Arts History Update for early April 2016

26 Mar

Arts History Update for early April 2016 by David Cummins

Elmgreen & Dragset sculptural artists in Berlin Germany were commissioned to emplace Van Gogh’s Ear (2016) at the entrance to the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center on Fifth Avenue at W. 49th Street in New York City. The sculpture is a 1950s style swimming pool emplaced vertically on a pedestal. The installation will be up from April 13 to June 3, 2016.

This spring, artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset will transform the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center with a large-scale new work. Van Gogh’s Ear is a sculpture, which takes the form of a swimming pool sitting upright.

Elmgreen & Dragset’s 9-meter (30-foot) high, empty swimming pool stands upright on its shortest side, supported by a visible construction on its backside. It appears almost like a ready-made, displayed as if “for sale in a showroom.” A century after Marcel Duchamp began working with ready-mades, Elmgreen & Dragset continue this practice by isolating a common object from its functional context. The sense of isolation is magnified due to the scarcity of personal pools in a densely populated city like New York, as opposed to the West Coast. By repositioning a pool in an unlikely place like the prominent Rockefeller Plaza, right at Fifth Avenue, the artists achieve a simple displacement of the kind for which they are well known, challenging our associations and expectations of a particular setting. The pool—re-positioned into the surroundings of urban life, tourists, skyscrapers, and businesses—seems like a foreign object that has somehow landed there in the plaza. The sculptural qualities of the object itself, from the curves created by different depths and the overall shape of the pool, to the protruding diving board, become apparent when it is singularly presented in this upright position, rather than dug down into the ground. Like Elmgreen & Dragset’s previous projects such as Prada Marfa (a Prada store located in the middle of the Texan desert), the swimming pool creates a feeling of alienation, and brings attention to its context by its very otherness.

Through April 17 they have an exhibit The Well Fair at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing China.

Their Prada Marfa (2005) is astride U.S. Highway 90 about 26 miles northwest of Marfa Texas and many a car has sped past, then slowed down and turned around and returned to see this iconic recreation of an Italian shoe store sitting in a West Texas desert. If one didn’t think art was strange before, we know for sure that it has the power to make us stop and think, especially about disjunction and context and association with our environment or displacement from it. What is alien? To what are we alienated? Why?

Here are the permanent murals and sculpture at Rockefeller Center My favorite is a mosaic mural Intelligence Awakening Mankind surely a hoped for outcome that is a work in progress by our planet.


The Wreck Hunger Graduate & International Student Food Pantry is being started at Texas Tech by graduate level students and they are looking for donations of food, household items like cleaners and laundry detergent, baby items and personal hygiene products It’s only a single meal at a time but it’s possible to be a host family for an international student and invite him/her to your house for an occasional meal. I have done this and can testify that the host gets as much or more out of this relationship as the hosted international student. Contact Jane Bell at International Affairs for information on hosting an international student phone 806-742-3667 e-mail


A book discussion group member recently chose a private investigator or detective mystery for the group to read. I dutifully read D. D. VanDyke, Loose Ends (Cal Corwin Private Investigator Series Book # 1) (David VanDyke/Smashwords Edition 2015) formatted as an electronic book on OverDrive or Adobe EPUB eBook at 1.3MB. The author’s website is

It was set in San Francisco California where a former female police officer is now a private investigator with an office in the Mission District.

It was easy to read, and interesting because I knew the geography of San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay and communities like San Rafael, Tiburon, Richmond and districts within “the city by the bay”, and they were well described. The activities of the private investigator were not believable, most notably the car chase scenes at the speeds described, much too dangerous to survive for long. Mystery man Thomas, who eliminated the bad guys and set a bomb to destroy the warehouse property and make the cache of illegal drugs go away, and thereby create a problem for “Houdini” and his criminal organization, made it even less believable. He was the savior figure or white knight who comes riding in from over the hill to save the day and give the bad guys their justly deserved comeuppance.

White collar investors who rode the spine of illegal drug merchandising, was an interesting phenomena or plot device, and the concept that they can make investment money profits whichever way the on the ground drug cartel activity fares, was fascinating. The reality is that SEC licensed securities dealers and salesmen stay employed with licensed brokerages, where they are observable and observed, or their licenses are suspended and they must reapply attached to another licensed brokerage in order to regain active investment capabilities.

