Saturday, July 4, 2020

David Hammons | African-American Flag

David Hammons
African-American Flag
Self-published, 1990
dyed cotton
149.9 × 240 cm.
Edition of 5

The racial slur 'coon' dates back to at least 1837 and is said to derive from the word 'barracoon', from the Portuguese 'barraca', meaning "slave depot, pen or rough enclosure for black slaves in transit". The term gained popularity through its use in a series of ragtime songs dubbed 'coon songs' in the late 1800's. These abhorrent 'coon songs' portrayed blacks as unmarried, promiscuous, libidinous and prone to violence. The genre became so popular in the US that songwriters would add the word to preexisting songs, to cash in on the craze.

James Dormon, a former professor of history and American studies at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, has suggested that "coon songs" can be seen as a "sociopsychological mechanism for justifying segregation and subordination." The songs portrayed African Americans as posing a threat to the social order and suggested that they had to be controlled.

One of three songs cited as "firmly establishing the term coon in the American vocabulary" is Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon, (above) by Will A. Heelan, and J. Fred Helf. The 1900 hit inspired the creation of the Pan-African flag twenty years later, proposed by the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. Marcus Garvey, who founded the organization, was quoted as saying:

"Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, "Every race has a flag but the coon." How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can't say it now...."

Journalist Charles Mowbray White, who interviewed Garvey at the time, has asserted that "Garvey said red because of sympathy for the 'Reds of the world', and the Green their sympathy for the Irish in their fight for freedom, and the Black- [for] the Negro."

A UNIA document from 1921, refers to the colour choice as "Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland." More recently, the UNIA has referred to the colours as representing "red: the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation; black: black people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag; and green: the abundant natural wealth of Africa."

In 1990 artist David Hammons produced African-American Flag, which hybridized the colours of the Pan-African flag with the stars and stripes of "old glory". The work was originally conceived for the 1990 group exhibition “Black USA” at the Museum Overholland in Amsterdam and reportedly inspired by the Watts Riots that took place in Los Angeles in the summer of 1965.

Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn has said African-American Flag is “a flag for a new nation, a flag for a new insight, it is a new flag for a new form and a new truth.”

The work is now highly sought after by collectors and museums. One of the edition is found in the Pizzuti Collection in Columbus, Ohio, and another was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem, twenty three years ago, a gift from the Hudgins Family in memory of Jack Tilton. The Broad in Los Angeles acquired one in June 2019, the first work by the artist to enter the museum’s permanent collection.

In 2017, two editions of the work were offered at auction, for the first time. One sold for $2.05 million via Phillips’ in May, while another sold for more than $2.1 million from Sotheby’s, in November. Kenny Schachter at Art Net news speculated that Hammons himself may have been the consigner in the first sale.

Small reproductions of the flag often appear at Black Lives Matter protests, as does the image reproduced on T-shirts.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Rubber Stamp Project: Andrea Mortson

Andrea Mortson, 2001, for

[Various Artists]
The Rubber Stamp Project
Sackville, Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, 2003
[68 pp.], 24 x 10 cm., soft cover
Edition size unknown

(see earlier posts)

Richard Tuttle: A Fair Sampling Collected Writings 1966–2019

Richard Tuttle
Richard Tuttle: A Fair Sampling Collected Writings 1966–2019 
Cologne, Germany: Walther König, 2020
504 pp., 17.8 x 17.8 cm., hardcover
Edition size unknown

This thick volume collects over fifty years of writing by the artist, much of it specific to commissions or publications, and some of it previously unreleased. Edited by Dieter Schwarz, the book is divided into ten sections: On Art, On Works and Exhibitions, On Drawing, On Paper, Books and Prints, On Textiles, On Artists and Friends, On Various Subjects, Talks, Travel Notes and Poems. The section on artists and friends features writings about Agnes Martin and Richard Serra, among others.

"The union of artist and poet in a single individual does not mean that words and works illustrate and elucidate one another; rather, the individual's artistic side paints and draws while the poetic side writes, with each form of expression functioning independently, at once self-contained and mutually complementary, forming an entity of two separate and irreducible halves...

Moving from the spoken to the written word requires an occasion: for Tuttle, these have been exhibitions of his and his friends' work, as well as of genres close to his heart, chiefly drawings and prints. Almost all of the texts collected here were written in response to specific requests.
Tuttle began his work without formal training as an artist, and the fact that he drew not on a learned body of skills and artistic techniques but on his experiences of artworks encountered since his youth is characteristic of his artistic practice. Thus, Tuttle views making art as a constant and fundamental querying of art's status. Art that exists solely in the act of being viewed rather than within a fixed frame is necessarily fragile and resists objective study, emerging anew as it does in every moment.

