“THE MAPPLETHORPE PHOTO SYNTHESIZES MY PASSIONS AND WORLD-VIEW”
In 1975, Arista Records released Horses, the first rock album by New York bohemian poet Patti Smith. The stark cover photo, taken by someone named Robert Mapplethorpe, was devastatingly original. It was the most electrifying image I had ever seen of a woman of my generation. Now, two decades later, I think that it ranks in art history among a half-dozen supreme images of modern woman since the French Revolution.
I was then teaching at my first job in Vermont and turning my Yale doctoral dissertation, Sexual Personae, into a book. The Horses album cover immediately went up on my living-room wall, as if it were a holy icon. Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Patti Smith symbolized for me not only women’s new liberation but the fusion of high art and popular culture that I was searching for in my own work.
From its rebirth in the late 1960s, the organized women’s movement had been overwhelmingly hostile to rock music, which it called sexist. Patti Smith’s sudden national debut galvanized me with the hope (later proved futile) that hard rock, the revolutionary voice of the counterculture, would also be endorsed by feminism.
Smith herself emerged not from the women’s movement but from the artistic avant-garde as well as the decadent sexual underground, into which her friend and lover Mapplethorpe would plunge ever more deeply after their breakup.
Unlike many feminists, the bisexual Smith did not base her rebellion on a wholesale rejection of men. As an artist, she paid due homage to major male progenitors; she wasn’t interested in neglected foremothers or a second-rate female canon. In Mapplethorpe’s half-transvestite picture, she invokes her primary influences, from Charles Baudelaire and Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan and Keith Richards, the tormented genius of the Rolling Stones who was her idol and mine.
Before Patti Smith, women in rock had presented themselves in conventional formulas of folk singer, blues shouter, or motorcycle chick. As this photo shows, Smith’s persona was brand new. She was the first to claim both vision and authority, in the dangerously Dionysian style of another poet, Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors. Furthermore, in the competitive field of album-cover design inaugurated in 1964 with Meet the Beatles(the musicians’ dramatically shaded faces are recalled here), no female rocker had ever dominated an image in this aggressive, uncompromising way.
The Mapplethorpe photo synthesizes my passions and world-view. Shot in steely high contrast against an icy white wall, it unites austere European art films with the glamorous, ever-maligned high-fashion magazines. Rumpled, tattered, unkempt, hirsute, Smith defies the rules of femininity. Soulful, haggard and emaciated yet raffish, swaggering and seductive, she is mad saint, ephebe, dandy and troubadour, a complex woman alone and outward bound for culture war.
Actually, I did know most of this, but not Warhol’s idea of putting a crack on the record to make the phrase ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ repeat over and over again. Inspirational, and an idea later used by the Beatles at the end of Sgt. Pepper but not in quite as radical a way. I also didn’t know about the drums breaking down in ‘Heroin’ or Sterling Morrison’s hatred of Frank Zappa. Although I did know about Lou Reed’s hatred of Frank Zappa and also Frank Zappa’s hatred of not only the VU but also The Beatles and The Doors, and pop and rock music in general!
A half-century on, The Velvet Underground and Nico remains the quintessential emblem of a certain brand of countercultural cool. Not the Haight-Ashbury or Sgt. Pepper kind but an eerier, artier, more NYC-rooted strain. Released on March 12th, 1967, the Velvet Underground‘s debut was an album that brought with it an awareness of the new, the possible and the darker edge of humanity. Bolstered by the patronage of Andy Warhol and the exotic vocal contributions of Nico, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker declared their independence from Top 40 decorum with a gritty, innovative and unapologetically self-possessed work. In many ways, The Velvet Underground and Nico was the first rock album that truly seemed to invite the designation alternative.
Fifty years after its release, the LP still soundsstunningly original, providing inspiration and a blueprint for everything from lo-fi punk rock to highbrow avant-garde – and so much in between. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about the album’s creation.