Private investigators in reality, investigate, i.e. they ask a lot of questions and go over the ground where something unexplained by law enforcement has occurred. They do not participate in ongoing criminal activities by bad guys, acting as the intervention for a just outcome. This Lone Ranger scenario with Tonto as a dysfunctional computer hack back at the pad, seemed bizarre.

One looks at three more of the books in this series In a Bind, When a blackmail victim walks into Cal Corwin’s P. I. agency, she quickly throws herself into the investigation, but with each new clue she finds the case gets murkier, its web of lies more tangled. When murder rears its ugly head, it becomes clear more is at stake than money, and Cal must watch her own back even as she tries to find the culprit. ‘In a bind’ is the second book in the new P.I. mystery series from D.D. VanDyke, though they can be read in any order. Set against the rich backdrop of the San Francisco Bay Area, Cal Corwin novels brim with intrigue and fully fleshed characters from cops and criminals to hit men, oddball family and unexpected allies. Sequel to: Loose ends. Slip Knot, and Off The Leash, imagines the formulaic, and plans not to read them.

The genre is immensely popular, however, over a sustained period of time, and in fact is growing in numbers of readers. I was intrigued to discover what’s happened. Some answers are provided by John Walton, The Legendary Detective: The Private Eye in Fact and Fiction (University of Chicago Press 2015) at 232 pages $25 hardcover $10.49 e-book.

In the 19th century railway age there was no federal policing across state lines so the railways hired private cops and once the railways and other industries were established, the moguls that operated them hired private cops to enforce the monopolies and oligopolies. The private cops were salaried by big business one step removed. Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed more than 1,000 agents who were used mostly to subdue the restless among the client’s work force, those people asking for better wages and working conditions.

In 1892 Carnegie Steel Corporation imposed a reduction in wages, workers struck, and Carnegie employed Pinkerton that employed 300 “guards” on company property. Pinkerton’s guns and ammunition carried the day and four workers died in the stand-off.

In the Cripple Creek Miners Strike of 1903 Pinkerton agents bombed the railroad depot killing 13 strikers. Federal Laboratories, a private company, sold tear gas and Thompson sub-machine guns to the Pinkerton agency that employed such warfare weapons against the exploited workers. The bill was paid by the mining companies and Pinkerton’s other employers.

One Pinkerton employee was Dashiell Hammett 1894-1961 who achieved a reputation for strike-breaking and surveillance during his employment 1915-1922.

After leaving its employ he turned to writing and produced Red Harvest (1929) describing the labor conflict and local corruption in “Poisonville” based on Hammett’s experience as a Pinkerton employee stationed in Butte Montana. He knew the scenario well because he participated in the 1920 miners’ strike on behalf of his employer Pinkerton Detective Agency.

Hammett left school at age 14 without a high school diploma but developed a pungent earthy lucid way of describing events. The fictional detective in Red Harvest was Continental Op, an agent and narrator that might be compared with a Pinkerton agent.

Hammett published The Maltese Falcon (Gale 1929) describing the political sleaze, industrial relations violence and everyday routine of a “private cop”. He introduced a private investigator Sam Spade, a lone detective with a singular code of ethics. This was fantasy and Hammett knew it. It also was a gold mine. He would become golden mining the reading public’s imagination in an ironic twist of fate. Lubbock Public Library 4 copies in MYSTERY. John Huston made a film The Maltese Falcon in 1941 starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. The rest, as they say, is history. Hammett lived through The Great War, a conflict with global consequences, and saw the breakdown of hierarchy, the villainy of absolutism, and he saw the rise of individualism. He invented Sam Spade a lone operator with just the right balance of cynicism and moral sensibilities. Spade became “a poor man’s sociologist”. Hammett began to show through his novels how characters could fight through a valueless world. It was a winning prescription. When John Huston put Mary Astor opposite Humphrey Bogart and turned up the angst and eroticism, the deal was sealed. All fantasy, all golden.

