Posts Tagged ‘Heterotopias

27
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World’ at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 19th February – 30th May 2016

 

This looks to be a fascinating exhibition. I wish I could see it.

While Sight Reading cuts across conventional historical and geographic divisions, with the exhibition being organized into nine “conversations” among diverse sets of works, we must always remember that these “themes” are not exclusory to each other. Photographs do cross nominally defined boundaries and themes (as defined by history and curators) so that they can become truly subversive works of art.

Photographs can form spaces called heterotopia, “a form of concept in human geography elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault, to describe places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions. These are spaces of otherness, which are neither here nor there, that are simultaneously physical and mental, such as the space of a phone call or the moment when you see yourself in the mirror… Foucault uses the term “heterotopia” (French: hétérotopie) to describe spaces that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than immediately meet the eye.”1

In photographs, there is always more than meets the eye. There is the association of the photograph to multiple places and spaces (the histories of that place and space); the imagination of the viewer and the memories they bring to any encounter with a photograph, which may change from time to time, from look to look, from viewing to viewing; and the transcendence of the photograph as it brings past time to present time as an intimation of future time. Past, present and future spacetime are conflated in the act of just looking, just being. Positioning this “‘annihilation of time and space’ as a particular moment in a dynamic cycle of rupture and recuperation enables a deliberate focus on the process of transition.”2 And that transition, Doreen Massey argues, ignores often-invisible contingencies that define spaces those relations that have an effect upon a space but are not visible within it.3

Photographs, then, form what Deleuze and Guattari call assemblages4, where the assemblage is “the processes by which various configurations of linked components function in an intersection with each other, a process that can be both productive and disruptive. Any such process invovles a territorialization; there is a double movement where something accumulates meanings (re-territorialization), but does so co-extensively with a de-territorialization where the same thing is disinvested of meanings. The organization of a territory is characterized by such a double movement … An assemblage is an extension of this process, and can be thought of as constituted by an intensification of these processes around a particular site through a multiplicity of intersections of such territorializations.”5 In other words, when looking at a photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot or Timothy H. O’Sullivan today, the meaning and interpretation of the photograph could be completely different to the reading of this photograph in the era it was taken. The photograph is a site of both de-territorialization and re-territorialization – it both gains and looses meaning at one and the same time, depending on who is looking at it, from what time and from what point of view.

Photographs propose that there are many heterotopias in the world, many transitions and intersections, many meanings lost and found, not only as spaces with several places of/for the affirmation of difference, but also as a means of escape from authoritarianism and repression. We must remember these ideas as we looking at the photographs in this exhibition.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to the Morgan Library & Museum for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Heterotopia (space) on Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 27/05/2016.
  2. McQuire, Scott. The Media City. London: Sage Publications, 2008, p. 14.
  3. Massey, Doreen. Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, p. 5 in Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, pp. 163-164.
  4. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolisand London: University of Minneapolis Press, 1987.
  5. Wood, Aylish. “Fresh Kill: Information technologies as sites of resistance,” in Munt, Sally (ed.,). Technospaces: Inside the New Media. London: Continuum, 2001, p.166

 

 

'Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World' exhibition sections

 

Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World exhibition sections

 

 

“As its name declares, photography is a means of writing with light. Photographs both show and tell, and they speak an extraordinary range of dialects.

Beginning February 19 the Morgan Library & Museum explores the history of the medium as a lucid, literate – but not always literal – tool of persuasion in a new exhibition, Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World. A collaboration with the George Eastman Museum of Film and Photography, the show features more than eighty works from the 1840s to the present and reveals the many ways the camera can transmit not only the outward appearance of its subject but also narratives, arguments, and ideas. The show is on view through May 30.

Over the past 175 years, photography has been adopted by, and adapted to, countless fields of endeavor, from art to zoology and from fashion to warfare. Sight Reading features a broad range of material – pioneering x-rays and aerial views, artifacts of early photojournalism, and recent examples of conceptual art – organized into groupings that accentuate the variety and suppleness of photography as a procedure. In 1936, artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) defined “the  illiterate of the future” as someone “ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.” The JPEG and the “Send” button were decades away, but Moholy-Nagy was not the first observer to argue that photography belonged to the arts of commentary and persuasion. As the modes and motives of camera imagery have multiplied, viewers have continually learned new ways to read the information, and assess the argument, embodied in a photograph.

“Traditional narratives can be found throughout the Morgan’s collections, especially in its literary holdings,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Morgan. “Sight Reading encourages us to use a critical eye to read and discover the stories that unfold through the camera lens and photography, a distinctly modern, visual language. We are thrilled to collaborate with the Eastman Museum, and together unravel a rich narrative, which exemplifies photography’s deep involvement in the stories of modern art, science, and the printed page.”

 

The exhibition

Sight Reading cuts across conventional historical and geographic divisions. Featuring work by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), John Heartfield (1891-1968), Lewis Hine (1874-1940), Harold Edgerton (1903-1990), John Baldessari (b. 1931), Sophie Calle (b. 1953), and Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007; 1934-2015), among many others, the exhibition is organized into nine “conversations” among diverse sets of works.

 

I. The Camera Takes Stock

Photography’s practical functions include recording inventory, capturing data imperceptible to the human eye, and documenting historical events. In the first photographically illustrated publication, The Pencil of Nature (1845), William Henry Fox Talbot used his image Articles of China to demonstrate that “the whole cabinet of a … collector … might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way.” Should the photographed collection suffer damage or theft, Talbot speculated, “the mute testimony of the picture … would certainly be evidence of a novel kind” before the law.

A century later, Harold Edgerton, an electrical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used the pulsing light of a stroboscope to record states of matter too fleeting for the naked eye. Gun Toss, an undated image of a spinning pistol, is not a multiple exposure: the camera shutter opened and closed just once. But during that fraction of a second, seven bright flashes of light committed to film a seven-episode history of the gun’s trajectory through space.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877) 'Articles of China' c. 1843, printed c. 1845

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Articles of China
c. 1843, printed c. 1845
Salted paper print from calotype negative
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

In The Pencil of Nature (1845), the first photographically illustrated publication, Talbot used Articles of China to demonstrate that “the whole cabinet of a … collector … might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory describing it in the usual way.” Should the collection suffer damage or theft, Talbot added, “the mute testimony of the picture … would certainly be evidence of a novel kind” before the law.

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock' 1873

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
Historic Spanish Record of the Conquest, South Side of Inscription Rock
1873
From the album Geographical Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

In 1873 O’Sullivan joined Lieutenant George Wheeler’s Geographic Survey in New Mexico and Arizona. At El Morro, a sandstone promontory covered with ancient petroglyphs and historic-era inscriptions, the photographer singled out this handsomely lettered sentence to record and measure. It states: By this place passed Ensign Don Joseph de Payba Basconzelos, in the year in which he held the Council of the Kingdom at his expense, on the 18th of February, in the year 1726. Nearby, the rock record now bears another inscription that reads T. H. O’Sullivan.

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) 'Gun Toss' 1936-50

 

Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990)
Gun Toss
1936-50
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

Edgerton, an electrical engineer, used the rapidly pulsing light of a stroboscope to record states of matter too fleeting to be perceived by the naked eye. This image of a spinning pistol is not a multiple exposure: the camera shutter opened and closed just once. But during that fraction of a second, seven bright flashes of light committed to film a seven-episode history of the gun’s trajectory through space.

 

John Pfahl (American, b. 1939) 'Wave Theory I–V, Puna Coast, Hawaii, March 1978' 1978

 

John Pfahl (American, b. 1939)
Wave Theory I-V, Puna Coast, Hawaii, March 1978
1978
From the series Altered Landscapes
Chromogenic development (Ektacolor) process prints, 1993
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

In this sequence, Pfahl twisted the conventions of photographic narrative into a perceptual puzzle. The numbered views appear to chronicle a single event: a wave breaking on the shore. Close inspection, however, reveals that the numeric caption in each scene is made of string laid on the rock in the foreground. The exposures, then, must have been made over a span of at least several minutes, not seconds – and in what order, one cannot say.