1. Lou Reed first united with John Cale to play a knockoff of “The Twist.” Reed’s professional music career took root in 1964 when he was hired as a staff songwriter at Pickwick Records, an NYC-based budget label specializing in soundalikes of contemporary chart-toppers. “We just churned out songs; that’s all,” Reed remembered in 1972. “Never a hit song. What we were doing was churning out these rip-off albums.”
When ostrich feathers became the hot trend in women’s fashion magazines, Reed was moved to write a parody of the increasingly ridiculous dance songs sweeping the airwaves. “The Twist” had nothing on “The Ostrich,” a hilariously oddball number featuring the unforgettable opening lines: “Put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it!” While composing the song, Reed took the unique approach of tuning all six of his guitar strings to the same note, creating the effect of a vaguely Middle Eastern drone. “This guy at Pickwick had this idea that I appropriated,” he told Mojo in 2005. “It sounded fantastic. And I was kidding around and I wrote a song doing that.”
Reed recorded the song with a group of studio players, releasing the song under the name the Primitives. Despite the unorthodox modes, Pickwick heard potential in “The Ostrich” and released it as a single. It sold in respectable quantities, convincing the label to assemble musicians to pose as the phony band and promote the song at live gigs. Reed began hunting for potential members, valuing attitude as much as musical aptitude. He found both in John Cale.
The pair crossed paths at a house party on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where Reed was drawn to Cale’s Beatle-y long hair. A classically trained prodigy, the young Welshman had moved to the city months earlier to pursue his musical studies and play viola with avant-garde composer La Monte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music. Intrigued by his pedigree, Reed invited him to join the Primitives. Sensing the opportunity for easy money and some laughs, Cale agreed.
Gathering to rehearse the song, Cale was astonished to discover that the “Ostrich tuning” produced essentially the same drone he was accustomed to playing with Young. Clearly on the same musical wavelength, they connected on a personal level afterwards. “More than anything it was meeting Lou in the coffee shop,” Cale says in a 1998 American Masters documentary. “He made me nice cup of coffee out of the hot water tap, and sat me down and started quizzing me as to what I was really doing in New York. There was a certain meeting of the minds there.”
2. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” got the band fired from their residency. Sterling Morrison became involved with the duo after a chance meeting with Reed, his classmate at Syracuse University, on the subway. Together they formed a loose band with Cale’s roommate Angus MacLise, a fellow member of the Theater of Eternal Music collective. Lacking a consistent name – they morphed from the Primitives to the Warlocks, and then the Falling Spikes before taking their soon-to-be-iconic final moniker from a pulp paperback exposé – the quartet rehearsed and recorded demos in Cale’s apartment throughout the summer of 1965.
The fledgling Velvet Underground were befriended by pioneering rock journalist Al Aronowitz, who managed to book them a gig at a New Jersey high school that November. This irritated the bohemian MacLise, who resented having to show up anywhere at a specific time. When informed that they would be receiving money for the performance, he quit on the spot, grumbling that the group had sold out. Desperate to fill his spot on the drums, they asked Morrison’s friend Jim Tucker if his sister Maureen (known as “Moe”) was available. She was, and the classic lineup was in place.
School gymnasiums were not the ideal venue for the band. “We were so loud and horrifying to the high school audience that the majority of them – teachers, students and parents – fled screaming,” Cale says in American Masters. Instead, Aronowitz found them a residency in a Greenwich Village club, the Café Bizarre. Its name was something of a misnomer, as neither the owners nor the handful of customers appreciated the way-out sounds. In a half-hearted attempt at assimilation, the group added some rock standards to their repertoire. “We got six nights a week at the Café Bizarre, some ungodly number of sets, 40 minutes on and 20 minutes off,” Morrison described in a 1990 interview. “We played some covers – ‘Little Queenie,’ ‘Bright Lights Big City’ … the black R&B songs Lou and I liked – and as many of our own songs as we had.”
Three weeks in, the tedium became too much bear. “One night we played ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ and the owner came up and said, ‘If you play that song one more time you’re fired!’ So we started the next set with it,” Morrison told Sluggo! of their ignoble end as a bar band in a tourist trap. The self-sabotage had the desired effect and they were relieved of their post – but not before they caught the attention of Andy Warhol.