Nathan Ward, The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury Press 2015) at 214 pages Texas Tech Library PS3515.A4347 Z92

Raymond Chandler 1888-1959 wrote The Big Sleep (1939), Farewell, My Lovely (1940) and other novels based on earlier published short stories that chronicled the cases of down-on-their-luck private detectives Philip Marlowe, John Dalmas or Steve Grayce. They were incorruptible knights with little armor that walked the “mean streets” of urban America. This hard-boiled crime fiction carried on the Hammett legacy. The Simple Art of Murder (Houghton Mifflin 1950) is both crime fiction and literary criticism from Raymond Chandler. Forty five years later we’re still talking about this. Joyce Carol Oates, The Simple Art of Murder, The New York Review of Books, December 21, 1995 reviewing the Library of America’s newly published Stories and Early Novels 1,199 pages and Later Novels and Other Writings 1,076 pages by Raymond Chandler both edited by Frank MacShane and each available for $30 hardcover The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words (ed. Barry Day, Alfred A. Knopf 2014) 250 pages Texas Tech Library PS3505.H3224 Z46 $20.37 hardcover $15.37 paperback $12 e-book.

Walter Mosley adapted the genre for the character Easy Rawlins, an African-American war veteran in the Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins Mysteries

Michael Connelly adapted the genre for the character Hieronymous Bosch, a Los Angeles Police Department detective, and in another series for Mickey Haller, a criminal defense attorney whose office is the back seat of his aging Lincoln automobile, usually on the streets of Los Angeles

The femme fatale in some of the detective fiction gradually became the private investigator, as in 2015’s Loose Ends referred to above. Fantasy and escapism are reading refuges in this era of bad actions by the powerful and wealthy. Who will make it right for us? That’s a difficult question unless we realize that it’s our own task and individualism is not an answer but we must gather strength in numbers and collectively rise up not in anger but in wisdom and compassion.


A migrant swap is an example of nations sitting down and negotiating some difficult matters. A group of migrants are stranded in Greece, a European Union nation whose economy is teetering, barely able to provide public services to its citizens. Other EU nations stepped in and negotiated with Turkey that now agrees to take one for one, a migrant stranded in Greece, for a Syrian refugee located in a Turkish refugee camp, gaining admission to a more prosperous EU nation.

The scorecard is: Greece and its citizens are better off. Turkey and its citizens are about in the same situation except that the migrants in their camps will be more diverse than just Syrians. Wealthy EU nations can accommodate the Syrians and incorporate them into their economies. The migrants in Greece will get markedly better treatment and be assured of survival. The Syrian refugees will get safe transport to a wealthy EU nation and immediate processing and reception, avoiding the perils of being unwelcome travelers in a foreign sometimes hostile country.

This is as clear a win-win outcome as can occur on our planet at the moment. Congratulations to the EU and Turkish negotiators in Brussels.


Nancy Graves, Wax Works IX (1987) is a sculpture representing the detritus of industrial America. The variegated patina on the work that she created by using colored wax, is fascinating. The aura of milled metal now obsolete and unuseful taking on a biological bulbous natural quality evokes a reference to the Biblical passage “from dust to dust” regardless of the waystations. Graves 1939-1995 died early with ovarian cancer Her studio was in Beacon New York Duchess County 60 miles north of New York City 90 miles south of Albany on the Hudson River at historic Fishkill Landing.

The Fort Worth Art Museum organized Nancy Graves: a Sculptural Retrospective that traveled to the Smithsonian’s Hirschorn Museum & Sculpture Garden February 19-April 26, 1987, focused on her later works

Eva Hesse, Metronomic Irregularity II (1966) was a piece that inspired Graves. It inspires all of us Eva Hesse was an artist trailblazer


Humanities Texas is a state affiliate of The National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington DC, and is a non-profit educational organization supported by appropriations from Congress and the Texas Legislature and by gifts and grants from citizens and private entities. The governor appoints six of the members of the board of directors and the other 22 members are appointed for terms by the board itself, so it is a volunteer service organization that is self-perpetuating. One of the current board members is from Lubbock. He is Sean P. Cunningham, associate professor of history and department chair of history at Texas Tech University.

The National Endowment helps to prepare exhibits that travel across the nation and some of those exhibits are seen by Texans.

