This is why I always wanted my own bulldozer…
The “global jet-set art circuit” is of course a circuit of capital, which requires in an age of the 1%, the patronage and power of individuals and institutions, and of course there are the differences among race, class and gender that have made participating in these scalar cultural activities more difficult in a digital age of reproduction.
One research problem that has been a thread in my cultural work is that of reconciling the material and the ideal as though thinking of that binary as conflicting ideologies is certainly both timeless and timely, yet vitally virtual, even as a political economy.
Even as one gets glimpses of the jet-set art circuit, one gets the feeling that because it is built on wealth that was built on inequality, that is why one should try to level the playing field, but what means are necessary when one has no resources or patrons. These are as Foucault says, unlike an earlier age when monument generate historical documents, these documents as mediated photographs, generate media monuments.
Much has been said about the dangerous impact of a superficial, lifestyle-based, money-oriented culture: it has often been invoked as the explanation for why people become passive, docile, and easy to manipulate irrespective of how disadvantageous their economic conditions are.
Following the illustrative critique of two eminent proponents of this criticism, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, the culture of our times is endangered by the uncontrollable expansion of the culture industry into higher artistic production—manipulating the masses into passivity and cultivating false needs.1
This immersion is equivalent to the adoption of behavioral stereotypes and tastes linked to a continuously advertised petit-bourgeois phantasmagoria, and also reflects the advanced commodification of social life.
Surveying as an act or reconciling horizons, does use the term memorial as well: “A “monument” is the object or the physical structure which marks the corner point”. The placing of rocks as meaningful covers many cultural practices and as much as I would have liked to place my own history around and about, perhaps it’s just as well not to worry about the memories of others, and to be mindful of things one needs to be mindless about in equanimity.
A cairn is a human-made pile (or stack) of stones. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn (plural càirn). Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present.
In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times. However, since prehistory, they have also been built and used as burial monuments; for defense and hunting; for ceremonial purposes, sometimes relating to astronomy; to locate buried items, such as caches of food or objects; and to mark trails, among other purposes.
Cairns are used as trail markers in many parts of the world, in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways and on sea cliffs, as well as in barren deserts and tundra. They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills, and in complexity from loose conical rock piles to delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of megalithic engineering.
Cairns may be painted or otherwise decorated, whether for increased visibility or for religious reasons. An ancient example is the inuksuk (plural inuksuit), used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region of North America. These structures are found from Alaska to Greenland. This region, above the Arctic Circle, is dominated by the tundra biome and has areas with few natural landmarks…
The most important cairns commonly used around the world are interlocking stone survey cairns constructed around a central survey mark about every 30 km on the tallest peaks across a nation. These physical survey mark cairn systems by surveyors as the basis for national survey grids to interconnect individual land survey measurements for entire nations. On occasion these permanent interlocking stone cairns were taken down then reconstructed for survey mark for measurements to increase the accuracy of the national survey grid. They can also be used in unpopulated country as emergency location points
“Walkin’ in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.,” sings the 80s band Missing Persons
To meet Michael Heizer, the sculptor and pioneer of Land Art, usually entails an arduous trek through the desert. I only have to take the subway. Heizer has been creating large-scale artworks in Garden Valley, Nevada out of stone and earth – and one in particular, the magisterial City, has occupied him for decades. Yet this May, for the first time in 25 years, Heizer has come back to New York: the city he left in the late 1960s when his work outgrew lofts and galleries, and his ambition grew with it.
Ultimately, he wanted to create art in the land that would not deteriorate, but endure for generations to come. In 1972, he embarked on the creation of City, an almost unfathomably ambitious suite of abstract sculptures in the Nevada desert. Where Double Negative removed mass from the earth, City reshapes the earth: walls, mounds, and giant geometric forms, all in conversation with the near-infinite landscape. City has cost millions of dollars to produce, and financial and political considerations – the land surrounding City has been threatened by oil exploration and a possible nuclear waste rail line – have delayed its completion over and over.
It is not an overstatement to call City the most elaborate undertaking ever by an American artist. Now, it may finally be coming to completion. “It’s basically 98% finished. The important stuff either is done or is being done this summer,” Heizer confirms. “There’s fence work and gates that have to be put in. I have an obligation to people not to turn this into a carnival. I’m an artist; I want to finish this before anyone shows up. Nobody’s giving me trouble.” He has been helped immeasurably, he says, by Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – “a true partner”, in Heizer’s phrase, who has shepherded City through years of logistical and financial obstacles. The Nevada senator Harry Reid has been petitioning the Obama administration to declare the area around City a national monument, though no one is celebrating yet.
If and when City opens to the public, though, Heizer has no intention to transform the site into another way-station on the global jet-set art circuit. “I’ve been living there right on 50 years and I have an obligation to the people who live there not to bring in a lot of nutcases who are going to kill their livestock. That’s what these fucking humans will do. The landscape is part of the aesthetic. Even though the landscape isn’t a shape or a color, it’s an integral component.”