All of Tuttle's works are effectively answers to the open questions arising out of the very existence of art, even as they reinforce the idealistic belief in the reality of this existence to which he is subject, as are all other viewers.

Tuttle views making art as a constant and fundamental querying of art's status. Art that exists solely in the act of being viewed rather than within a fixed frame is necessarily fragile and resists objective study, emerging anew as it does in every moment.

Tuttle's relationship to writing is similarly autodidactic in nature and shot through with a sense of intimate urgency. He has a college degree and is well-read, but he found no discursive, reasoned way of stating his larger individual position with regard to his own works or broader artistic questions.

Rather, he felt compelled to discover an appropriate form of expression in writing. How was he to formulate the ineffable, that which could only be apprehended visually? One has the sense of watching Tuttle navigate the process of writing when reading his early texts. In them he ruminates on his own practice, describing and reflecting on it. In words, he gropes from one term to the next, repudiating conventions, breaking apart fixed meanings, and working doggedly to capture new, thitherto unexpressed ideas sentence by sentence. His use of quotation marks and italics makes evident his struggle with words and their meanings. Each sentence begins with a statement that Tuttle subsequently subjects to questions and objections as he continues to write. What results is a sinuous line rather than an argument in words, an arabesque of a kind we recognize from Tuttle's own drawings."
- Dieter Schwarz

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Glenn Ligon | Black Rage

Glenn Ligon
Black Rage 
London, UK: Ridinghouse, 2015
27.9 × 21.6 cm
Silkscreen and digital print
Edition of 30 [+ 6AP] signed, numbered and dated copies

Black Rage is considered the first book to examine the "full range of black life" from the vantage point of psychiatry. Released in 1968, in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the book describes the insidious effects of slavery on black lives and the resulting anger experienced by African-Americans in the face of persistent racism.Written by two black psychiatrists (William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs), the title was later turned into an ABC television special called To Be Black. It also led to the legal concept of 'black rage' and, more recently, the 2016 Carol Anderson book White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, about the white backlash to black progress.

Glenn Ligon's 2015 digital print on white wove paper features an image of the paperback edition of the book, heavily annotated in the style of a museum condition report. As if mapped out by a conservator, pen marks, cracks, smudges, and yellowing protective tape is noted, indicating various flaws and alterations found on the cover due to age and wear.

The print was released at the same time as Ligon's artist book A People on the Cover, which looks at the representation of black people in the United States on book covers.

The book has been source material for Ligon since at least 1993. In 2019, a companion work was released in an edition of a hundred copies - Black Rage (Back Cover). 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Jonathan Monk | Picture Postcard Posted from Post Box Pictured

Jonathan Monk
Picture Postcard Posted from Post Box Pictured, Selva del Montello, Italy
Toronto, Canada: Paul + Wendy Projects, 2020
4 x 6"
Edition size unknown

Just announced: the 56th edition by Paul + Wendy Projects is the latest iteration of a Jonathan Monk project that features cards from Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Mexico City, Paris, Reykjavik, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, and Winnipeg.

Jonathan Monk: I was interested in involving myself with ephemera or postal works that were done by artists in the 1960s and 70s. The idea was to be able to do something really cheaply, but had more to it than just a simple postcard. I like this idea of posting something to someone and them receiving it. I did something similar in The Distance Between Me and You, 2001/2002), a series of Super-8 films where I fixed a camera to the front of my bike – I lived three minutes away from the nearest post office – then I would cycle this journey, filming the way, over the course of a year every time I had to go to the post office. Once I got to the post office, I would send off the undeveloped film to Kodak in Stuttgart, and then Kodak would send the developed reels directly to a collector who had purchased the piece. It documented the entire process in a roundabout way.

The first postcard happened in 2003. It was in Berlin, and it is literally a postbox around the corner from my house. I did the edition for Revolver. I came up with the title of the Picture Post Card Posted From Postbox Pictured without really knowing that it would become a series. It started with Berlin, and then other people got interested in publishing a card. I liked the idea that I could arrange to have an edition produced in New York, but then the card was actually sent from a postbox in Hong Kong. Spike is based in Vienna, but you’re also based here in Berlin, and I’m here. I have all the postcards in my studio, so when someone orders one, I write their name and address and sign them and send the cards in an envelope to the contact in Vienna (or whichever city), who then posts them. It was a way of creating this weird loop.

