October 6, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Down the block from the Review is Paul Kasmin Gallery, where through October 25 you can see Nir Hod’s Once Everything Was Much Better Even the Future, which has the distinct honor of the most captivating snow globe I can recall having seen. (An honor formerly held by a particularly endearing Epcot souvenir from 1997—sorry, little guy.)
The globe is large—more than seventy-eight inches; the photo above doesn’t do justice to its scale—and it’s filled not with “snow” nor even “sno,” but with flakes of twenty-four-karat gold. Its vivid, lustrous amber color comes from mineral oil, and at its center is an ominous, gently swaying pumpjack. As the gallery notes, Hod’s work contains a “dark glamour that is both alluring and menacing”—this piece in particular brought to mind the iconic poster for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.
As Hod, who was born in Tel Aviv and lives in New York, told the Creators Project last month, “A generation ago, there seemed to be more collective romanticism, and I’m nostalgic for that.” That romanticism isn’t immediately in evidence here, but if you peer into the amber for long enough, you start to get a sense of it: the pumpjack, which begins as an emblem of rapacity, takes on a sentimental sheen without your even noticing.
“I’ve been told a number of times that people innately feel bad for the pumpjack because of the feeling of loneliness and despair imbued in it,” Hod said. I came away feeling faintly starry-eyed: how could such a beautiful machine do such violence to the landscape, et cetera, et cetera, the beauty of polluted sunsets, et cetera, are we all doomed, and so on. Then I stepped onto Twenty-seventh Street and was nearly hit by a cab, and the spell was broken.
October 1, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
There’s a post over at Print Magazine about Frank Romano’s new book, History of the Linotype Company, which chronicles the rise and decline of the Linotype, a “glorious contraption” that was not so very long ago the industry standard for printing newspapers, magazines, catalogs, you name it. I’d be lying if I said I knew how it worked—to look at it is to imagine it taking your hand off—but fortunately there’s Wikipedia, which explains:
The linotype machine operator enters text on a ninety-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as “hot metal” typesetting. The matrices are then returned to the type magazine from which they came, to be reused later. This allows much faster typesetting and composition than original hand composition in which operators place down one pre-cast metal letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.
The machine was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German immigrant who set up shop in Brooklyn. At the height of its powers, it was used in eighty-six countries and in 850 languages. And the public domain is teeming with miscellany from the Mergenthaler Company, which produced an endless succession of handbooks, manuals, brochures, and pamphlets, among them Linotype’s Shining Lines, a sort of trade magazine with impeccably designed cover art:
September 25, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
From December 1921 until October 1924, William Faulkner enjoyed a famously disastrous tenure as the University of Mississippi’s postmaster. He’d arrive late, leave early, play bridge, and work on his fiction—all while losing mail or simply throwing it away. (“I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp,” he wrote in his brief, pungent resignation letter.)
During these years Faulkner wrote regularly for The Mississippian, the school newspaper. Of his contributions, the strangest and most apocryphal is the mock-advertisement above, for the Bluebird Insurance Co., which offered to indemnify students “against professors and other failures.” It goes on to discuss feet, heartbreak, and hollow logs, none of them very coherently.
Faulkner, minus the u, is listed as one of the company’s three presidents, and apparently it’s never been clear whether he helped write the ad or was named without consent. Whatever the case, in the weeks and months to follow, more ads for Bluebird appeared in The Mississippian and the Ole Miss annual. One of them took a (self-deprecating?) jab at Faulkner’s job performance: “It is a gross injustice to say that President Falkner has permanently retired in the Post Office. He merely takes temporary naps—during business hours.”