One always thinks about the monumentality of one’s life or its absence, ever to be annihilated.
Throughout his career, in paintings and in sculptures, Heizer has explored the aesthetic possibilities of emptiness and displacement; his voids have informed public art from the Vietnam Memorial to the pits at Ground Zero. “Levitated Mass,” a three-hundred-and-forty-ton chunk of granite that since 2012 has been permanently installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is one of the few sculptures in the world designed to be walked under, an experience that strikes most visitors as harrowing. Heizer once told Vander Weg he’d like his tombstone to read, “Totally Negative.”
“City” is a monumental architectonic work, with dimensions comparable to those of the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., and a layout informed by pre-Columbian ritual cities like Teotihuacan. Heizer started it in 1972, when he was in his late twenties and had already established himself as an instigator of the earthworks movement, a group of artists, including Robert Smithson and Walter De Maria, who made totemic outdoor sculptures, often in the majestic wastelands of the American West.
“City” is made almost entirely from rocks, sand, and concrete that Heizer has mined and mixed on site. The use of valueless materials is strategic, a hedge against what he sees as inevitable future social unrest. “My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” he says. “That stuff will all get melted down. Why do I think that? Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs—their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart, and their gold was melted down. When they come out here to fuck my ‘City’ sculpture up, they’ll realize it takes more energy to wreck it than it’s worth.”
“Double Negative” is fifteen hundred feet across—roughly the length of the Empire State Building laid on its side. To Heizer’s chagrin, the sculpture is also exactly the length of “Spiral Jetty,” a strand of rocks that coils into the Great Salt Lake like a fiddlehead fern, which Robert Smithson completed, with Dwan’s backing, a few months after “Double Negative” was done. The inspiration for the site, Smithson told people, was that formative trip to Mono Lake.
Smithson died in a plane crash in 1973, but Heizer’s resentment is still fresh. “He’s a manipulating, devious tinhorn,” he told me. “This guy was from New Jersey. He had never been farther west than the Sunoco gas station in Hackensack. Now everyone thinks he’s a genius. He’s a complete phony.” Heizer’s ongoing grudge strikes many as inexplicably peevish. Gianfranco Gorgoni, a photographer who collaborated with both artists in the seventies, told me, “Smithson played a little trick on Mike. But Mike took it so seriously, like he owns all the deserts in the whole world.” I asked Heizer why it mattered so much whose idea it was to make art in the desert and who got there first. He was affronted. “That’s the business we’re in!” he said. “That’s what we do. Why should I destroy my life, my brain, and my health to innovate and let some asshole come along and steal it from me?”
Art objects are widgets, and that’s why people purchase them. Artisanal objects also are, but that’s not why people purchase them. The intersection of those meanings remains contestable.
Does object art (artisanal or precious) or even installation art have more than a limited number of possibilities in a digital age.
Is this type of artwork any more communicative in Zurich or Berlin than in NYC, or in the pages of The Atlantic. As often as such art attempts to subvert its own souvenir status, it remains captured by its scale economies and their real or imagined audiences.
Genre-wise, Pendleton’s work discussed below is only marginally conceptual in the sense of the 1970s genre as a field of inquiry which fell into obscurity because not only was it meta-critical, but it was always more than “illustrating philosophy”.
Actual Conceptual Art at its apex did challenge a material object paradigm for contemporary artwork, making it anti-institutional. If it defeated connoisseurship, it made itself more solipsistic and self-marginalizing, except those patrons who could afford them as a club good indulgence. That it can now be so easily categorized shows how its insurgent power has been contained (“American conceptual artist known for his multi-disciplinary practice.”)
This sets aside the artisanal importance of cultural objects often made difficult by the false dichotomy of art and craft, further obfuscated by the concept of “design” objects, having actual professionals talk about “fine crafts” to differentiate between high-brow and low-brow tastes in cultural objects and their markets (if you buy it in a museum store, is it more aesthetic?). One purchases their artworks because they have cultural meaning that are personal and often eclectic or eccentric values, far beyond the argument made here. One obtains objects often for reasons that defy analysis.
OTOH, there is an “official” avant-garde art that has a realm of acceptability if not constrained by the cynicism of a neoliberal economy. This is an art that will have its Monuments Men, but only if they have verifiable auction prices in large relational databases.
The Earth Art referred to in an earlier piece also challenged that material object paradigm in terms of the art gallery as a promotional venue among other mediated or unmediated proxies, prototypes or simulacra for actual artwork and its direct experience.
Inevitably the material value was not in the remote site of Earth Art but in its cosmopolitan financial locus either at the gallery or museum as a representation of private/corporate patronage or civic wealth. Artworks’ didactic possibility as mediating social and political action has been more often than not to be proven in their history to be relatively ephemeral or even epiphenomenal. The power of that critique only gained cultural meaning in terms of potential litigation or the more bizarre claims of obscenity in terms of actively or passively terrorizing public space by its proported intrusion.