Visually, The March of Humanity (1957- 1971) by David Alfaro Siqueiros 1896-1974 is a huge mural that envelops the idea of how much humanity might cover or include. It is located at the Forum Universal in Mexico City “La Marcha de la Humanidad”.


Stony Island Arts Bank was reopened in October 2015 after a major renovation of the former savings bank constructed in 1923 that has been a public library in the south side of Chicago for many years at 6760 South Stony Island Avenue, Chicago IL. This is one of those libraries that is very much a center of the African-American community where it is located.

It is a gallery for displaying a host of items, not just art. It is a research library as well as a lending library, focused on topics for which there is a huge digital database to which the Arts Bank can access to service its customers. It is a media archive of audio and video collections because so many people want to watch or listen as forms of communication. And of course it is a community center and can host small or rather large gatherings of people with adequate facilities like a wet bar and service kitchen.


At a recent art history lecture series talk Christian Conrad introduced the audience to three female artists many of us had not known about. Alice Kellogg Tyler 1862-1900 was a granddaughter of the Kellogg Cereals Company scion Will Keith Kellogg and one of five daughters of a wealthy Chicago physician. She and her sister Mabel both studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. She died age 37 from diabetes when at the top of her artistic form. She had exhibited in the Columbian World Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. She married Orno Tyler a wealthy businessman the following year 1894 and painted in earnest thereafter including her impressionism style painting of the Kellogg family 70 acre farm-site in Evergreen Park now a southern suburb of Chicago. She and her sisters had grown up there and Alice donated the painting House in a Landscape (1896) to Mabel.

Paula Becker later known as Paula Modersohn-Becker 1876-1907 was an important early painter in the German Expressionism style. She died age 31 only 19 days after a successful birth of her first child Mathilde, from an embolism in her leg. She was born Paula Becker in Dresden and her family moved to Bremen when she was 12 years of age. She studied art there and admired the painters who displayed at Kunsthalle Bremen [Hall of Art in Bremen]. In 1900 she moved to and studied art at Academie Colarossi in Paris France that accepted female students. She married Otto Modersohn in 1901 and was stepmother for his two children, but soon went back to Paris and painted in the style of Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and the Fauvists (wild beasts). Her Becker family home in Bremen is now an art gallery and small museum of art biography and images

Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist was an exhibit September 18, 2013 – January 26, 2014 at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in the Kilmainhan district of Dublin Ireland The 176 page catalogue for the exhibit is at Texas Tech Library ND 497.C376 A4 (2013)

Carrington 1917 – 2011 was born to a British father and Irish mother in Lancashire England, and died in Mexico City Mexico age 94. From 1936 she painted with the surrealists Andre Breton, Max Ernst and others in France. She escaped or was released from an asylum in 1941 and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Mexico where she lived the remainder of her life. Her Irish mother happened to be in Lancashire of course, because of the earlier Irish Potato Famine that led to a substantial Irish population in Lancashire.

Here are 28 paintings by Leonora Carrington many of which were shown to us by Christian Conrad during his presentation. We are glad for her leaving the asylum and removal to Mexico and freedom, but looking at the paintings makes us wonder how much of the asylum stayed with her in her mind and artistic expression.

An American impressionist, a German expressionist, and a runaway Anglo-Irish surrealist makes for an interesting variety of artists to consider.


Adela Andea, Primordial Garden (2016) is a sculpture hanging from the ceiling at El Centro Room, College of Human Sciences, Texas Tech University. The formal dedication took place on Friday March 25, 2016. It is part of the university’s one percent for public art program and is comprised of led lighted multicolor plastic rods and plexiglass lighted forms that are bio-morphic in nature, reminding us but not representing animal or bird or sea life as they are suspended above us in the El Centro Room. Andea is a Romanian American artist. The first three images in her website gallery are the installation at Texas Tech

Here is a speeded up in time video of the installation process at Texas Tech

She had previously done a Primordial Garden installation exhibit at Cora Stafford Gallery at University of North Texas at Denton Texas in 2012, so the ideas for the Texas Tech installation have been refined over time. Click on Adela Andea primordial garden on


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