Colin Lang: How do you get the pictures of the individual postboxes that appear on the postcards?

JM: They are generally done by the people who want to publish an edition. Some of them were linked to exhibitions. One I did in San Francisco as part of a project at Wattis Art Institute (2005), and the one in New York with White Columns. Some editions are commissioned through a museum tied to their shop; there’s one in London at the ICA (2005), and one in Melbourne through the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (2011).

Available from the publisher, here, for $50 CDN.

Cornelius Cardew | Stockhausen Serves Imperialism

Cornelius Cardew
Stockhausen Serves Imperialism 
New York City, USA: Primary Information, 2020
126 pp., 5.5 x 8.75", softcover
Edition of 2500

Cornelius Cardew was a choir boy at the Canterbury Cathedral at a very young age, and studied piano, cello and composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London at 17. He moved to Cologne, Germany after being awarded a scholarship to the Studio for Electronic Music. After a year, he began working as an assistant to composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

"As a musician he was outstanding because he was not only a good pianist but also a good improviser and I hired him to become my assistant in the late 50s and he worked with me for over three years," Stockhausen later recounted. "He was one of the best examples that you can find among musicians because he was well informed about the latest theories of composition, as well as being a performer."

In 1958, Cardew attended a series of concerts in Cologne by John Cage, which had an enormous influence on him. The encounter, according to the New York Times, "provided the impetus for a radical shift of direction" in his work. Many of his most celebrated pieces - both solo and with the infamous Scratch Orchestra - show a clear debt to Cage.

Stockhausen Serves Imperialism serves as a violent attack on both Stockhausen and Cage, according to Cardew's own forward. The book denounces their work primarily through a Marxist lens:

"The American composer and writer John Cage, born 1912, and the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, born 1928, have emerged as the leading figures of the bourgeois musical avant-garde. They are ripe for criticism. The grounds for launching an attack against them are twofold: first to isolate them from their respective schools and thus release a number of younger composers from their domination and encourage these to turn their attention to the problems of serving the working people, and second, to puncture the illusion that the bourgeoisie is still capable of producing 'geniuses.'"

Stockhausen had been the subject of protests for over a decade before the original publication of Cardew's book, in 1974. Henry Flynt - the artist and musician associated with Fluxus, Conceptual Art (a term he partially coined) and (briefly) the Velvet Underground - had released several manifestos with titles such as Fight Musical Decoration of Fascism and Picket Stockhausen Concert.1 He had twice protested performances of Stockhausen's music, and was joined on the picket line by artists Tony Conrad, Ben Vautier and George Maciunas (who designed his protest leaflets). 

John Cage is a less common target, and is often viewed as a spiritual grandfather to Fluxus and conceptual art. 

There is certainly a patricidal quality to Cardew's polemic. Branden Wayne Joseph, in his 2016 book Experimentations: John Cage in Music, Art, and Architecture, argues that by writing about his "softness (the corrupt ideology)", Cardew renders Cage akin to James Dean's character's father in Rebel Without A Cause: "overly permissive and insufficiently strong", provoking his children "into insurrection against him". 

I'm unable to distinguish if paragraphs likes this:

"Bourgeois intellectual life is characterised by constant rivalry. The exponents of different schools are uninterruptedly cutting each other’s throats and striving for advantage in all kinds of underhand ways, including the formation of temporary alliances. Thus the academic composers feel threatened by the avant-gardists, for example, fearing for their entrenched positions."

display the type of self-awareness that one would hope for, or if the irony is entirely accidental. Certainly the composer is critical of his own works also, but typically only in the way that the recent-religious-convert repudiates his past.

By 1971, a Marxist faction within the Scratch Orchestra had led to the group's dissolution, with the argument that they had failed because their methods were bourgeois. Cardew joined an anti-revisionist Marxist political party and devoted his life to militant radical politics.

He disowned his work “The Great Learning”, because the text by Confucius on which it was based had been discredited by Mao and the Chinese Communist Party. Cardew would only permit performances of the piece if they were accompanied by his essay denouncing it.