 

 

II. Crafting A Message

The camera is widely understood to be “truthful,” but what photographs “say” is a product of many procedures that follow the moment of exposure, including page layout, captioning, and cropping of the image. During World War I, military personnel learned to interpret the strange, abstract looking images of enemy territory made from airplanes. Their specialized training fundamentally altered the nature of wartime reconnaissance, even as the unusual perspective unique to aerial photography introduced a new dialect into the expanding corpus of modern visual language. An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted (1916), on view in the exhibition, shows that the tools of ground strategy soon included artificial bunkers and trenches, designed purely to fool eyes in the sky.

In László Moholy-Nagy’s photocollages of the late 1920s, figures cut out of the plates in massmarket magazines appear in new configurations to convey messages of the artist’s devising. Images such as Massenpsychose (Mass Psychosis) (1927) propose a new kind of visual literacy for the machine age. To contemporary eyes, Moholy’s collages seem to foreshadow cut-andpaste strategies that would later characterize the visual culture of cyberspace.

 

László Moholy-Nagy (American, b. Hungary, 1895-1946) 'Massenpsychose' (Mass Psychosis) 1927

 

László Moholy-Nagy (American, b. Hungary, 1895-1946)
Massenpsychose (Mass Psychosis)
1927
Collage, pencil, and ink
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds provided by Eastman Kodak Company

 

To make his photocollages of the late 1920s, Moholy-Nagy cut figures out of photographs and photomechanical reproductions and arranged them into new configurations that convey messages of his own devising. By extracting the images from their original context and placing them into relationships defined by drawn shapes and volumes, he suggested a new visual literacy for the modern world. In this world – one in which images course through mass culture at a psychotic pace – a two-dimensional anatomical drawing acquires sufficient volume to cast a man’s shadow and a circle of bathing beauties cues up for a pool sharp. To contemporary eyes, the language of Moholy-Nagy’s photo collages seems to foreshadow strategies common to the visual culture of cyberspace.

 

Unidentified maker. 'An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted' c. 1916

 

Unidentified maker
An Example of an Annotated Photograph with Local Names of Trenches Inserted
c. 1916
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum

 

During World War I, aerial photography progressed from a promising technological experiment to a crucial strategic operation. As advances in optics and engineering improved the capabilities of cameras and aircraft, military personnel learned to identify topographic features and man-made structures in the images recorded from above. Such training fundamentally altered the significance and practice of wartime reconnaissance. At the same time, the unusual perspective unique to aerial photography introduced a new dialect into the expanding corpus of modern visual language.

 

PhotoMetric Corporation, 1942-74 'PhotoMetric Tailoring' c. 1942-48

 

PhotoMetric Corporation, 1942-74
PhotoMetric Tailoring
c. 1942-48
Gelatin silver prints
George Eastman Museum

 

In an effort to streamline the field of custom tailoring, textile entrepreneur Henry Booth devised a method for obtaining measurements by photographing customers with a special camera and angled mirrors. The system was said to be foolproof, making it possible for any sales clerk to operate it. The resulting slides were sent to the manufacturer along with the customer’s order. A tailor translated the images into physical measurements using a geometric calculator, and the company mailed the finished garment to the customer.

 

 

III. Photographs in Sequence

Photography’s debut in the late 1830s happened to coincide with the birth of the modern comic strip. Ultimately the narrative photo sequence would lead to the innovations that gave rise to cinema, another form of storytelling altogether. Exact contemporaries of one another, Eadweard J. Muybridge in the United States and Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) in France both employed cameras to dissect human movement. Muybridge used a bank of cameras positioned to record a subject as it moved, tripping wires attached to the shutters. The result was a sequence of “stop-action” photographs that isolated gestures not otherwise visible in real time. Beginning in 1882, Marey pursued motion studies with a markedly different approach. In the works for which he is best known, he exposed one photographic plate multiple times at fixed intervals, recording the arc of movement in a single image.

 

Étienne Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904) 'Chronophotographic study of man pole vaulting' c. 1890

 

Étienne Jules Marey (French, 1830-1904)
Chronophotographic study of man pole vaulting
c. 1890
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Exchange with Narodni Technical Museum

 

Exact contemporaries, Muybridge and Marey (the former in the United States, the latter in France) both employed cameras to dissect human movement. Muybridge used a bank of cameras positioned and timed to record a subject as it moved, tripping wires attached to the shutters. The result was a sequence of “stop-action” photographs that isolated gestures not otherwise visible in real time. Beginning in 1882, Marey took a markedly different approach. In the works for which he is best known – such as the image of the man pole-vaulting – he exposed a single photographic plate multiple times at fixed intervals, recording the arc of movement in a single image. In Marey’s chronophotograph of a man on a horse, the action reads from bottom to top. The convention of arranging sequential photographic images from left to right and top to bottom, on the model of written elements on a page, was not yet firmly established.

 

William N. Jennings (American, b. England, 1860-1946) 'Notebook pages with photographs of lightning' c. 1887

 

William N. Jennings (American, b. England, 1860-1946)
Notebook pages with photographs of lightning
c. 1887
Gelatin silver prints mounted onto bound notepad paper
George Eastman Museum, Gift of 3M Foundation; Ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

 

With his first successful photograph of a lightning bolt on 2 September 1882, Jennings dispelled the then widely held belief – especially among those in the graphic arts – that lightning traveled toward the earth in a regular zigzag pattern. Instead, his images revealed that lightning not only assumed an astonishing variety of forms but that it never took the shape that had come to define it in art.

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Industriebauten' 1968

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007) Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015) 'Industriebauten' 1968

 

Bernd Becher (German, 1931-2007)
Hilla Becher (German, 1934-2015)
Industriebauten
1968
Gelatin silver prints in presentation box
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

The photographs in this portfolio were made only a few years into what would become the Bechers’ decades-long project of systematically documenting industrial architecture in Europe and the United States. The straightforward and rigidly consistent style of their work facilitates side-by-side comparison, revealing the singularity of structures that are typically understood to be generic.

 

 

IV. The Legible Object

Some photographs speak for themselves; others function as the amplifier for objects that can literally be read through the image. In her series Sorted Books, American artist Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968) composes statements by combining the titles of books drawn from the shelves of libraries and collections. Indian History for Young Folks, 2012, shows three books from the turn of the twentieth century that she found in the Delaware Art Museum’s M.G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings. The viewer’s eye silently provides punctuation: “Indian history for young folks: Our village; your national parks.” Though at first glance it appears merely to arrange words into legible order, Katchadourian’s oblique statement – half verbal, half visual – would be incomplete if divorced from the physical apparatus of the books themselves.

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870) Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848) 'The Artist and the Gravedigger (Denistoun Monument, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh)' c. 1845

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-1870)
Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-1848)
The Artist and the Gravedigger (Denistoun Monument, Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh)
c. 1845
Salted paper print from calotype negative
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alvin Langdon Coburn

 

Hill, his two nieces, and an unidentified man pose for the camera at the tomb of Robert Denistoun, a seventeenth-century Scottish ambassador. Contemplative poses helped the sitters hold still during the long exposure, even while turning them into sculptural extensions of the monument. Hill puts pen to paper, perhaps playing the part of a graveyard poet pondering mortality. Above him, the monument’s Latin inscription begins: “Behold, the world possesses nothing permanent!”

 

Robert Cumming (American, b. 1943) 'Submarine cross-section; feature film, "Gray Lady Down" - Stage #12, March 14, 1977' 1977

 

Robert Cumming (American, b. 1943)
Submarine cross-section; feature film, “Gray Lady Down” – Stage #12, March 14, 1977
1977
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Nash Editions

 

In the Studio Still Lifes he photographed on the backlots of Universal Studios, Cumming sought to portray the mechanisms behind cinema vision “in their real as opposed to their screen contexts.” Admiring yet subversive, his documents use strategies native to the still camera – distance, point of view, and clear-eyed testimony – to translate Hollywood’s familiar illusions into worksites where “marble is plywood, stone is rubber, . . . rooms seldom have ceilings, and when the sun shines indoors, it casts a dozen shadows.”

