Archive for May, 2008

“Tricksters or fakes, assistants or ‘toons, they are exemplars of the coming community.”

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Since the publication of his Autobiography of Howard Hughes in 1972, the life of writer Clifford Iriving has been nothing but adventure. That book was a “fake” and unauthorized biography of the eccentric aviator and film director Howard Hughes (1905-1976), an American tycoon billionaire who died in 1976 after being in reclusion the last years of his life. The so-called autobiography, a creative concoction of Clifford Irving and his conspirator Dick Suskind, caused a scandal when the reclusive Hughes declared it a hoax, ending in the imprisonment of the authors.

In an attempt to revisit the process and controversy of the book’s making, or say, the life of one its authors, Clifford Irving himself, Miramax produced the film The Hoax. Lying somewhere between dramatization and fictionalization, this film is loosely based on Clifford Irving’s story, narrated first and most accurately in a book by him with the same title. The film was released in 2007; the book published in 1981. Not surprisingly, the film is far from and adaptation of his book, and Clifford Irving claims it a hoax in itself.

Fakes. Hoaxes. Cons. Doubles. Re-makings. Multiple narratives. These are also the subjects of Orson Welle’s 1974 film F for Fake, wherein Clifford Irving plays himself—or not. Finally, we can get to know. This year, his autobiography, Phantom Rosebuds by Clifford Irving was published by Dexter Sinister and this along with the exhibition as event as book tour with the savvy title The Clifford Irving Show is produced by curator Raimundas Malasauskas. To date, it has been presented in California at New Langton Arts in San Francisco and at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in collaboration with Art 2102 in Los Angeles.

I had the luck of sitting next to Clifford Irving on an air-flight to China some weeks ago. It was a special flight, indeed, filled with coincidence and surprise. It was the perfect way to meet the man. Inspired by the writer’s lifetime and work, as well as by the self-designated Fake Market and shadow economies that I experienced while traveling in China, I interviewed Clifford Irving some days after we met on air. Click below to read this interview and to get more details on Phantom Rosebuds and The Clifford Irving Show.


Exploring New Routes

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

When the flight-boarding pass appeared in my mailbox, I had time for nothing else than to pack my bags and leave. This was unlike a gym membership that expires a year later without having to make a single visit, or a supermarket coupon needing to be exchanged before a date some months ahead. This flight to the moon was dated what was then today.

In a matter of days, adding to what began as speculation and quickly changed to daydreaming, was the thought of a trip even further away.

With yesterday’s landing of Phoneix, the idea of experiencing life on Mars during our lifetime entered another stage of crystallization. Suddenly distances shrunk; a piece of outer space, less dark. Water may indeed be found underneath those “parking-lot-looking” grounds, I assented, and we will move there soon after.

Air Lunatique boarding pass by Paul Ramirez Jonas.


This is the latest news article, as of the publishing date of this entry, Mars lander completes first day on Red Planet; this other article is the one I reference in this entry, Mars Lander Transmits Photos of Arctic Terrain.

Raising the paddle for a surrealist manifesto and a 1990s painting on Melrose

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Andre Breton’s original 21-page manuscript of the Surrealist Manifesto (1924) will be auctioned tomorrow afternoon at Sotheby’s in Paris. This historical document is part of a larger auction including more than 200 lots, items drawn from the collection of Simone Collinet, Breton’s first wife. (Collinet died in 1980; the sale is arranged by her heirs.) The collection includes books, photographs and manuscripts, among them nine in Breton’s handwriting. There are other gems in the collection of documents, too, such as a manuscript of Les Soeurs Vatard by Huysmans, a series of written and typed and noted manuscripts, tapes and correspondence by Simone de Beauvoir, and a handwritten letter, Souvenirs de la Commune, by Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon). There is so much more. How crucial it is to see the handwriting, the strikethroughs and additions marked in the editing, the margins. This is the texture of the words and ideas of these texts.

These and other items of the collection were part of the five-day exhibition, Surrealism in Paris, at Sotheby’s Galerie Charpentier in Paris, which I went to see before their auction tomorrow afternoon. (An exhibition of these documents was also presented in Sotheby’s London in January-February 2008.) It would take time, I thought, for these original documents to be on view again. After their auction, these will most likely be shipped away and kept in the backroom of a national museum, the restoration lab of some institution located in a California hilltop or at a climate control storage in a suburb somewhere in the world.