He would later take on bigger targets than his former mentors, including David Bowie and the Clash. When Bowie - in character as the Thin White Duke, he would later claim - told an interviewer that he believed “very strongly in fascism”, Cardew put forward a motion at the Central London branch of the Musicians Union, to expel the pop star:

"This branch deplores the publicity recently given to the activities and Nazi style gimmickry of a certain artiste and his idea that this country needs a right wing dictatorship. Such ideas prepare the way for political situations in which the Trade Union movement can be destroyed, as it was in Nazi Germany. The spreading of such ideas must be considered as detrimental to the interests of the Union and any necessary steps should be taken to prevent such ideas from gaining credence in the community. We propose, therefore, that any member who openly promotes fascism or fascist ideas in his/ her act or recorded performance should be expelled from the Union."

According to an historian of the Union there was a tie vote, but a second motion - with a more extreme condemnation of the pop star - was carried fifteen to two.

A few years later, Cardew published a text called "Punk Rock Is Fascist", where he called The Clash "reactionary". I wish it were included in this new volume, as a post-script, mostly because I can't find it elsewhere. It  also doesn't appear to be included in the 2008 Cardew Reader.

Stockhausen Serves Imperialism does include supplementary writings by two of Cardew's Scratch Orchestra collaborators. Rod Eley contributes “A History of the Scratch Orchestra,” and John Tilbury “Introduction to Cage’s Music of Changes.”

Tilbury later published a biography titled Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, which suggests that the composer may have been murdered. Cardew died at the age of 45, from a hit-and-run car accident outside of his London home on December 13th, 1981. The driver was never found. Tilbury leaves open the possibility that Cardew was killed because of his Marxist-Leninist beliefs, saying that the notion  "cannot be ruled out", and quoting Cardew's friend John Maharg: "MI5 are quite ruthless, people don't realize it. They kill pre-emptively".

Cardew was a composer who "renounced his compositions almost as soon as he completed them" (Damon Krukowski, Art Forum) and swung wildly from belief to belief. His early death means we will never know if he might've undergone another volte-face. Would Cardew have softened his political stances? Decided that instrumental music had no role in the revolution and abandoned composition altogether? Reconciled his varied beliefs in any way?

In Henry Flynt's incendiary 1975 book Blueprint for a Higher Civilization, he quotes a witty postcard that he received from Cardew in June of 1963, which suggests that the composer was aware of Flynt's protests against Stockhausen and high culture, and also that he was already grappling with the dilemma of his chosen profession:

“Dear Mr. Flynt, ...Since I may be depending on organized culture for my loot & livelihood I can wish you only a limited success in your movement....”

Stockhausen Serves Imperialism was initially published by Latimer New Dimensions in 1974, and has been long out of print. The Primary Information facsimile reprint is available from Printed Matter for $20.00 US, here.

1. Ironically, Flynt later called for the overthrow of the human race and Stockhausen would remark that the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks were "the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos."

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Rubber Stamp Project: Erik Edson

Erik Edson, 1999, for

[Various Artists]
The Rubber Stamp Project
Sackville, Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, 2003
[68 pp.], 24 x 10 cm., soft cover
Edition size unknown

(see previous posts)

The Rubber Stamp Project: Barbara Sternberg

Barbara Sternberg, 1997, for

[Various Artists]
The Rubber Stamp Project
Sackville, Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, 2003
[68 pp.], 24 x 10 cm., soft cover
Edition size unknown

(see previous posts)

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Rubber Stamp Project: Jon Claytor

Jon Claytor, 1998, for

[Various Artists]
The Rubber Stamp Project
Sackville, Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, 2003
[68 pp.], 24 x 10 cm., soft cover
Edition size unknown

(see previous posts)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Rubber Stamp Project: Daniel Barrow

Daniel Barrow, 2001, for

[Various Artists]
The Rubber Stamp Project
Sackville, Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, 2003
[68 pp.], 24 x 10 cm., soft cover
Edition size unknown

(see previous posts)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Broken Music

[Ursula Block, Michael Glasmeier, eds]
Broken Music
New York City, USA: Primary Information, 2019
280 pp., 26 x 21 x 2.5 cm., softcover
Edition of 2500

The first ‘art’ job I ever had was for a now-defunct space called Lake Galleries, the first Toronto venue (that I was aware of) to dedicate itself to conceptual art.1 It was an offshoot of the antiquarian bookstore D&E Lake, which remains active today. My first curatorial project ever was compiling a slim catalogue for the store, of artists’ records, and records designed by artists.

One of the resources I used was a book they had in their second story office called Broken Music. I asked to buy this book from them, and the owner Don Lake said “I can’t sell that book. That book makes me money”.