3. The album’s co-producer refused to accept cash payment, asking for a Warhol painting instead. Already a prolific painter, sculptor and filmmaker, by the mid-Sixties Warhol sought to expand his famous Factory empire into rock & roll. On the advice of confidant Paul Morrissey, the 37-year-old art star dropped in on the Velvet Underground’s set at the Café Bizarre and impulsively extended an offer to act as their manager. The title would have rather loose connotations, though he did make one significant alteration to their sound. Fearing that the group lacked the requisite glamour to become stars, he suggested the addition of a striking German model known as Nico. The proposal was not met with complete enthusiasm – Reed was particularly displeased – but she was tentatively accepted into the ranks as a featured vocalist.
Now billed as the Velvet Underground with Nico, Warhol incorporated the band into a series of multimedia performances dubbed the Exploding Plastic Inevitable: a marriage of underground music, film, dance and lights. Also assisting was 27-year-old Norman Dolph, an account representative at Columbia Records who moonlit as a DJ and soundman. “I operated a mobile discotheque – if not the first then at least the second one in New York,” he later told author Joe Harvard. “I was an art buff, and my thing was I’d provide the music at art galleries, for shows and openings, but I’d ask for a piece of art as payment instead of cash. That’s how I met Andy Warhol.”
By the spring of 1966, Warhol decided it was time to take his charges into the recording studio. Knowing little about such matters, he sought out Dolph for advice. “When Warhol told me he wanted to make a record with those guys, I said, ‘Oh, I can take care of that, no problem. I’ll do it in exchange for a picture,'” he said in Sound on Sound. “I could have said I’d do it in exchange for some kind of finder’s fee, but I asked for some artwork, [and] he was agreeable to that.”
Dolph was tasked with booking a studio, covering a portion of the costs himself, producing and leaning on colleagues at Columbia to ultimately release the product. For his trouble he was given one of Warhol’s silver “Death and Disaster Series” canvases. “A beautiful painting, really. Regrettably, I sold it around ’75, when I was going through a divorce, for $17,000. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Geez, I bet Lou Reed hasn’t made $17,000 from this album yet.’ If I had it today, it would be worth around $2 million.”
4. It was recorded in the same building that later housed Studio 54. Dolph’s day job at Columbia’s custom labels division saw him working with smaller imprints that lacked their own pressing plants. One of his clients was Scepter Records, best known for releasing singles by the Shirelles and Dionne Warwick. Their modest offices on 254 West 54th Street in midtown Manhattan were noteworthy for having their own self-contained recording facility.
Though the Velvet Underground were studio novices, it didn’t take an engineer to know that the room had seen better days. Reed, in the liner notes to the Peel Slowly and See boxed set, describes it as “somewhere between reconstruction and demolition … the walls were falling over, there were gaping holes in the floor, and carpentry equipment littered the place.” Cale recalls being similarly underwhelmed in his 1999 autobiography. “The building was on the verge of being condemned. We went in there and found that the floorboards were torn up, the walls were out, there was only four mics working.”
It wasn’t glamorous, and at times it was barely functional, but for four days in mid-April 1966 (the exact dates remain disputed), the Specter Records studios would play host to the bulk of the Velvet Underground and Nico recording sessions. Though Warhol played only a distant role in proceedings, he would return to 254 West 54th Street a great deal in the following decade, when the ground floor housed the infamous Studio 54 nightclub.
5. Warhol wanted to put a built-in crack in all copies of the record to disrupt “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Andy Warhol is nominally the producer of The Velvet Underground and Nico, but in reality his role was more akin to producer of a film; one who finds the project, raises the capital and hires a crew to bring it to life. On the rare occasions he did attend the sessions, Reed recalls him “sitting behind the board gazing with rapt fascination at all the blinking lights …Of course he didn’t know anything about record production. He just sat there and said, ‘Oooh that’s fantastic.'”