Where will be the home of Breton’s manuscript and these other items? It’s unclear. And, why wouldn’t the family just donate them to a national museum here in Paris, where the manuscript was drafted and the movement conceived? I forget common sense is just a myth.

The idea of uncommon sense crossed my mind, and suddenly the GALA Committee auction at Christie’s a decade ago invaded my thoughts. Held at Christie’s in Beverly Hills on November 12, 1998, Primetime Contemporary Art. Art by the GALA Committee As Seen on Melrose Place brought together 49 lots for live auction and 51 more at silent auction. These 100 lots were GALA Committee artworks created for and appearing in different episodes of the popular television program of the time, Melrose Place. No need for me to summarize such a multi-layered art project and event. Instead, I here transcribe the catalog’s introduction, written by Brent Zerger (who, at the time, worked in LA MoCA’s now-defunct department of experimental programs headed by curator Julie Lazar):

In The Name of the Place is a complex collaborative project by the GALA Committee, initiated by artist Mel Chin for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LA MoCA). Working with the Uncommon Sense theme of public interaction, the GALA Committee selected a prime TV program, Melrose Place, as the site for creative a massive “condition of collaboration” among an array of individuals, institutions and interests, organized initially around the activity of developing and placing site-specific art objects on the program’s sets. During the two-season interaction, the art-enhanced weekly broadcast reached millions internationally. Radically expansive in form, with diverse aesthetics and a wide range of audience/artist television production involvement, In The Name of the Place is an experiment that illuminates unexplored, creative territory at the intersection of museums, mass media and artistic action.

The culmination of the project is the public auction of the collectively-made art works. All proceeds from the auction will go to two non-profit educational organizations, the Fulfillment Fund and the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, to be used specifically to benefit women’s education.

The GALA Committee artworks were sometimes props—like, bed sheets with print design depicting condoms and promoting safe sex; Chinese Take Away paper-containers with inscriptions of human rights messages; a paperback book of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. At other times, the artworks were also just that, paintings hanging on walls and sculptures over pedestals. The closest meeting point between Melrose Place and GALA Committee’s collaboration was shown in a 1997 television episode with a scene happening at LA MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary. The actual set is the exhibition Uncommon Sense. For this, the program’s screenwriters wrote a scene in an art show and the producers commissioned GALA Committee a painting that would be discussed by two characters. (See image above for a video still, as reproduced in the auction’s catalog.) Not coincidently, the painting is titled Fireflies –The Bombing of Baghdad (acrylic on canvas; 72 x 96 inches) and shows a night scene apparently inspired in style by artists like Vija Celmins and Ross Bleckner, and in subject by the controversial televised US bombings of Iraq during the 1990s. (A month after the auction, the US conducted Operation Desert Fox.)

Aside from LA MoCA, and before this auction, the artworks created by GALA Committee for this project were exhibited at the Kwangju International Biennale in South Korea; Grand Arts in Kansas City, MO; and Lawing Gallery in Houston, TX. For the Grand Arts exhibition, curator and art critic Joshua Decter—who pointed me to this project in 2002, while we were planning a round table discussion about artists working in television—wrote a text detailing the collaborative process of GALA Committee with Melrose Place. More recently, Art:21 produced a documentary about Mel Chin, wherein the project is also discussed.

The Carsey-Wolf Center for Film, Television, and New Media at UC San Barbara hosts the excellent web-archive of GALA Committee’s In the Name of a Place. The site, which states is still development but looks slightly dated, gives a sense of some artworks and their provenance—what “made it,” as they say, in the television show. The catalog of the Christie’s auction, which part of the cover illustrates this entry, remains more comprehensive in so far it illustrates the variety of artworks produced for the television show. It lists all the members of the GALA Committee, additional information of the auction, and images and provenance of the 100 artworks at auction, with captions describing the context that inspired the work or the scene in which it was placed. And then there is a funny inclusion: the catalog’s last page includes an unsigned text dated 2021 about GALA Committee’s so-called non-commercial product insertion manifestations (also included in the project’s web-archive).

Today, I wonder, where are the homes of these series of artworks by the GALA Committees? Where does the pool game item Africa is the Eight Ball sit or the landscape painting Rodney King hang? What kinds of collections are they part of? And, how are these artworks displayed to retell, or not, of their original context and presentation?