 

Nina Katchadourian (American, b. 1968) 'Indian History for Young Folks' 2012

 

Nina Katchadourian (American, b. 1968)
Indian History for Young Folks
2012
From Once Upon a Time in Delaware / In Quest of the Perfect Book
Chromogenic print
The Morgan Library Museum, Purchase, Photography Collectors Committee

 

In her ongoing series Sorted Books, Katchadourian composes statements by combining the titles of books from a given library – in this case, the M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings at the Delaware Art Museum. Though her compositions are driven by the need to arrange words in a legible order, Katchadourian’s oblique jokes, poems, and koans would be incomplete if divorced from the cultural information conveyed by the physical books themselves.

 

 

V. The Photograph Decodes Nature

As early as 1840, one year after photography’s invention was announced, scientists sought to deploy it in their analysis of the physical world. Combining the camera with the microscope, microphotographs recorded biological minutiae, leading to discoveries that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by observing subjects in real time. Similarly, the development of X-ray technology in 1895 allowed scientists to see and understand living anatomy to an unprecedented degree. Such innovations not only expanded the boundaries of the visible world but also introduced graphic concepts that would have a profound impact on visual culture. In other ways, too, nature has been transformed in human understanding through the interpretive filter of the lens, as seen in Sight Reading in the telescopic moon views of astronomers Maurice Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre Henri Puiseux (1855-1928) and in the spellbinding aerial abstractions of William Garnett (1916-2006).

 

William Garnett (American, 1916-2006) 'Animal Tracks on Dry Lake' 1955

 

William Garnett (American, 1916-2006)
Animal Tracks on Dry Lake
1955
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund

 

After making films for the U.S. Signal Corps during World War II, Garnett used GI-Bill funding to earn a pilot’s license. By the early 1950s, he had the field of artistic aerial landscape virtually to himself. This print, showing the ephemeral traces of wildlife movement on a dry lake bed, appeared in Diogenes with a Camera IV (1956), one in a series of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art that highlighted the great variety of ways in which artists used photography to invent new forms of visual truth.

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942) '"Tea Pot" Rock' 1870

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
“Tea Pot” Rock
1870
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Jackson made this photograph as a member of the survey team formed by Ferdinand V. Hayden to explore and document the territory now known as Yellowstone National Park. Hayden’s primary goal was to gather information about the area’s geological history, and Jackson’s photographs record with precision and clarity the accumulated layers of sediment that allow this natural landmark to be fit into a geological chronology. The human figure standing at the left of the composition provides information about the size of the rock, demonstrating that photographers have long recognized the difficulty of making accurate inferences about scale based on photographic images.

 

Dr. Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944) Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937) 'Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus)' 1896

 

Dr Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944)
Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937)
Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus)
1896
From the book Versuche über Photographie mittelst der Röntgen’schen Strahlen
Photogravure
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Eastman Kodak Company; Ex-collection of Josef Maria Eder

 

As early as 1840 – a year after photography’s invention was announced – scientists sought to deploy it in their analysis of the physical world. Combining the camera with the microscope, microphotographs recorded biological minutiae, leading to discoveries that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by observing subjects in real time. Similarly, the development of x-ray technology in 1895 allowed doctors to study living anatomy to an unprecedented degree. Such innovations not only expanded the boundaries of the visible world but also introduced graphic concepts that would have a profound impact on visual culture.

 

Dr James Deane (American, 1801-1858) 'Ichnographs from the Sandstone of Connecticut River' 1861

 

Dr James Deane (American, 1801-1858)
Ichnographs from the Sandstone of Connecticut River
1861
Book illustrated with 22 salted paper prints and 37 lithographs
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alden Scott Boyer

 

These photographs, which depict traces of fossils discovered in a sandstone quarry, illustrate a book written by Massachusetts surgeon James Deane, who was the author of texts on medicine as well as natural history. Published posthumously using his notes and photographs as a guide, the volume is an early demonstration of photography’s potential as a tool of scientific investigation.

 

 

VI. The Photograph Decodes Culture

The photograph not only changed but to a great extent invented the modern notion of celebrity. Modern-age celebrities live apart from the general public, but their faces are more familiar than those of the neighbors next door. Since the mid-nineteenth century, viewers have come to “know” the famous through accumulated photographic sightings, which come in formats and contexts that vary as much as real-life encounters do. In four images that would have communicated instantly to their intended viewers in 1966, Jean-Pierre Ducatez (b. 1970) portrayed the Beatles through closeups of their mouths alone. The graphic shorthand employed by Jonathan Lewis in his series The Pixles is of a more recent variety, but he, too, relies on the visual familiarity conferred by tremendous celebrity. Each print in the series reproduces the iconic art of a Beatles album cover at life size (12 x 12 inches) but extremely low resolution (12 x 12 pixels). Like celebrities themselves, perhaps, the images look more familiar to the eye at a distance than close-up.

 

Unidentified maker. 'U. S. Grant' c. 1862

 

Unidentified maker
U. S. Grant
c. 1862
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882) 'A Council of War at Massaponax Church, Va. 21st May, 1864. Gens. Grant and Meade, Asst. Sec. of War Dana, and Their Staff Officers' 1864

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, b. Ireland, 1840-1882)
A Council of War at Massaponax Church, Va. 21st May, 1864. Gens. Grant and Meade, Asst. Sec. of War Dana, and Their Staff Officers
1864
From the series Photographic Incidents of the War
Albumen silver print stereograph
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Albert Morton Turner

 

Modern celebrities live apart from the general public, yet their faces are more familiar than those of the neighbors next door. Since the mid-nineteenth century, viewers have come to “know” the famous through accumulated photographic sightings, which come in formats and contexts that vary as much as real-life encounters do. First as a Union hero in the American Civil War and later as president, Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) lived in the public imagination through news images, popular stereographs, campaign buttons, and ultimately the (photo-based) face on the $50 bill. Grant was even a subject for Francois Willème’s patented process for generating a sculpted likeness out of photographs made in the round – an early forerunner to the technology of 3-D printing.

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Abbey Road' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Abbey Road
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Please Please Me' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Please Please Me
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970) 'Rubber Soul' 2003

 

Jonathan Lewis (British, b. 1970)
Rubber Soul
2003
From The Pixles
Inkjet print
George Eastman Museum, By exchange with the artist

 

Synecdoche is a poetic device in which a part stands in for the whole. (In the phrase “three sails set forth,” sails mean ships.) In four images that would have communicated instantly to their intended viewers in 1966, Ducatez portrayed the Beatles solely through close-ups of their mouths. The graphic shorthand Lewis employs in his series The Pixles is of a more recent variety, though he, too, relies on the visual familiarity conferred by tremendous celebrity. Each print in the series reproduces a Beatles album cover at life size (12 x 12 inches) but extremely low resolution (12 x 12 pixels).

 

 

VII. Meaning is on the Surface

Photographs are not just windows onto the world but pieces of paper, which can themselves be inscribed or otherwise altered in ways that enrich or amend their meaning. The group portrait Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis (1920) is contact printed, meaning that the negative was the same size as the print. After the portrait sitting, the photographer appears to have presented the developed film to the sixty-four sitters for signing during the three days they were assembled for their convention. The result is a document that unites two conventional signifiers of character: facial features and the autograph.

 

Gravelle Studio, Indianapolis (American, active 1920) 'Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis' 1920

 

Gravelle Studio, Indianapolis (American, active 1920)
Joint Meeting of the Railway Surgeons Association, Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis
1920
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased as the gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Panoramic group portraits such as this are made using a banquet camera, which admits light through a narrow vertical slit while rotating on its tripod. This image was contact printed, meaning the negative was the same size as the print. The photographer appears to have presented the developed film to the sixty-four sitters for signing during the three days they were assembled. The result is a document that unites two conventional signifiers of character: facial features and the autograph.