But enough of my disappointment with the relatively limited political contributions of revolutionary artwork in the larger media history of mass cultures. Its production as monetized objects of a commodified petit-bourgeois career still seems important in the age of Latino hip-hop appropriations of musical theater like Hamilton. There will always be a market for art that moves boundaries but within rationalized ranges of acceptability, noting why the RW attacked federal support for artists.
Unfortunately art’s political effect has been seen as mixed as the polite post-performance petitioning by the latter’s cast to Veep-elect Pence and has been distorted to narrowly signify #BLM.
Art as social meaning will be in a tough way as the First Amendment comes under further assault and not with Second Amendment solutions.
Adam Pendleton insists that the exhibition isn’t trying to equate midnight with metaphorical darkness, but rather is emphasizing that history is moving in a different direction, one that allows “a different sense of possibility.”
His show includes six new paintings, called “Untitled (A Victim of American Democracy),” spray painted and silk screened in superimposed layers of black paint. Two larger wall works, resembling pages from a notebook, incorporate writing by W.E.B. DuBois and Amiri Baraka. Pendleton’s artistic manifesto, which he calls “Black Dada,” refers in part to Baraka’s poem “Black Dada Nihilismus,” which is featured in the show.
Sophie Gilbert: Can you tell me a little about “Midnight in America”, and where the idea for the show came from?
Adam Pendleton: The language I use in the paintings that anchor the show was pulled from a speech that Malcolm X gave in 1964 called “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Not exact phrases or quotes, but pulling from something he was saying in the speech about how he, and African Americans, were victims of American democracy. I often use language in my works. And the historical context was that someone who was being systematically oppressed in American society actually had a deeper belief in the American democratic project, and was arguing that it could in fact be a more open and just place.
So when I was thinking about how to contextualize these paintings, which are actually rather abstract when you see them, I wanted the title of the exhibition to prompt an interaction with the works on view. “Midnight in America” seems appropriate as it plays on Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” and I think with the tone and the dynamic of the recent election it seemed as though we were headed toward a darker place. This isn’t a binary that I’m setting up between light and dark, where light is good and dark is bad. It’s rather that we’re opening up to a different realm, a different sense of possibility…
Gilbert: Do you see your work as having a particular message or is it more about encouraging a particular kind of interrogation?
Pendleton: It’s much more about encouraging an interrogation, and a thoughtfulness to slow things down. You read a news article and you forget about it the next day, but we’ve been looking at the same paintings and sculptures and even films for decade after decade, and reading the same books. So there’s this kind of base where things slow down when we look at them outside of the immediacy of current events. This tells us something about ourselves either in a theoretical or in an aesthetic sense, by speaking to a more complicated idea of who we are as human beings…
Gilbert: What do you hope people take away from “Midnight in America”?
Pendleton: I hope they realize that there’s perpetually a direct relationship between political and social movements and art-historical movements as they relate to conceptualism and abstraction—that they really feed into each other. I like to say that I’m a conceptual artist. Conceptual art came about during the civil-rights movement, and that’s a dynamic I always like to think about and examine in my work.
Adam Pendleton (born 1984, Richmond, Virginia) is an American conceptual artist known for his multi-disciplinary practice, involving painting, silkscreen, collage, video and performance. His work often involves the investigation of language and the recontextualization of history through appropriated imagery. His art has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the New Museum, and other shows internationally, including La Triennale at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. He has been featured twice in Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list. In 2012 Pendleton signed with Pace Gallery at age 28, the youngest artist to do so since the 1970s. His first show with Pace was at the gallery’s Soho London branch in the fall of 2012. Famous Collectors include Steven A. Cohen, Leonardo DiCaprio and Venus Williams.
This work (Walter De Maria, The Broken Kilometer, 1979. © The Estate of Walter De Maria. Photo: Jon Abbott) is the companion piece to De Maria’s 1977 Vertical Earth Kilometer at Kassel, Germany. In that permanently installed earth sculpture, a brass rod of the same diameter, total weight and total length has been inserted 1,000 meters into the ground. The Broken Kilometer has been on long-term view to the public since 1979. This work was commissioned and is maintained by Dia Art Foundation.
Since the classic work of Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey, the ‘secondary circuit of capital’ has been a focal point for debate among critical urban scholars. Against the background of contemporary debates on financialization, this article investigates the institutional and political roots of the subprime mortgage crisis. Empirically, the article situates the current turmoil of the US mortgage sector with reference to a series of ad hoc legal and regulatory actions taken since the 1980s to promote the securitization of mortgages and expand the secondary mortgage market. Securitization is a process of converting illiquid assets into transparent securities and is a critical component of the financialization of real estate markets and investment. Specifically, I examine the crucial role played by the US Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in creating the polices and legal-regulatory conditions that have nurtured the growth of a market for securitizing subprime loans. Theoretically, the article examines the subprime mortgage crisis as an illustration of the contradictions of capital circulation as expressed in the tendency of capital to annihilate space through time.