Camps—a nature-lover’s home, a temporary solution, a politically grounded space, an architectural structure of this century

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

I took the photograph above last month in Beijing’s popular art district, Dashanzi (a.k.a. 798 for its main street address), with the intent to share it with artists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, whose art project Camp Campaign (2006) I had worked on some years back. The image shows three of dozens and dozens of camp tents lined in 798. These are the temporary shelters and homes for construction workers that are quickly working on beautifying the city for this summer Olympics in China. Construction apparently has to be completed and tents removed by June 1st; and workers sent back to their villages and homes soon after. With the devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province, it is unclear how reconstruction of that area will affect the building developments and urban renovations in Beijing. What seems clear is that shelter tents and temporary homes of this kind will take a whole different meaning right now in Sichuan than in Beijing.

In early 2005, when Ayreen and Rene initially discussed and sketched the ideas for Camp Campaign, they had drawn a travel route across the USA with stops in campsites primarily used by and for the military for detention and training. The travel itinerary also included stops at national parks with camping sites and visits to cultural institutions with summer camp programs. The artists were doing an expansive research on the variety of existing campsites in the country, and along the way campaigning against the most opaque and unpopular of them all, the one in Guantanamo. During their planning, Hurricane Katrina struck in New Orleans that summer, and the course of their future trip changed. Ayreen and Rene re-sketched their more than forty-day cross-country road trip, drawing a route that would also take them to this affected region, and to the different areas where relief camps had been installed and to buildings, like Houston’s Astrodome and Reliant Arena, that had provided temporary shelter for evacuees who had lost homes or were affected by the hurricane’s flooding consequences in New Orleans.

All this came to mind when I saw photographs of other, more temporary forms of camping—or, well, of an area at Sangatte in France’s Pas-de-Calais, where a refugee camp once used to exist. The photos were part of a series made by Bruno Serralongue’s Calais, which I accessed yesterday in the archives of his gallery Air de Paris. Closed in 2002 by France’s Minister of Interior of the time, the camp at Calais opened in 1999 in a building once storing machinery used to create the English Channel. (Calais borders the North Sea, and is the French port city closest to England.) The camp was managed by the Red Cross, and housed up to 1,200 illegal immigrants at once, mostly from the Middle East, on their way to England. At the camp’s closing and with no formal housing solution for the migrants that arrive to Calais, makeshift shelters have been appearing in the city’s surrounding area. Bruno Serralongue’s photographic series, which he began in 2006, has been shot in these so-called wastelands over the course of two years; you can see a selection of these photographs here.


To help support the relief efforts in China, or other regions in need, visit Global Giving or Doctors Without Borders.

An influence that will live on

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Independent curator Olivier Debroise passed away last week, unexpectedly, and the news has given me great sadness. I scroll through these pages, and find that even the first entry shows a picture of him and Cuauhtémoc working away. Scrolling a bit more here and there, other entries, my library, some notes, and again is Olivier’s name, his influence.

In his blog For the Record, Mexican artist Rubén Ortiz Torres published a beautiful entry about his relationship to Olivier, and about Olivier’s last lecture in Los Angeles—where Rubén lives since the 1990s and where Olivier had recently been as a research fellow at the Getty Center. And today, e-flux distributed a brief eulogy by Cuauhtémoc Medina, a long time and close collaborator, colleague and dear friend of Olivier. There are many more published, and surely more to come.

Olivier’s portrait, above, is from December 29, 2006 in Mexico City. That morning, he had taken my family and friends on a guided walk through Mexico City’s Centro Historico. I had met him ten years earlier, and we had taken a similar walk through history. That time, he was introducing me to the field of contemporary art.

In Times of War

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Not only the dinner last night at Ananais—where we savored rabo de toro (bull’s tail)—had prepared me for this event. In fact, it seemed that every day this past weekend was grounding for tonight’s bullfight. It had been long since I last attended one of these events, and never had I been to one in Spain. To be specific, tonight’s bullfight was a novillada con picadores, including three matadors, plus the complete entourage and six novillos, the largest of them weighing 1175 lb (533 kg). This bullfight was part of the month-long Feria de San Isidro, which started in Madrid in 1947. This and the rest of the bullfights in the program take place at Las Ventas, the beautiful Plaza de Toros in that Spanish city. With a brick façade designed by the Spanish architect José Espeliú, the definitely Moorish-influenced bullring of Las Ventas opened in the early 1930s. However, the spectacle and culture of bullfighting, also known as tauromaquia, has a centuries-old history. Also far in history are the debates following criticism of whether or not this so-called blood sport ought to be permitted.

