Archive: Issue No. 114, February 2007

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My view from the Cooper-Hewitt


Documenta director Roger Buergel


Gallery hopping with Barbara Jakobson


Gary Hill�s eagle


Greg Herringshaw in the Cooper Hewitt archives


The wall coverings department


Monday, January 8

Imagine being given access to the 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the august Smithsonian Institution museums. Or some of them, anyway. On my first morning at the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design in New York, this is the fortunate position in which I find myself.

Last year, for the first time, the Smithsonian Institution established an Artist Research Fellowship Program, 'to strengthen the vitality of the arts community and to broaden public interest in and understanding of contemporary art. The objective of the program is to give established visual artists access to the Smithsonian's rich resources, including collections, archives, and researchers'. Great idea.

And lucky I am to be part of the first group of nine artists to be awarded this fellowship. One had to nominate an institution and an area of research in the application, and my proposal was to spend time at two museums - the Cooper Hewitt in New York, where I will research the conventions behind wallpaper design through the ages, and the techniques involved, and secondly, the National Museum of African Art in Washington, to delve into their archives.

A body of work will follow, and at this stage, I envisage a series of very large scale prints. At this stage.

Anyway, here I am in the wallcoverings department with curator Greg Herringshaw giving me a quick overview of the vast holdings of his department. I have been given an office space looking over the museum gardens, across Fifth Avenue to the reservoir in Central Park. And I am wondering where to start.

Tuesday, January 9

The wallpaper samples are wrapped in glassine paper, slipped inside acetate folders, and kept inside flat drawers or in large boxes made of grey archival corrugated boards and stacked on racks. Thousands of them. The oldest sample dates back to 1670, and is printed and flocked in dark olive greens. There are artist-designed papers - dominatrixes printed in transparent inks on foils - Allen Jones - Warhol's famous cow's head papers, handmade Tracy Kendell papers with white on white cut squares stitched in rows, but also dozens of nondescript designs like little fleurs de lis of beige on darker beige.

Wednesday, January 10

After a day of considering rococo scrolls and a series of 48 panels depicting the American Wars of Independence, head downtown to meet fellow Capetonian artist Katherine Bull for a panel discussion entitled Location, Location, Location! Is provincial a bad word? organised by The New Museum at the Cooper Union.

Documenta curator Roger Buergel is on the panel, also artist Julie Mehretu, who showed at Michael Stevenson in Cape Town recently. The evening opens with a presentation of The New Museum's building plans. Still under construction, the museum is moving from its old Soho location to the Bowery, and when completed, will look like a stack of white blocks, piled off centre.

This evening, the lively panel under the moderation of Chief Curator Richard Flood comes to what is pretty much a foregone conclusion given the title of the panel: notions of provincialism have become irrelevant. The eyes of the artworld have lifted from the centre and gazed outwards, to the peripheries. The growth of the internet, the shrinking of the world have all had their effect. There is no need for artists from anywhere to be outside the action.

Actually, one can now hear the entire discussion in great clarity on the net by going to The New Museum website. At one point, Buergel explains that part of his vision for Documenta is to include the editors and writers of the art journals of the world in the discussions around the event, and in fact, only two days ago I have had an invitation as the editor of ArtThrob to attend such a discussion in Johannesburg in late February.

Saturday, January 13

Lunch with the remarkable Barbara Jakobson at Bottino's on the fringes of Chelsea, and famed for its artist clientele. Barbara waves to half the restaurant, and Lawrence Weiner comes over to say hello. A car has been ordered for 2.30 to take us gallery hopping. On a chilly day in Chelsea with its inhumanly long blocks, this is definitely the way to do it.

Barbara has a sheaf of invitation cards in her hand, and after each venue has been breached, the card is torn in half and discarded. The highlights for me: Robert Wilson's video portraits of owls at Paula Cooper and Gary Hill's new installation at Barbara Gladstone. Here, a long low tank of black oil reflects a video projected on the end wall of a pink eagle trapped inside an oil pylon. The eagle's wings keep flailing and hitting cables leading from the pylon with the sound of a bull whip.

I am staying in New York with my old friends, Joe and Anne Bacal, and since every Saturday night is members' night at the MoMA, I meet Joe there.

What a great idea for a museum. Wine and snacks and music are provided, and in this non-touristic atmosphere, viewing the current exhibitions is very relaxed.

Wednesday, January 17

Dinner with RoseLee Goldberg and Dakota Jackson at their East Village house to catch up with RoseLee's plans for the next 'Performa', the biennial of performance art which will take place in New York in November.

This year's event promises to be even more riveting than 'Performa '05'. A series of events throughout the year lead up to the event, and at the beginning of February, video artist Isaac Julien will discuss his new collaboration with choreographer Russell Maliphant at a talk moderated by RoseLee at the Guggenheim. Definitely want to go to that.

Thursday, January 25

Visit two workshops in the city where wallpapers are being printed and made by hand.

Friday, January 26

My time at the Cooper Hewitt has come to an end. I have spent three weeks looking at all kinds of wallpaper from all the countries which designed and exported them. Greg has been endlessly kind, pulling down sample after sample for me to look at.

A farewell lunch today with Greg, chief curator Matilda McQuaid and the other Smithsonian fellow currently working at the Cooper Hewitt, Terence Gower. It has been a remarkably enriching experience.

Tuesday, January 30

Leave New York for Atlanta. Jason Wertz meets me at the airport. My solo show at his Wertz Contemporary opens on Friday, and today we plan the layout for the show. Everything must be done by Thursday night, when Merrill Lynch will host a special dinner for collectors in the gallery.

Wednesday, January 31