This month, Swiss Institute becomes Swiss In Situ, moving temporarily to a massive space at 102 Franklin Street in Tribeca. Their first exhibition, up through September 2, features a collection of artist-made zines from the independent Swiss publishing houses Nieves and Innen. Some of our favorites are below.
Michelangelo Antonioni was not happy with the grass. This was the summer of 1966, and London was experiencing an extreme drought. The director had shot the pivotal scene in Blow-Up where David Hemmings photographs an unconsenting Vanessa Redgrave and her lover, and maybe, or maybe not, a murder at Maryon Park. But the grass looked terrible, scraggy and yellow, so Antonioni had the crew spray-paint it green, and then shot the whole sequence again.
Antonioni would’ve approved of the grass in Kassel, though. It was incredibly green, food-coloring green. The leaves, too. The city, at the northern tip of the province of Hesse, in the middle of Germany, is known for having been nearly obliterated by Allied bombs in World War II and for Documenta, the hundred-day international exhibition of 150 contemporary artists that takes place every five years. I was there with my girlfriend, Liza, for the event’s thirteenth incarnation, but at some point, everyone I met would mention the destruction—whether to explain the city’s history of manufacturing weapons or the blocky postwar architecture.
The painter and professor Arnold Bode organized the first Documenta in 1955 in order to exhibit publicly the “degenerate” art that had been banned under the Third Reich. The work of prewar and wartime modernism was displayed in the ruins of the Fridericianum Museum, not just as an act of recovery but of testimony, too. This year, the director is Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and the exhibition spread beyond the renovated Fridericianum to the main square, the train station, the Brothers Grimm Museum, the sprawling Karslaue Park, and more. There were paintings, installations, films, performances, lectures, seminars, and, as described in the press packet, “periodic activity.” I was there for three days, which is enough time to realize how little time that is, especially since this year Documenta extends beyond Kassel to Alexandria, Cairo, and Kabul, where ruins, recovery, and testimony are not distant concepts.
The artist Lawrence Weiner lives on a quiet street in the West Village, in what was once an old laundromat built in 1910 and is now an unobtrusive five-level town house designed by the firm Lot-Ek. You may recognize some of the architecture: Lot-Ek is often cited for it inventive reuse of prefabricated objects (like shipping containers) and other industrial materials. In fact, the penthouse floor of Weiner’s home is built from discarded truck bodies. The floor below is the bedroom, the floor below that houses Weiner’s archives, and the first floor is the kitchen and dining room. At the basement level, Weiner keeps his studio, where he works. Not long ago, I stopped by to take photographs of his home and talk.
I didn’t come from a background that had any idea about what contemporary art was, it was not anti or pro, it had nothing to do with it. I do remember something my mother said when I was sixteen. I was going off to college, and I said, “I think I’m going to be an artist, not a professor of philosophy.” They all assumed I would be a professor because I’m good at logic, and she looked at me and she said, “Lawrence, you’ll break your heart.” And I said, “Why?” And she said, “Art is for rich people and women.”