 

Keith Smith (American, b. 1938) 'Book 151' 1989

 

Keith Smith (American, b. 1938)
Book 151
1989
Bound book of gelatin silver prints, thread, and leather
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

This unique object unites the arts of photography, quilting, and bookmaking. The composite image on each right-hand page appears to be made of prints cut apart and sewn together. In fact, Smith began by printing patchwork-inspired photomontages in the darkroom. He then stitched along many of the borders where abutting images meet, creating the illusion of a photographic crazy quilt.

 

 

VIII. Photography and the Page

News of the world took on a newly visual character in the 1880s, when the technology of the halftone screen made it practical, at last, to render photographs in ink on the printed page.

Among the earliest examples of photojournalism is Paul Nadar’s (1820-1910) “photographic interview” with Georges Ernest Boulanger, a once-powerful French politician. The article’s introduction explains that the photographs were printed alongside the text in order to provide evidence of the encounter and to illustrate Boulanger’s dynamic body language during the conversation.

 

Stephen Henry Horgan (American, 1854-1941) 'Shanty Town' April 1880

 

Stephen Henry Horgan (American, 1854-1941)
Shanty Town
April 1880
Photomechanical printing plate A Scene in Shantytown, New York, c. 1928
Lithograph
George Eastman Museum, Gift of 3M Foundation; Ex-collection of Louis Walton Sipley

 

Paul Nadar (French, 1856-1939) 'Interview with Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger' 1889

 

Paul Nadar (French, 1856-1939)
Interview with Georges Ernest Jean Marie Boulanger
1889
Le Figaro, 23 November 1889
Photomechanical reproduction
George Eastman Museum, gift of Eastman Kodak Company; ex-collection Gabriel Cromer

 

Among the earliest examples of photojournalism is Nadar’s “photographic interview” with Georges Ernest Boulanger, a once-powerful French politician who had fallen out of public favor by the time this was published. The article’s introduction explains that the photographs were printed alongside the text in order to provide evidence of the encounter and to illustrate Boulanger’s body language during the conversation.

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874–1940) 'Italian Family Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island' 1905

 

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874-1940)
Italian Family Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island
1905
Ellis Island Group, 1905
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee

 

In an effort to counter American xenophobia in the early years of the twentieth century, Hine photographed immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island, composing his images to stir sympathy and understanding among viewers. He understood the importance of disseminating his photographs and actively sought to publish them in newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets. The white outline in the photograph on the right instructs the designer and printer where to crop the image for a photomontage featuring figures from multiple portraits.

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'La Poupée' (Puppet) 1936

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
La Poupée (Puppet)
1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

John Heartfield (German, 1891-1968) 'Hurrah, die Butter ist alle!' (Hooray, the Butter Is Finished!) 1935

 

John Heartfield (German, 1891-1968)
Hurrah, die Butter ist alle! (Hooray, the Butter Is Finished!)
1935
Rotogravure
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

This is one of 237 photomontages that Heartfield created between 1930 and 1938 for the antifascist magazine Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (Worker’s Pictorial Newspaper). It is a parody of the “Guns Before Butter” speech in which Hermann G.ring exhorted German citizens to sacrifice necessities in order to aid the nation’s rearmament. The text reads: “Iron ore has always made an empire strong; butter and lard have at most made a people fat.” Heartfield combined details from several photographs to conjure the image of a German family feasting on tools, machine parts, and a bicycle in a swastika-laden dining room, complete with a portrait of Hitler, a framed phrase from a popular Franco-Prussian war-era song, and a throw pillow bearing the likeness of recently deceased president Paul von Hindenburg.

 

Unidentified maker. 'Certificate of Marriage between Daniel W. Gibbs and Matilda B. Pierce' c. 1874

 

Unidentified maker
Certificate of Marriage between Daniel W. Gibbs and Matilda B. Pierce
c. 1874
Tintypes in prepared paper mount
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Graphic cousins to one other, these wedding certificates are equipped with precut windows for photographs of the bride, groom, and officiant. The portraits, in partnership with the printed and inscribed text on the forms, contribute both to the documentary specificity of the certificates and to their value as sentimental souvenirs.

 

 

IX. Empire of Signs

The plethora of signs, symbols, and visual noise endemic to cities has attracted photographers since the medium’s invention. Their records of advertisers’ strident demands for attention, shopkeepers’ alluring displays, and the often dizzying architectural density of metropolitan life chronicle sights that are subject to change without notice. The photographer’s perspective on contemporary social life – whether it is anectodal, as in John Thompson’s (1837-1921) Street Advertising from Street Life in London (1877), or haunting, as in Eugène Atget’s (1857-1927) Impasse des Bourdonnais (ca. 1908) – is embedded in each image.

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Street Advertising' 1877

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Street Advertising
1877
From Street Life in London, 1877
Woodburytype
George Eastman Museum, Gift of Alden Scott Boyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Street Advertising' 1877

 

Eugène Atget (French, 1857-1927)
Impasse des Bourdonnais
c. 1908
Albumen silver print
George Eastman Museum, Purchase

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971) 'At the Time of the Louisville Flood' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman Museum

 

The plethora of signs, symbols, and visual noise endemic to cities has attracted photographers since the medium’s invention. Their records of advertisers’ strident demands for attention, shopkeepers’ alluring displays, and the often dizzying architectural density of metropolitan life chronicle sights that are subject to change without notice. The photographer’s perspective on contemporary social life – whether it is ironic, as in Margaret Bourke-White’s image of a line of flood victims before a billboard advertising middle-class prosperity, or bemused, as in Ferenc Berko’s photograph of columns of oversized artificial teeth on the street – is embedded in each image.

 

Ferenc Berko (American, b. Hungary, 1916-2000) 'Rawalpindi, India' 1946

 

Ferenc Berko (American, b. Hungary, 1916-2000)
Rawalpindi, India
1946
Gelatin silver print
George Eastman House, Gift of Katharine Kuh

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) 'New York 6' 1951

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
New York 6
1951
Gelatin silver print
The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Richard and Ronay Menschel

 

Alex Webb (American, b. 1952) 'India' 1981

 

Alex Webb (American, b. 1952)
India
1981
Chromogenic development print
George Eastman Museum, Purchased with funds from Charina Foundation

 

 

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016-3405
Tel: (212) 685-0008

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Thursday: 10.30 am – 5 pm
Friday: 10.30 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am – 6 pm

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18
Nov
11

Essay: ‘Now you see it, now you don’t: the history and conservation of The Keith Haring Mural, Johnston Street, Collingwood, Melbourne,’ by Dr Marcus Bunyan

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In response to the polemic article “Brushed aside: artistic landmark must return to 1980s glory” by Hannah Mathews in The Age newspaper on November 17th, 2011 I feel compelled to offer a more balanced appraisal of the problems regarding the conservation and preservation of the Keith Haring Mural painted on a wall of the former Collingwood Technical School in Collingwood, Melbourne.

I was not going to publish this essay but now the time is right!

As I note in the essay Haring’s attitude to repainting seems to be at best ambiguous. As several people advocate, I support building a wall perpendicular to the original and painting a facsimile on the new wall. As the original is one of few remaining outdoor murals in the artists hand, I believe it is important to conserve what we have left of the original and painting a simulacra would satisfy those that want a “fresh” copy.

This essay is based on my own question, namely an investigation into the deterioration of a public work of art; the stabilisation of an ephemeral work; the role of the conservator in preserving the work; and the broader cultural perspectives involved when treating the work: reflections on the community from which it originates and notions of ownership and authorship. It was completed as part of my Master of Art Curatorship being undertaken at The University of Melbourne.

Please remember that this essay was written last year in September 2010, before the report from Arts Victoria and was then recently updated. Many thankx to Dr Ted Gott and to Andrew Thorn for their knowledge and help during the research for this essay.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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PS. Apologies that there are no image credits in the essay. If anyone knows the photographers please let me know and I will post but I hope they do not mind me using the photographs (in the interests of art, research and conservation).