Warhol’s lack of involvement was arguably his greatest gift to the Velvet Underground. “The advantage of having Andy Warhol as a producer was that, because it was Andy Warhol, [engineers] would leave everything in its pure state,” Reed reflected in a 1986 episode of TheSouth Bank Show. “They’d say, ‘Is that alright, Mr. Warhol?’ And he’d say, ‘Oh … yeah!’ So right at the very beginning we experienced what it was like to be in the studio and record things our way and have essentially total freedom.”
Although he didn’t try to specifically shape the band in his own image, Warhol did make some suggestions. One of his more eccentric ideas for the track “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” Reed’s delicate ballad inspired by his simmering romantic feelings towards Nico, never came to fruition. “We would have the record fixed with a built-in crack so it would go, ‘I’ll be your mirror, I’ll be your mirror, I’ll be your mirror,’ so that it would never reject,” Reed explained in Victor Bockris’ Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. “It would just play and play until you came over and took the arm off.”
6. “There She Goes Again” borrows a riff from a Marvin Gaye song.
Reed’s time at Pickwick instilled in him a fundamental fluency in the language of pop music. Often overshadowed by his innovative instrumental arrangements and taboo lyrical subjects, his ear for an instantly hummable tune is apparent with catchy confections like “Sunday Morning,” the album’s opening track. Bright and breezy, with Reed’s androgynous tone replacing Nico’s planned lead, the song’s introductory bass slide is an intentional nod to the Mamas and the Papas’ “Monday, Monday,” which topped the charts when it was first recorded in April 1966.
“There She Goes Again” also draws from the Top 40 well, borrowing a guitar part from one of Motown’s finest. “The riff is a soul thing, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Hitch Hike,’ with a nod to the Impressions,” Cale admitted to Uncut in 2012. “That was the easiest song of all, which came from Lou’s days writing pop at Pickwick.”
It would earn the distinction of becoming one of the first Velvet Underground tracks to ever be covered – half a world away in Vietnam. A group of U.S. servicemen, performing under the name the Electrical Banana during their off hours, were sent a copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico by a friend who thought they would appreciate the fruit on the cover. They appreciated the music as well, and resolved to record a version of “There She Goes Again.” Unwilling to wait until they returned to the States, they built a makeshift studio in the middle of the jungle by tossing down wooden pallets, pitching a tent, fashioning mic stands from bamboo branches and plugging their amps into a gas generator.
7. The drums break down during the climax of “Heroin.” The most infamous track on the album is also one of the oldest, dating back to Reed’s days as a student at Syracuse University, where he performed with early folk and rock groups and sampled illicit substances. Drawing from skills honed through his journalism studies, not to mention a healthy affinity for William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Reed penned a verse that depicted the experience of shooting up with stunning clarity and eerie detachment.
Amazingly, Reed had attempted to record the song during his days on the pop assembly line at Pickwick Records. “They’d lock me in a room and they’d say, ‘Write 10 surfing songs,'” Reed told WLIR in 1972. “And I wrote ‘Heroin,’ and I said, ‘Hey I got something for ya!’ They said, ‘Never gonna happen, never gonna happen.'” But the band had no such constraints while being bankrolled by Andy Warhol.
Working in the still-unfamiliar setting of a studio proved to be a challenge for the band at some points, particularly during the breakneck outro of “Heroin.” Maureen Tucker eventually became lost in the cacophony and simply put down her sticks. “No one ever even notices this, but right in the middle the drums stop,” she says in the 2006 documentary The Velvet Underground: Under Review. “No one ever thinks about the drummer, they’re all worried about the guitar sound and stuff, and nobody’s thinking about the drummer. Well, as soon as it got loud and fast I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t hear anybody. So I stopped, assuming, ‘Oh, they’ll stop too and say, ‘What’s the matter, Moe?’ And nobody stopped! So I came back in.”