While some of the criticism on bullfighting centers on animal rights (this argument being the least strongest, considering that hunting for survival, food industry or pleasure are stone age and modern day practices), the strongest critiques focus on elevating violence through sport. The counterarguments of the taurina community in Spain, as well as in other countries where bullfighting is practiced—mostly, found in Latin America—frame bullfighting as an artistic expression and cultural tradition. And this all sounds like rhetoric until you’re there, bearing witness to the dance and spectacle of the matador and the bull. Like every art form, bullfighting does indeed have a universe and language of its own. Yet, some things, perhaps the matador’s tactics of torture and distraction, now feel overtly familiar—and to the trepidation of all.

My experience of tonight’s bullfight was certainly influenced by a couple of artworks I had seen only days before here in Madrid. The first was the 2007 video by Antoni Muntadas, On Translation: Fear / Jauf, at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. The second was La Tauromaquia, a series of drawings and prints created by Francisco Goya in 1815-1816, which formed part of the Museo Nacional Del Prado’s thoughtful and timely exhibition Goya in Times of War. The third was Pablo Picasso‘s Guernica (1937) in the permanent collection of the Reina Sofia.

Muntadas’ video is one of two works with the same title and addressing geopolitical borders and the cultural anxieties endemic to those overly monitored regions. The earlier work was developed in the framework of inSITE between 2003-2005, and dealt with the Mexico and US border region of Tijuana and San Diego. Inspired by that project, Muntadas looked at the geopolitical relation that his home country, Spain, has with Morocco. This new video is based on a series of interviews with citizens in both sides and political camps of the Strait of Gibraltar, a stretch of thirteen miles of sea that separate Western Europe from North Africa. The fifty-long minute video—originally created for television broadcast as the site of exhibition and distribution channel for the work—emphasizes the sense of fear that naturally emerges from experiencing a constant state of preventive security, particularly as it pertains to illegal immigration and an escalation of cultural intolerance.

No less intense was the visit to Goya in Times of War at El Prado. The exhibition covers a span of twenty-five years of the life and work of Goya, from 1794-95 to 1820. This is a period of intense political changes and war in Europe that affected Spain as every other country. During this time, Goya created what were then as today some of his most celebrated works, including the series of prints and drawings of Los Caprichos, Disasters of War and Tauromaquia. The introductory wall text to the gallery with the last of these aforementioned series states that Goya’s series of,

Tauromaquia has to be understood as more than a mere illustration of the history of bullfighting. The time at which this series was created and the resulting images suggest that beneath this apparent intention lies Goya’s need to express his criticism of man’s deep-rooted cruelty, which he himself had witnessed.

Brutality, which is explicit from the outset of the series, is an inherent characteristic of the bullfight, and we can interpret the artist’s characterization of the figures from this world as a veiled critique of human barbarity, already expressed shortly before in the Disasters of War. In its representation of the bullfight, the Tauromaquia emphasizes the idea of a combat between victory and torturers in which terror and madness prevail and in which death is the only outcome.

Intelligent but provocatively over-determined, the text misses to allude that it is not in the depiction where meaning is generated but in experiencing what is rendered. A sense of devastation awakens before the picture. I felt similarly the following day, when we went to see Picasso’s Guernica (1937) at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Like Goya’s Disasters of War, this is another work inspired by human violence and the atrocities of war. As it is when encountering Picasso’s work, my eyes were immediately activated at my encounter with Guernica. The painting’s monumentality and abstraction slowly began unfolding. It was a moving image, with all scenes happening at once to tell of an emotion that is as complex as the history that provoked it.


Antoni Muntadas’ video screening was part of Rencontres Internationales, which was brought us to Madrid—Tom was participating in the same video and film festival, and he invited me along. On Translation: Fear / Jauf will next be broadcast on Al Jeezera TV.

The exhibition Goya in Times of War covers a span of twenty-five years of the life and work of Goya, from 1794-95 to 1820. It is organized and on view at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, from April 15-July 13, 2008.

Since 1992, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937) is on permanent display in the collection galleries at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, after a long stay at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who ceded the work back to Spain in 1981.