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Abstract

This essay will examine the history and conservation of The Keith Haring Mural painted on a wall of the former Collingwood Technical School in Collingwood, Melbourne. The essay will attempt to identify the issues involved with current attempts to conserve the mural, including issues of authorship, custodianship vs ownership, stabilisation of the mural and the debate between repainting and conserving. This essay is based on my own question, namely an investigation into the deterioration of a public work of art; the stabilisation of an ephemeral work; the role of the conservator in preserving the work; and the broader cultural perspectives involved when treating the work: reflections on the community from which it originates and notions of ownership and authorship.

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Keywords

Keith Haring, Collingwood Technical School, Collingwood, Melbourne, painting, mural, public art, urban art, graffiti, Ted Gott, Andrew Thorn, THREAD, gay art group, homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, New York, National Gallery of Victoria, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Arts Victoria.

Word count: 5,056

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Introduction

In the early 1980s, New York artist and social activist Keith Haring (4th May, 1958 – 16th February, 1990) was on the brink of fame. He appeared at the Whitney Biennial and Sao Paulo Biennale in 1983 and made friendships with Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.1 Haring was also gay; he died of HIV/AIDS at a young age. His folk art/graffiti style of bold figures and pagan inspired designs outlined in black and other colours investigated concepts of birth, life, death, power, money, technology and the relationship of human beings to the planet on which they live. Haring never feared confronting his viewer with difficult socio-political problems. Embedded in the street culture of the day, Haring was one of the first artists to be heavily influenced by disco dancing and rap music, his ghetto blaster blaring out as he painted his trademark murals. Today his work can be seen to represent the quintessential essence of the 1980s: through its use of colour; the vibrancy of the gyrating bodies; and the topicality of the issues the work addressed. His imagery “has become a widely recognized visual language of the 20th century”2 and his work represents a culture in which “notions of graffiti, advertising and design became increasingly blurred.”3

Early expressions of his creativity that are precursors to his mature style were the chalk drawings on black paper that Haring undertook in the subway stations of New York, using vacant advertising spaces. These drawings were made using quickness and stealth for fear of being caught and were ephemeral; either being destroyed when the next advert was pasted in place or, when his fame became greater, souvenired by acolytes.

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Keith Haring
Barking Dogs and Spaceships and Angels and Coyotes
both 1982

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“Riding the subway from his uptown apartment to the clubs, Haring noticed black paper hanging next to advertisements in the cars, awaiting the next ad. He used this opportunity to draw in chalk on the black paper with all sorts of childlike imagery: barking dogs, babies, unisex figures, spaceships, TV sets, etc. The outline style of imagery could be appreciated individually as cartoon cels or together to form a narrative. The subway drawings magnify Haring’s cartoons into a new Pop Art that at once was urban narrative, science fiction and hieroglyphics. These subway drawings initiated his first one man shows.”4

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As Ted Gott has commented, “… Haring was seen as revolutionary, around 1981, for the manner in which he mastered the freedom and fluidity of the graffiti artists’ calligraphic defacement of public property, and catapulted it over into a mainstream artistic form. By presenting the visual language of one social class in the medium [paint on canvas] and milieus [commercial art galleries] of another elite class, Haring broke the rules then prescribed by the art world…”5

Into this context of rising fame came John Buckley, inaugural Director of Melbourne’s new Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA, later called the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, or ACCA).6  Buckley met Haring in 1982 on a research visit to New York and invited him to Australia. After organizing various grants to fund the trip, Haring arrived for a three-week visit. He was in Australia from 18th February to 8th March 1984 and completed three major projects (The Water Wall mural at The National Gallery of Victoria, the mural painted in the forecourt of The Art Gallery of New South Wales and the mural painted on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School).7 During this period he also completed other smaller works (such as a piece for the Hardware Club in Melbourne and the Glamorgan preparatory school, part of Geelong Grammar School), as well as thirteen large exhibition-quality ink drawings and four acrylic paintings.8 The latter were eventually used in the exhibition Keith Haring at ACCA’s new premises in Melbourne between 10th October – 17th November, 1985,9 and then returned to the artist by John Buckley. Some confusion exists in this matter as Haring states in his biography that his Australian experience wasn’t that hot and that he felt ripped off because the paintings he left in Australia were never returned to him, that there had never been any exhibition of his work and that the work had never been paid for.10

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Keith Haring Water Wall Mural at The National Gallery of Victoria, later destroyed

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Since ACCA had not secured a physical home at the time of the arrival of Haring (later to be in the Botanical Gardens), Buckley arranged for Haring to paint a large mural on the inside of the water wall at The National Gallery of Victoria between 21st – 22nd February 1984. Haring then travelled to Sydney and painted the AGNSW mural between 28th February – 1st March 1984 before returning to Melbourne and painting the mural at The Collingwood Technical School in one day on Tuesday 6th March 1984.11 While the first two murals were intentionally impermanent (the Water Wall was supposed to last 3 months but was destroyed by vandalism just 2 weeks after its creation,12 Haring mistakenly believing that it was attacked as a protest against the mistaken belief that he had appropriated Aboriginal motifs in its composition13 and the AGNSW mural was painted over after one month to make way for the Biennale exhibition of 1984),14 the community based project in Collingwood would become Haring’s only large, permanent evidence of his visit to Australia:

“In his interview given at the Collingwood Technical School immediately upon completion of the project on 6 March 1984, Keith Haring said about the Collingwood mural: “I had fun. I mean, it’s the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here. It’s more fun working here than it is inside a museum. [and] It’s the only permanent thing that I did while I was in Australia.”“15

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Keith Haring painting The Keith Haring Mural, Johnston Street, Collingwood, Melbourne, 1984

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The painting of The Keith Haring Mural, Johnston Street, Collingwood, Melbourne, 1984

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“The base tint of yellow was painted onto the wall with rollers by Collingwood Technical School staff on Monday 5 March 1984,”16 the day before Haring’s ‘performance’ when he painted the mural in just two main colours, red and green, in front of a large audience; the performance was photographed and videotaped giving us unique footage of the artist at work.17 The mural features a multi-layered frieze of dancing figures in the lower half of the mural and his fear of technology in the upper half, a “hybrid man/computer monster, his vision of a future de-humanising evolution, which was ridden by two human figures …”18

In all three murals the work was undertaken freehand with no use of preparatory drawings or grids using ladders and a cherry-picker to raise and lower the artist into position – all to the blare of his ghetto blaster. For Haring there was no turning back: “Whatever marks I make are immediately recorded and immediately on view. There are no “mistakes” because nothing can be erased.”19

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Significance of the Mural

According to the Statement of Significance on the Heritage Council of Victoria database, “The Mural has historical and social significance as the work of a major artist. Keith Haring is considered one of the most significant artists of his generation. As a role model for gay artists and Aids activism his influence was international.

The Keith Haring Mural is of social significance as a landmark piece of public art in Melbourne. Its prominent inner city location is indicative of the changing physical and social landscape of a former working class suburb.

The Mural is also of social significance for its influence on young artists for its inner city setting and use of popular culture themes and imagery.”20

Emily Sharpe states that the mural may also be the last surviving extant [outdoor] mural in the world painted entirely by his hand,21 although this information is contradicted by The Haring Foundation in a quotation later in the essay (see the section ‘To restore or conserve?’ below, Footnote 49).

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Keith Haring mural on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School in 2010 (painted 1984)

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Issues in Conservation

During the period 1994 – 1995 a recently formed gay art group in Melbourne called THREAD (of which I was a part, the acronym of which is now lost to my memory) became concerned about the deterioration of the Keith Haring mural on the side of the Collingwood Technical School in Johnston Street, Collingwood. The group tried to engage the city of Yarra (the inner Melbourne municipality where the mural is located) and other organizations (The National Trust) about the possibility of repainting the mural due to the importance of the mural and its painting by an internationally renowned gay artist. Basically, as conservator Andrew Thorn succinctly puts it, “to repaint the mural on the basis of identity giving ownership.”22

While the intentions of the group were entirely honourable in such a proposal, on reflection and with the passing of the years, being older and wiser, I realise the error of our ways. While acknowledging that the group probably did want to take ownership of the mural on the basis of sexual identity at the time I think the group was just motivated by a desire to get something to happen and we did at least succeed in starting a dialogue between those that had an interest in conserving the mural. One of the problems was that none of us had conservation experience and, as Tom Dixon noted in a phone call to him about the mural,23  the representation of the group was never consistent as it was always a different person that you were talking to.