8. Lou Reed dedicated “European Son” to his college mentor who loathed rock music. One of Reed’s formative influences was Delmore Schwartz, a poet and author who served as his professor and friend while a student at Syracuse University. With a cynical and often bitter wit, he instilled in Reed an innate sense of belief in his own writing. “Delmore Schwartz was the unhappiest man I ever met in my life, and the smartest … until I met Andy Warhol,” Reed told writer Bruce Pollock in 1973. “Once, drunk in a Syracuse bar, he said, ‘If you sell out, Lou, I’m gonna get ya.’ I hadn’t thought about doing anything, let alone selling out.”
Rock & roll counted as selling out in Schwartz’s mind. He apparently loathed the music – particularly the lyrics – but Reed couldn’t pass up a chance to salute his mentor on his first major artistic statement. He chose to dedicate the song “European Son” to Schwartz, simply because it’s the track that least resembled anything in the rock canon. After just 10 lines of lyrics, it descends into a chaotic avant-garde soundscape.
Schwartz almost certainly never heard the piece. Crippled by alcoholism and mental illness, he spent his final days as a recluse in a low-rent midtown Manhattan hotel. He died there of a heart attack on July 11, 1966, three months after the Velvet Underground recorded “European Son.” Isolated even in death, it took two days for his body to be identified at the morgue.
9. The back cover resulted in a lawsuit that delayed the album’s release. Being managed by Andy Warhol came with certain perks, and one was the guarantee of a killer album cover. While the artist’s involvement in the music was spotty, the visual art was to be his purview. Bored by mere static images, he devised a peel-away sticker of a pop art banana illustration, under which would be a peeled pink (and slightly phallic) banana. Aside from fine print above the sticker helpfully urging buyers to “peel slowly and see,” the only text on the stark white cover was Warhol’s own name, gracing the lower right corner in stately Coronet Bold – adding his official signature to the Velvet Underground project.
The promise of what was essentially an original Warhol print on the front of each album was a major selling point to Verve, the MGM subsidiary that had purchased the distribution rights to the tapes, and they shelled out big bucks to obtain a special machine capable of manufacturing the artist’s vision. Ironically, it was the comparatively traditional back cover, a photo of the band in the midst of an Exploding Plastic Inevitable performance at Norfolk, Virginia’s Chrysler Art Museum, that would cause the most headaches. A slide montage was projected onto the stage and the upside-down image of actor and Factory associate Eric Emerson from Warhol’s Chelsea Girls film could be seen. Emerson, who had recently been busted for drug possession and was badly in need of money, threatened to sue the label for the unauthorized use of his image.
Rather than pay Emerson his claim – reportedly $500,000 – MGM halted production that spring while they grappled with how to remove the offending image. Copies of the album were recalled in June, all but dooming its commercial prospects. “The whole Eric business was a tragic fiasco for us, and proves what idiots they were at MGM,” Morrison told Bockris. “They responded by pulling the album off the shelves immediately and kept it off for a couple of months while they fooled around with stickers over Eric’s picture, and then finally the airbrush. The album thus vanished form the charts almost immediately in June, just when it was about to enter the Top 100. It never returned to the charts.”
10. The release delay sparked Sterling Morrison’s intense, and often hilarious, hatred of Frank Zappa. The tracks for the album were largely complete by May 1966, but a combination of production logistics – including the tricky stickers on the cover – and promotional concerns delayed the release for nearly a year. The exact circumstances remain hazy, but instead of holding the record execs responsible, or Warhol in his capacity as their manager, the Velvet Underground blamed an unlikely target: their MGM/Verve labelmate Frank Zappa.
The band believed that Zappa used his clout to hold back their release in favor of his own album with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out. “The problem [was] Frank Zappa and his manager, Herb Cohen,” said Morrison. “They sabotaged us in a number of ways, because they wanted to be the first with a freak release. And we were totally naive. We didn’t have a manager who would go to the record company every day and just drag the whole thing through production.” Cale claimed that the band’s wealthy patron affected the label’s judgment. “Verve’s promotional department [took] the attitude, ‘Zero bucks for VU, because they’ve got Andy Warhol; let’s give all the bucks to Zappa,'” he wrote in his memoir.