September 24, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Today in history: the dreams of British steampunks and dirigible enthusiasts were sundered like so many feet of duralumin. On September 24, 1911, His Majesty’s Airship No. 1, the rigid, phallic Mayfly, met its demise. If you don’t hear of this incident as often as you do, say, the Hindenburg disaster, it’s because (1) no one died, (2) nothing caught on fire, and (3) nothing fell to the ground; the Mayfly was torn in twain before she ever left the ground. All it took was a strong gust of wind and a bit of human error. The accident happened just as the crew removed the ship from its hangar for testing, as the Airship Heritage Trust explains:
Disaster struck in the form of a sudden forceful beam-side gust, causing the ship to lurch, just clearing [its] shed but [rolling] onto her beam ends. She righted and was then pivoted so her nose would point back out to the dock when there were cracking sounds amidships and she broke in two. She started to rise in an inverted V formation, but the crew in the gondola dived overboard, and the stern flew up into the air.
The damage was extensively photographed, and there’s something heartbreaking in the images—it enables a strange form of rubbernecking. Snapped in two, the ship looks impossibly frail, almost like an elongated box spring, and of dubious airworthiness. (Though it must be said that it floats quite nicely.) It was just over five hundred feet long, and it weighed forty-four thousand pounds. Its cruising speed was only estimated at forty-two miles an hour.
The wreck widened the gulf between Britain and Germany’s airship programs—by 1913, Germany had a fleet of seventeen zeppelins and the Brits had only two. That year, Winston Churchill had a nice zinger for the House of Commons:
Altogether, compared with other navies, the British aeroplane service has started very well … I have a less satisfactory account to give of airships. Naval airship developments were retarded by various causes. The mishap which destroyed the Mayfly, or the Won’t Fly, as it would be more accurate to call it, at Barrow, was a very serious setback to the development of Admiralty policy in airships.
September 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
The Italian photographer Antonio La Grotta has done what some intrepid ruin pornographer ought to have done years ago: he’s taken pictures of Italy’s abandoned discotheques.In the boom times of the eighties, these discos sprang up across the Italian countryside, shrines to saturnalia and synthesizers. Now there are purgatories where once there were infernos. La Grotta describes these edifices as “fake marble temples adorned with Greek statues made of gypsum, futuristic spaces of gigantic size, large enough to contain the dreams of success, money, fun … ” Now the discos are just “cement whales laid on large empty squares, places inhabited by echo and melancholy.”
You can see more of La Grotta’s photos on his website and on Slate’s Behold blog, but you should set the mood first. Here’s Kano’s “I’m Ready,” seven minutes of blissed-out Italo-Disco that will help you mourn a bygone era and celebrate Friday night.
September 18, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
It was 1917 when Marcel Duchamp debuted Fountain, that perennially scandalous urinal, that Dadaist taunt, that porcelain keystone. Since then, befuddled museumgoers worldwide have asked, “How is that art?”; about half a dozen performance artists have made a show of peeing on, in, or around one of the many replicas of Fountain; and, at the Pompidou Center, one guy threw a hammer at it. But now, in 2014, the artist Alexander Melamid has outdone them all: he’s reconnected the urinal to plumbing. It flushes anew. And through its pipes, he hopes, will flow more than a century’s worth of the art world’s built-up shit.
Melamid’s new exhibition, “The Art of Plumbing,” opened last night at Vohn Gallery. It comprises paintings of assorted plumbing components—sometimes superimposed on canonical works by, say, Picasso or Rothko—with names like Form-N-Fit 1-1/2 Flanged Tailpiece, Large Drain Cleansing Bladder, and The No Clog Drain, Permaflow. At its center, atop a kind of plinth, is a fully functional urinal, its working parts very much visible.
“Modernism in art began in earnest with that urinal, severed from the sewage system. It was a truly revolutionary act,” an accompanying statement read. And yet, as the twentieth century wore on, artists descended into meaningless self-referentiality and the pursuit of wealth, thus necessitating another revolution:
Having acquired the skills to wield both pipe and wrench, the artist Alex Melamid will successfully perform an aesthetic coupling that will flush the human as well as the elephant waste from our great museums. Once sent down the drain and into the sewage system, this effluvial excess will affront the senses of public no longer.