The profile of the mural was also raised through newspaper articles: “A series of newspaper articles drew attention to the vexed issues around its historic significance and increasing deterioration; these articles formed an important research component of the subsequent classification report” (The book in which this article is quoted incorrectly states that students helped Haring paint the mural – see p.146).24 These concerns eventually led to the stabilisation of the mural by conservator Andrew Thorn in 1996 and its listing by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) (NTAV) in 1997. During the treatment of the mural in 1996 Thorn undertook various conservation treatments, namely cleaning of the paint surface (including removal of stains), paint consolidation (fine cracking and detachments within the red paint and reattachment of the yellow paint), reattachments of lower render due to rising damp, consolidation and protection of the paint film with a protective coating system and reintegration of small areas of loss. A proposal for future maintenance was envisaged that included regular inspections, maintenance and care,25 but unfortunately it would seem that this maintenance has not been undertaken. In a recent report (2007) on the condition of the mural Thorn notes that, “insipient deterioration can be avoided, but if regular maintenance is not continued, the painting will be lost.”26 Thorn also notes that the resin gloss layer applied in 1996 to prevent AO (anti-oxidant) and UV (ultraviolet) deterioration “shows clear signs of degradation,” and should have been reapplied at 5 yearly intervals to maintain effectiveness.27 The report also notes that the yellow ground has become paler since 1996, the eroded reds need consolidation, the rising moisture is having a greater effect on the surface than previously and the green brushstrokes are beginning to show signs of loss.28

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Keith Haring mural on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School in 2010 detail (painted 1984)

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Ownership or custodianship

I support the concept of custodianship (or shared ownership) of a work of art rather than ownership per se. I believe that many people have a stake in the cultural value of a work of art and that custodianship, being a caretaker of the work, engages with the idea that the work belongs to everyone and that everyone should have access to enjoy it. Of course being gay offers a close affinity to the work of Keith Haring but, as Andrew Thorn notes, “that does not impart greater ownership of common property or of visual arts and imagery. It does give some ownership but not the right to snatch ownership from others.”29

In a separate email he continues, “At the same time it is necessary in giving ownership to wrest it from those that have claims and this process requires substantial diplomacy. It moves ownership from exclusive to shared. Ownership and identity are good and necessary things and if a work or an artist provides inspiration and support that is not to be denigrated and must be respected … Claiming of ownership is not an aggressive act but part of belonging and identity … It is necessary to engage in a community spirit to ensure a highly significant work and its maker are treated with the respect they deserve.”30

While the earlier attempts by the THREAD group could be seen as an attempt to obtain cultural ownership I acknowledge that this position is untenable. It must be a difficult task – the diplomacy of negotiating with all vested interests. But as Thorn rightly notes this comes down to the modern democratic process, the freedom to elect decision makers – not make the decisions themselves but delegate the responsibility to elected others. We must possess the ability to respect anybody’s relationship and enjoyment of the mural as much as we should respect Thorn’s professional judgment as an internationally renowned conservator to ensure this work is protected in the best possible way so that future generations can enjoy the work.

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Keith Haring mural on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School in 2010 detail (painted 1984)

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The conservator and the cultural landscape

The conservation of artefacts is an integral part of the cultural landscape. The nature of the cultural landscape is a fluid environment: a palimpsest where the authorship of the original work of art is a textual site, where “change (and decay), alteration, editing, revision and restoration represent the true life of objects.”31

“The document is the textual site where the agents of textuality meet: author, copyist, editor, typesetter and reader.” In art and architecture there would be, besides artist and architect, builders, conservators, curators, preservationists, historians, viewers and users.”32 Embedded within the work are the memory and history of the object, within culture. Conservator Andrew Thorn observes, “It is a societal need to preserve the past and keep it for the future. Far more pragmatic issues dominate the profession [that of conservation] and unlike some contemporary art practice it does not need the props of modernist theory in any form to exist.”33

I beg to differ. Conservation exists only within culture. It is embedded within it and linked to the history and memory of the object. The nature of the cultural landscape and our heritage is a constitutive process: “an approach to heritage which understands it not as an object which is the static locus of some internal value, but as a process.”34 And that process invokes the social, cultural, economic and political contexts that include the act of interpretation and the concept of representation.

Laurajane Smith argues that, “heritage is heritage because it is subjected to the management and preservation/ conservation process, not because it simply ‘is’. The process does not just ‘find’ sites and places to manage and protect. It is itself a constitutive cultural process that identifies those things and places that can be given meaning and value as ‘heritage’, reflecting contemporary and cultural social values, debates and aspirations.”35 Gibson and Pendlebury unpack this statement further:

“In the first and most obvious sense, it follows from this position that there is nothing self-apparent or given about regimes of value and significance, rather these frameworks are specific to our particular social, cultural, economic and political contexts. Drawing on the anthropologist Marcel Mauss’s famous proscription on the cultural and historical specificity of contemporary personhood, objects, building and places are ‘formulated’ as heritage ‘only for us, amongst us’.”36

The value of an object cannot exist without reference to its historicity, its relationship to everything and everyone around us and conservation needs these frameworks of theory to have existence. As Foucault notes, “The space in which we live, which draws us out of ourselves, in which the erosion of our lives, our time and our history occurs, the space that claws and gnaws at us, is also, in itself, a heterogeneous space. In other words, we do not live in a kind of void, inside of which we could place individuals and things. We do not live inside a void that could be colored with diverse shades of light, we live inside a set of relations that delineates sites which are irreducible to one another and absolutely not superimposable on one another.”37

Complementary to Foucault’s notion of a set of relations that delineates sites and heterotopic spaces is how Janet Wolff positions these sites, these texts, within a sociology of cultural production:

“…the meaning which audiences ‘read’ in texts and other cultural products is partly constructed by those audiences. Cultural codes, including language itself, are complex and dense systems of meaning, permeated by innumerable sets of connotations and significations. This means that they can be read in different ways, with different emphases, and also in a more or less critical or detached frame of mind. In short, any reading of any cultural product is an act of interpretation … the way in which we ‘translate’ or interpret particular works is always determined by our own perspective and our own position in ideology. This means that the sociology of art cannot simply discuss ‘the meaning’ of a novel or painting, without reference to the question of who reads or sees it, and how. In this sense, a sociology of cultural production must be supplemented with, and integrated into, a sociology of cultural reception.”38

I understand that the conservator is not an editor (and here I am not abrogating the right of conservators to conserve, far from it). What I am proposing, however, is that an acknowledgment of the many voices that constitute the life and memory of an object, including the post-structuralist theory that analyses these histories and interpretations, be included in the negotiations with all parties and stakeholders. This perspective also acknowledges the changing contexts of interpretation of the Keith Haring Mural as it becomes ever more precious as one of the few outdoor murals left in the world painted in the author’s hand.

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Keith Haring mural on the side of the former Collingwood Technical School in 2010 (painted 1984)

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To restore or conserve?