Whatever the truth may be, Sterling Morrison held a serious grudge against Zappa for the rest of his life, making no effort to hide his contempt in interviews. “Zappa is incapable of writing lyrics. He is shielding his musical deficiencies by proselytizing all these sundry groups that he appeals to,” he told Fusion in 1970. “He just throws enough dribble into those songs. I don’t know, I don’t like their music. … I think that album Freak Out was such a shuck.” He was even more blunt a decade later when speaking to Sluggo! magazine. “Oh, I hate Frank Zappa. He’s really horrible, but he’s a good guitar player. … If you told Frank Zappa to eat shit in public, he’d do it if it sold records.”
Reed also had some choice words for Zappa over the years. In Nigel Trevena’s 1973 biography booklet of the band, he refers to Zappa as “probably the single most untalented person I’ve heard in my life. He’s two-bit, pretentious, academic, and he can’t play his way out of anything. He can’t play rock & roll, because he’s a loser. … He’s not happy with himself and I think he’s right.” The pair must have buried the hatchet in later years – after Zappa died of prostate cancer in 1993, Reed posthumously inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Before he became just about the most important person in the world in the 1960s, Andy Warhol made a living as a graphic designer. He did a whole slew of album covers and, as is well known, a good many book jackets as well. Often he enlisted his mom to write the scrawled text, as we saw in this delightful mock cookbook from 1959, her handwriting was his secret weapon until he made the silk screen his signature medium of choice.
For most of these albums, he was responsible for the drawing if not necessarily the layout. In the case of the Monk album above, we know it’s his mother’s handwriting and he may not have done the layout, so it’s unclear exactly how much credit he should get, but then again, that was more or less his method at The Factory!
I found this blog when looking for images of Duchamp and decided to copy and post it here. It links to my ‘Vandalising Rothko’ piece and at the time I had no idea what Yellowism was! I found it very interesting so I reposted it in full. It is clear that Vladimir Umanets was very influenced by Duchamp. I want to make it clear that I do not necessarily agree with what’s written here, I’m not sure I can even understand it! However, I believe that Umanets was motivated by a strong force and the question “What Is Art For?” is still a valid pursuit. He showed courage and commitment to do what he did but I’m not convinced by his philosophy at this stage.
Here’s an interesting post from Interdome about the treatment of Umanets i.e. giving him a two year prison sentence for defacing the Rothko:
As a case study, let’s look at Ai’s Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.
On the surface level, the photo set appears to mock artistic fetishism: Ai looks like he could not possibly give a fuck as he lets the valuable artifact shatter on the ground. There’s a sublime disregard in the pictures; it’s art against art like Kruger’s sentences are ads against ads. But as an artist, Ai can’t destroy art, he can only make more. From one urn, he gets three pictures. If I went into the Hirshhorn, grabbed one of the photos off the wall, and let it fall to ground like I didn’t give a fuck, I would be arrested and taken to jail. It’s only freedom of expression if you break something you own, otherwise it’s vandalism.
One true vandal learned this lesson (or taught it) very publicly when Vladimir Umanets was sentenced to two years in prison for writing “a potential work of yellowism” on a Mark Rothko painting in London’s Tate Modern. Yellowism is the idea that if anything can become art regardless of its use value, then we could imagine a third category of stuff past art, in light of which the art/non-art distinction dissolves. Both are equally potential works of yellowism, just like a soup can and a urinal are equally art objects. Umanets writing “a potential work of yellowism” on a Rothko is the same as Duchamp Sharpie-ing “a potential work of art” on a toilet while he takes a piss. Except Umanets isn’t an artist. We know he’s not an artist because he’s in jail in England, and England, Ai would remind us, has freedom of expression.
Umanets wasn’t looking for freedom of expression, but freedom from expression, out from under the artistic injunction to replace what you destroy. He wanted to break without buying, but that’s not in liberalism’s deal. And no one cries for a vandal.