The record catalogue became the impetus for an exhibition by Roger Bywater at Art Metropole, which became my second arts employer. They too had a copy of Broken Music on the office shelf and I also pleaded with them to let me buy it, and was told no. It was too valuable a resource to part with.

Both of these jobs paid very little, so the three hundred dollar price tag on the secondary market for the 1989 out-of-print book meant I was resigned to never owning it. I would check Ebay as often as possible, in the hopes of finding an affordable copy, but an autobiography with the same title meant scrolling through pages and pages of sellers with buyer’s remorse from purchasing a memoir by Sting.

One year we went to the Berlin Art Fair for Art Metropole, bringing mostly multiples, some artists’ books and a small flip-display of CDs. On the second day of the fair a woman arrived and seemed to beeline to the audio works. She quickly and expertly filtered the good from the bad, and made a pile to purchase.

Sizing up her selections, I exclaimed “Who are you?”.

She quietly introduced herself as Ursula Block. Excitedly, I said “Oh, very nice to meet you, you produced the best book on sound art ever published. Please sell me a copy!”

Like Lake and Art Metropole before her, she declined, with a demure shaking of her head. “I no longer have copies for sale.”

We spoke for a few minutes before she stopped, her eye catching a book behind me on the shelf. She asked about it and I said “That’s the second best book on sound art ever published”.

She enthusiastically flipped through it, and promptly proposed a trade.

We scheduled an appointment for us to visit Gelbe Musik, a record store she had been running since 1981 (it closed a few years later, in 2014). The store felt a bit out of the way, and seemed fairly unassuming from the street, but inside had an incredible selection of records (I bought as many as I could carry) and also a space for very small sound art exhibitions.

While wondering how there could possibly be enough interest in Artists Records to sustain a store dedicated only to them, a few customers trickled in - on a Monday, when they were usually closed. Both of them made purchases. It was pretty heartwarming. I attributed it to the strength of her reputation.

Urusla was followed around the store by her pet terrier, who (by no coincidence, I’m sure) closely resembled Nipper, from the HMV logo (and the painting by Francis Barraud titled His Master's Voice, which provided both name and graphic to the record store chain). She went to a cabinet in the office area and pulled out a sealed copy of Broken Music, and handed it over.

For the price of the Art Metropole book Sound by Artists (minus my employee discount) I finally had a pristine copy of a book I had wanted for years.

It didn’t take long for the volume to begin to show signs of wear. Like Jon Hendrick’s Fluxus Codex, the book was regularly consulted and frequently scanned. There was soon a real danger that the spine would give out.

The news that Primary Information (already with a stellar track record of essential facsimile reprints of difficult-to-obtain texts) were set to produce a reprint was most welcome. I'm surprised it took me this long to order a copy (the donation of 100% of the proceeds to Black Lives Matter last month made it a very easy decision).

Broken Music was one of the first books published on the subject of artists’ records and remains the most comprehensive. It includes essays by both Block and Glasmeier, as well as Theodor W. Adorno, Jean Dubuffet, Milan Knizak, László Moholy-Nagy, Christiane Seiffert, Hans Rudolf Zeller and dealer/publisher René Block (husband of Ursula). Perhaps most essential is the 200-page bibliography of artists’ records, including works by Vito Acconci, Laurie Anderson, Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Jack Goldstein, Hans Haacke, Joe Jones, Martin Kippenberger, Anna Lockwood, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Michael Snow, Jean Tinguely, Ben Vautier, Yoshi Wada, Andy Warhol, Lawrence Weiner and many others.

Like the Art Metropole2 book I traded for it, Broken Music also features a flexi-disc, a recording of the Arditti Quartet performing Milan Knizak’s “Broken Music”, the book's namesake.

Available from the publishers for $30 (a tenth the price of the secondary market price a few years ago), Broken Music is an essential book for anyone interested in artists' recordings and audio art. Order your copy here.

1. It quickly branched off into many other things, including a distasteful exhibition of court drawings from the trial of serial killer Paul Bernardo, which led to my brief appearance on an episode of the American tabloid ‘news’ show Hard Copy

2. Sound by Artists (also recently reprinted after being worth around $300 on the secondary market) also includes a flexi-disc record, by Christian Marclay. Unlike the Knizak disc in Broken Music, Marclay's cannot be played, as it is bound into the book. 

The Rubber Stamp Project: Jen Budney

Jen Budney, 1996, for

[Various Artists]
The Rubber Stamp Project
Sackville, Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, 2003
[68 pp.], 24 x 10 cm., soft cover
Edition size unknown

(see previous posts)