“The painting can be preserved and not fade or deteriorate further if the recommendations of my 1996 and 2010 reports are adhered to. If you think this is not true you need to provide the evidence … it is assumed you respect my professional judgement in ensuring this work is protected in the best possible way so that all people can enjoy the masterpiece painted by Keith Haring as far into the future as possible. Over painting the mural ends the work of Keith Haring on that day.”39

The vexatious issue of restoring or conserving the Keith Haring mural has been an ongoing source of debate since the early attempts by the THREAD group to have the work “restored” (i.e. over painted) in the mid-1990s. Haring’s attitude to repainting seems to be at best ambiguous. The statement of significance of the mural when listed by The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) in 1997 notes that,

“Crucial to the fate of the mural and, given its exposure to the elements, is whether the artist himself would have accepted the deterioration of the mural or have condoned some form of restoration. Haring’s own feelings appear to have been ambivalent in the matter. In favour of restoring the mural i.e., repainting – is the fact that the simplistic three colour design devoid of subtle harmonies would not present serious problems in restoring it to its original condition. Opinion appears to be divided regarding the moral considerations in the matter and even the Estate of Keith Haring is unclear in this matter.”40

John Buckley “recalls a conversation with Haring who, with a characteristic lack of preciousness, said that the mural could, when needed, just be repainted by any good signwriter”41 but Andrew Thorn disputes this interpretation noting that “Keith talked about the continuity of his work. What Buckley stated contradicts the attitude presented by Haring throughout his biography. Another point to consider here is that Keith died within 6 years of completing the painting and I am certain beyond doubt that the condition of the painting even after 6 years would have been more or less pristine. There is no indication throughout the last two years of his life that Keith had any concern for his made works and that his declining health and the pain associated with that allowed him little time to consider anything other than his current work and failing health. If Buckley provides evidence of a friendship that Keith denies in his biography I for one would re-assess the intention of the artist.”42

This brings up the thorny issue of the ephemerality of street art. “Art academic Chris McAuliffe expressed his view regarding the impermanence of this work, arguing that ‘… as graffiti, it should be left to fade … If you subject it to conservation procedures then you transpose graffiti into a realm that it was opposed to. You make it art’.”43 Personally I believe that all street art, whether officially sanctioned (like the Keith Haring mural) or not, is art. Distinction can only be made between street art/graffiti (not necessarily officially sanctioned: think the early chalk drawings of Haring or the street art of Banksy) and vandalism or tagging. Perhaps ephemerality is inherently built into street art, that documentation is enough to substantiate the life of the work, but that does not mean we have to sit by and let work be defaced or fade away without attempts at conservation.

According to Donna Wheeler there is an “unbreachable divide” between the two camps of Haring devotees. “Those on the conservatorial side see the mural as a cultural artefact, one that contains the artist’s rare and authentic touch evidenced in each singular brushstroke; they advocate a commitment to preservation, or stabilisation, with the caveat that even with their best efforts, the mural will continue to fade and eventually cease to exist. The Haring Foundation, and many others, including several curators and Haring’s original Australian contact, John Buckley, are hoping to restore, or more accurately, repaint the work, claiming that this would most closely follow Haring’s wishes. Yes, the original paint and brushstrokes would be forever lost, but Haring’s intent, creative vision and integral design will live on, in all its jellybean vibrancy.”44

I disagree with the stance taken by those that wish to repaint the mural. The hand of the author would be lost and the mural would simply become a simulacra of the original, a sign value that is an illusion of reality, a repainting purporting to “look like” the original but actually nothing like it.45 Support for this stance are the photographs of the original Crack is Wack (1986) mural painted by Keith Haring and the over painted mural photographs shown by Andrew Thorn at the public forum into the future of the mural in April 2010.46 In this presentation Thorn, “illustrated the losses inherent with repainting and also showed that the most iconic Haring mural ‘Crack is Wack’, is not the painting that Haring is photographed in front of the day he completed it.”47

Thorn states, “I support making a new copy of the painting, I just believe it should not devalue the original. Repainting over the original destroys the original work by Keith Haring. What you have is a copy and an irretrievable original, that is to say you have destroyed the work of Keith Haring. This is against the law administered by Heritage Victoria and devalues the work monetarily. This may seem an odd point to raise but becomes more significant when one considers the copyright act in relation to artists and their rights. The law there clearly states that any action that devalues a work or diminishes the artist’s reputation is a violation of the copyright act. The Haring Foundation need to be aware of this international law and particularly in the context of the ‘Crack is Wack’ no longer being the work of Keith Haring and thereby diminishing his reputation by deception.”

In reply the Haring Foundation note that, “the ONLY Haring mural that was completely repainted was the Crack is Wack mural in NYC, due to it’s absolutely dreadful condition. It, too, is a landmark and highly valued by its community, and while no longer the original, it most definitely remains a Keith Haring mural. There are several outdoor murals that are untouched: Tuttomondo in Pisa (cleaned only); Necker Hospital in Paris; murals in Amsterdam and Phoenix, AZ. Numerous outdoor murals were only cleaned and lightly repaired and there are over a dozen indoor murals in public institutions that are untouched …

The Haring Foundation does not always recommend a complete repainting, that would be silly. But the awful condition of the Collingwood mural is similar to that of ‘Crack is Wack’ and therefore the Foundation does highly recommend that it be repainted. Further to ‘Crack is Wack’, when Keith originally painted it, he had no permission, and so was required by the city to paint it out, completely covering over his first version. Shortly thereafter, he was granted permission by the city, and the second version he painted was different from the first version. Keith’s first version is often reproduced in books and catalogs and this has led to the utterly incorrect assumption that the Haring Foundation actually destroyed his first version and replaced it with something completely different over it. Not true.”49

While it is correct that Haring returned on the following day and painted a second version, not a copy of the first, conservator Andrew Thorn states that, “Since his death in 1990, the west painting has been repainted with imagery not resembling either of the two original Haring works … and this has in turn been reapplied more or less faithfully in 2007. This last painting, the one currently visible, is the fourth in the series and bears no resemblance to either of the two original works … The current painting appears not to be the work of Keith Haring, but continues to be considered his signature outdoor work … Haring may have painted the third image, but there is no record of this … The third and seemingly anonymous rendition continues the overall message but with new iconography, and appears not to be the work of Keith Haring.”50

Thorn supports the painting of a facsimile, a replica of the original, as does artist and academic Dr Megan Evans: “I think the best option is to preserve it [the original] and then do a replica nearby which is done in honour of the Haring work. I think this would be more interesting conceptually also as to have a repainted work is like covering up the mark of the past and to make a facsimile is to recreate it in a contemporary context.”51 I agree with the concept of making a facsimile positioned close to the original. Perhaps this could be completed on a new wall that is perpendicular to the original wall that the mural is painted on. Of course the pertinent question would be the permissions needed to erect such a wall, the cost of its construction, the cost of painting the new mural and its upkeep.

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Keith Haring
Crack is Wack
as completed by Haring in 1986 (1st version, now overpainted)

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Current Crack is Wack
painted after 1990

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Now you see it, now you don’t

This brings me to my final point: now you see it, now you don’t. While I must take at face value the assertion by Andrew Thorn that the mural can be preserved and not fade or deteriorate further if the recommendations of his 1996 and 2010 reports are adhered to, and while I respect his professional judgment in that statement, unfortunately past experience (i.e. the lack of maintenance of the mural between 1996, the year of the last stabilisation, and now) tells me that the mural will continue to deteriorate and fade unless a specific and regular maintenance plan is financially funded and put in place. Donna Wheeler observes that the mural “is but a shadow of its former self”52 and I agree with this assertion. I was shocked to see the mural when visiting it recently compared to how I remember it in 1996 (ah, memory!). Though still an original Haring, it is pale and wane, almost an imitation of itself (and that is an irony in itself), and it made me sad to see the mural in this condition, as I remember how vibrant it was back in the early 1990s.

