joy was published to accompany a group exhibition by Martin Kippenberger (‘gemalte bilder’ [painted images]) and his friend, the photographer and collector Wilhelm Schürmann [b. 1946] (‘Fotografierte Bilder’ [photographed images]) at the Neue Galerie Sammlung Ludwig in Aachen from 10 June to 24 July 1983. The catalogue contains a brief foreword [actually found at the end], a text co-authored by Werner Büttner and Albert Oehlen…”
– Uwe Koch, Annotated catalogue raisonné of the books by Martin Kippenberger, 1977-1997 (2003)

Friday, May 24, 2024

Vision: Word of Mouth

[Various Artists]
Vision: Word of Mouth
Oakland, USA: Crown Point Press, 1980
Boxed set of 3 12” vinyl records
Edition of 1000

VISION was a journal of contemporary art published by Kathan Brown of Crown Point Press irregularly between 1975 through 1982, which was edited and curated by Tom Marioni under the auspices of his “Museum of Conceptual Art (MoCA)”. The format typically took the shape of a magazine, with Issue #5 being a box of photographs and #4 being a boxed set of vinyl records. 

For this project twelve artists from California, New York and Europe were each invited to prepare a twelve minute talk on any subject. The artists included: Marioni, Robert Kushner, Marina Abramovic & Ulay, John Cage, Daniel Buren, Joan Jonas, Bryan Hunt, Chris Burden, William T. Wiley, Brice Marden, Pat Steir and Laurie Anderson.

From the liner note: "This meeting took place on Ponape, one of the Caroline Islands in the Pacific ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Japan, a few degrees above the equator north of Australia. Thirty-seven people met together over a period of a week in January 1980. Prepared talks by the twelve participating artists were given in the evenings before and after dinner. The days were spent exploring."

The box set includes a 4 page booklet, illustrated with black and white photographic portraits of the artists.

"In 1980, as part of a project called Word of Mouth, I was invited, along with eleven other artists, to go to Ponape, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific. The idea was that we'd sit around talking for a few days and that the conversations would be made into a talking record.

The first night we were all really jet-lagged. But as soon as we sat down the organizers set up all these mics and switched on thousand-watt light bulbs, and we tried our best to seem as intelligent as possible.

Television had just come to Ponape a week before we arrived, and there was a strong excitement around the island, as people crowded around the few sets.

Then the day after we arrived, in a bizarre replay of the first TV show ever broadcast to Ponape, prisoners escaped from a jail, broke into the radio station and murdered the DJ. Then they went off on a rampage through the jungle armed with lawnmower blades. In all, four people were murdered in cold blood.

Detectives, flown in from Guam to investigate, swarmed everywhere. At night we stayed around in our cottages listening out into the jungle.

Finally the local chief decided to hold a ceremony for the murder victims. The artist Marina Abramović and I went, as representatives of our group, to film it.

The ceremony was held in a large thatched lean-to, and most of the ceremony involved cooking beans in pits and brewing a dark drink from roots. The smell was overwhelming. Dogs careened around barking, and everybody seemed to be having a fairly good time, as funerals go.

After a few hours, Marina and I were presented to the chief, who was sitting on a raised platform above the pits. We'd been told we couldn't turn our backs on the chief at any time, or ever be higher than he was. So we scrambled up onto the platform with our film equipment and sort of duck-waddled up backwards to the chief.

As a present I brought one of those Fred Flintstone cameras, the kind where the film canister is also the body of the camera, and I presented it to the chief. He seemed delighted and began to click off pictures. He wasn't advancing the film between shots, but since we were told we shouldn't speak unless spoken to, I wasn't able to inform him that he wasn't going to get twelve pictures, but only one, very, very complicated one.

After a couple more hours, the chief lifted his hand and there was absolute silence.

All the dogs had suddenly stopped barking. We looked around and saw the dogs. All their throats had been simultaneously cut, and their bodies, still breathing, pierced with rods, were turning on the spits. The chief insisted we join in the meal, but Marina had turned green, and I asked if we could just have ours to go. They carefully wrapped the dogs in leaves and we carried their bodies away.”
- Laurie Anderson