“According to ACCA curator Hannah Mathews, when the mural was last stabilised in 1996, it was estimated that a tiny sum of A$200 ($178) was needed annually to maintain the work. A combination of factors including pollution and time has left the mural in its current degraded state. Some estimate that it could cost around A$25,000 ($22,000) to stabilise, with an additional A$1,000 ($900) a year for maintenance. Although the issue of whether to repaint the mural is up for debate, all parties agree that the work needs stabilisation as soon as possible to prevent further surface lifting and cracking of the paint … Yarra mayor Jane Garrett said … “Following the forum [Yarra Talking Art forum: “The Keith Haring Mural: yesterday, today, tomorrow” on 29th April 2010 held in Collingwood], [the] Council [is setting up] a working group, which will seek to include representatives from Skills Victoria, Heritage Victoria, the arts community and other stakeholders, to discuss the mural’s future and come to a consensus on the most appropriate way to preserve it.”53

All parties need to agree and as quickly as possible. While Haring was quite happy to send his work out into the world for the enjoyment of all it would be a disservice to his memory and his status as an internationally renowned artist to have the only Haring mural in Australia deteriorate further. Time is of the essence. As Mark Holsworth on his Melbourne Art & Culture Critic blog insightfully opines, “Street art is not the property of the street artists – it belongs to everyone. Even if the artist intends for the art to be ephemeral there is no reason for their wishes to be carried out; the person giving the gift does not get to determine how the gift is used.”54

In the final analysis everyone needs to come to consensus about the future of the Keith Haring Mural for without proper conservation and maintenance it will truly be a case of now you see it, no you don’t.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Endnotes

1. Keith Haring on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 25/09/2010 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Haring

2. Ibid.,

3. Gott, Ted. “Fragile Memories: Keith Haring and the Water Window Mural at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Art Bulletin of Victoria Vol. 43. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, p.8.

4. “Keith Haring New York,” on the Woodward Gallery website [Online] Cited 25/09/2010
www.woodwardgallery.net/exhibitions/ex-haring-newyork.html

5. Gott, Ted. Op cit., pp.7-8.

6. Gott, Ted. Op cit., p.8.

7. Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Draft of a paper given at a Keith Haring Public Forum, Collingwood, 29th April 2010 by Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, National Gallery of Victoria.

8. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. “Keith Haring in Australia.” in Art and Australia, v.39, no.4, June-July-Aug 2002: (560)-567. ISSN: 0004-301X. [Online] Cited 09 August 2010.
search.informit.com.au.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/fullText;dn=200205608;res=APAFT

9. Buckley, John. “Keith Haring” exhibition catalogue. Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), 1985.

10. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.564. See also Footnote 15 and Gruen, John. Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1991, p.113.

11. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit.,

12. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.562. See also Footnote 10 and Footnote 15. “Vandals,” Herald, Saturday 10th March 1984, p.1; “Vandals smash gallery pane,” The Age, Monday 12th March , 1984, p,19.

13. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., Footnote 15 and Gruen, John. Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1991, p.113.

14. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.564.

15. Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Op cit.,

16. Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Op cit.,

17. Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Op cit.,

18. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.566. See also Gott, Ted. Keith Haring’s Collingwood Mural. Op cit.,

“Uniquely, we have a surviving record of Keith Haring’s own interpretation of the Collingwood mural, revealed during an interview conducted with the artist shortly after the painting’s completion on Tuesday 6 March 1984. There Keith Haring noted how: “What’s going on in the bottom is about – I mean, all these people are doing different things, right? Some of them are like dancing, like rap dancing, or acrobatics.  Some of them are almost like they are fighting. But the way they are all together means that they can’t – I mean, if one of them comes out, the whole thing falls down. So they sort of depend on all of them to make it work. So it’s sort of like society or whatever, where the world only works when lots of individuals do their part, right?

The thing at the top is, I guess, the impending doom or impending possibility of technological … the confrontation between technology and the human element, which is still holding up the technology, and based on the technology. But it sort of takes a semi-circle in evolution, where people evolved up to a certain point, and now they’ve evolved so far that they’ve invented a computer or a machine to evolve further. And the computer is maybe evolving more than people were. So it’s about that sort of confrontation, I guess.”

19. Gott, Ted and Sullivan, Lisa. Op. cit., p.562. See also Footnote 8 and Haring, Keith. “Keith Haring,” in Flash Art, No. 116, March 1984, p.22.

20. Anon. “Keith Haring Mural: Statement of Significance,” on Heritage Council of Victoria database [Online] Cited 04/10/2010.
http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/#detail_places;12532

21. Sharpe, Emily. “Saving Keith Haring Down Under: Melbourne work is last surviving wall painting by the late artist’s own hand,” on The Art Newspaper website. Published online 08/06/2010. Cited 06/08/2010.
www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Saving-Keith-Haring-Down-Under/20920

22. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 24/08/2010.

23. Dixon, Tom. Member of the Public Art Committee of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) (NTAV). Telephone conversation with the author 26/08/2010. The Public Art Committee considers murals, mosaics, and sculptures; and such works can be found in parks and reserves, public streets, squares and buildings; and publicly accessible parts of privately owned buildings.

24. Masterson, Andrew “Off the wall art,” in The Age. Melbourne: Summer Age supplement. December 27th, 1994, p.4-5 quoted in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. “Values not Shared: The Street Art of Melbourne’s City Laneways,” chapter in Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.146.

25. Thorn, Andrew. “Conservation Treatment Report.” The Keith Haring Mural Johnston Street, Collingwood. Final Report prepared for Northern Institute, 1997.

26. Thorn, Andrew. “Review of Condition and Treatment.” The Keith Haring Mural Johnston Street, Collingwood. Prepared for City of Yarra, 2007, p.1.

27. Ibid., p.2.

28. Ibid., p.3-5.

29. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

30. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 24/08/2010.

31. McCaughy, Patrick. Review of “Securing the Past: Conservation in Art, Architecture and Literature” by Paul Eggert in The Australian, December 02, 2009. [Online] Cited 12/06/2010.
www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/securing-the-past-conservation-in-art-architecture-and-literature/story-e6frg8nf-1225805907660

32. Ibid.,

33. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

34. Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.72.

35. Smith, Laurajane. Uses of Heritage. Oxford: Routledge, 2006, p.3 (italics in original) quoted in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.72.

36. Mauss, Marcel. “A category of the human mind: The notion of person; the notion of self,” in Carrithers, M, Collins, S and Lukes, S (eds.,). The Category of the Person: Anthropology, Philosophy, History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, p.22, cited in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.72.

37. Foucault, Michel. Of Other Spaces (1967), “Heterotopias.” Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986), pp.22-27.

38. Wolff, Janet. The Social Production of Art. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1993, p.97.

39. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

40. National Trust of Australia (Victoria). Classification Report for ‘Keith Haring Mural’, Johnston Street, Collingwood, File numer 6675. Extract from Statement of Significance, 4th August 1997 quoted in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. “Values not Shared: The Street Art of Melbourne’s City Laneways.” Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.146.

41. Wheeler, Donna. “When Keith Came To Town,” on Holiday Goddess, Female-Friendly Travel website. [Online] Cited 06/08/2010.
holidaygoddess.com/destinations/pacific/australia/keith-haring-mural-collingwood/

42. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

43. McAuliffe, Chris quoted in Masterson, Andrew “Off the wall art,” in The Age. Melbourne: Summer Age supplement. December 27th, 1994, p.4-5 quoted in Gibson, Lisanne and Pendlebury, John R. Valuing historic environments. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009, p.72.

44. Op. cit.,

45. See Tseëlon, E. The Masque of Femininity: The Representation of Women in Everyday Life. London: Sage, 1995, p.128.

46. Yarra Talking Arts forum. “The Keith Haring mural: yesterday, today, tomorrow.” Thursday 29th April, 2010.

47. Thorn, Andrew. Email to the author. 23/08/2010.

48. Ibid.,

49. Gruen, Julia. “Save the Keith Haring Mural” web page on Facebook [Online] Cited 21/11/2011
www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=117064188315110&ref=ts

50. Thorn, Andrew. “Another Red Haring,” keynote paper presented at the International Council of Museums Conservation Committee  (ICOMCC) triennial Conference, Lisbon, October 2011

51. Evans, Megan. Email to the author. 08/09/2010.

52. Wheeler, Donna Op cit.,

53. Sharpe, Emily Op cit.,

54. Holsworth, Mark. “Another Banksy Gone,” on Melbourne Art & Culture Critic blog. [Online] Cited 06/10/2010.
melbourneartcritic.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/another-banksy-gone/

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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