Because Umanets is a vandal and not an artist, there won’t be any complaints from the U.S. State Department. Because this is England and not Russia, there won’t be a Human Rights Watch report, as there was for the band Pussy Riot when they were arrested for trespassing. Even anti-capitalist arts writers called for his head on a platter.
When looking from art perspective, one can say that yellowism is a dead territory where the richness of meanings and interpretations is reduced to one – to yellow. But one needs to remember that yellowists don’t announce the death of art. Art is and will be alive forever. They rather say that yellowism is dead, inert, homogeneous mass without creativity. Authors of the manifesto and definition of yellowism are the authors of the death – yellowists are the authors of a single interpretation. This death is positioned outside of art, like mirror.
Roland Barthes in “The Death of the Author” says: “To give a text an Author” and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it “is to impose a limit on that text.” Barthes argues against the method of reading that relies on aspects of the author’s identity — their political views, historical context, religion, ethnicity, psychology, or other biographical or personal attributes — to distill meaning from the author’s work. Yellowists want to impose a limit on the text, on art, and on ordinary reality too, but not by giving a “text” an author. Paraphrasing Barthes I say: To give a “text” a YELLOW and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it is to impose a limit on the text. Barthes demands the death of the author (author disappears) because the author’s identity limits the text, the reading. In yellowism case author also disappears and yellow – the necessary “limitation” appears instead of the author.
Inside yellowism the artistic kingdom of meanings and interpretations is erased together with the author. It doesn’t matter WHO made a piece of yellowism because all pieces were, are and will be about yellow only. Yellowism is permanent, boring, inert, homogeneous flat, ‘dead’ mass. Always was and always will be. Like in the forest where all the trees (meanings) ‘look’ the same – wherever you go you are in the same place anyway. A thousand kilometers left, two meters right or backwards – you are always in the same place. In yellowism the nature of the authors has “the identity of the indistinguishable forest”.
Barthes conclusion: “the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author.” Yellowism conclusion: the death of meanings and the death of the author must be ransomed by the birth of single meaning – yellow.
Marcin Lodyga “Sounds from the chamber” piece of yellowism for public audition in yellowistic chambers only CD / audio recording of a walk through Miroslaw Balka exhibition Gravity made in the gallery space executed in 2013
►► Luncheon on the grass (on the grass: Arthur Danto, Roy Turner, Joseph Kosuth, Marcin Lodyga)
What makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo box is a certain theory of art. It is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is. – Arthur Danto. But to expose the irrelevance of this idea when attributed to the tradition, we have only to ask what “real object”, “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” by Manet collapses into when the implicit theory which supported it is refuted. – ask another thinker Roy Turner (Philosophy Now magazine)
Marcin Lodyga starts: If “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” by Manet was placed in the context of yellowism, inside a yellowistic chamber, then it would stop to be a work of art and it would become a piece of yellowism – a pure expression of yellow color in the form of Manet painting. Inside yellowism the painting by Manet is not a work of art. We have only to ask what piece of yellowism “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” by Manet collapses into when the implicit context of yellowism which supported it is refuted. The answer: it collapses into a work of art, it becomes a work of art again, it gains its previous status.
Painting is a kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting (not questioning ) the nature of art. One is then accepting the nature of art to be the European tradition of a painting-sculpture dichotomy. – nervously said Joseph Kosuth (“Art After Philosophy”). Dear Joseph – Marcin replies – in the context of yellowism – which is NOT a kind of total, huge conceptual art work, as you would consider it probably, painting is not a work of art. You said: “Art is the definition of art”, I say: yellowism is the definition of yellowism.
As a case study, let’s look at Ai’s Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.
On the surface level, the photo set appears to mock artistic fetishism: Ai looks like he could not possibly give a fuck as he lets the valuable artifact shatter on the ground. There’s a sublime disregard in the pictures;…
justiceismine asked: Yellowism is neither art, nor anti-art but a cause. Some might ask if Yellowism is needed or say it’s pathetic/stupid but I say it deserves it’s place as did Jackson Pollock for example, which he did not get at his time.
spacecowboysparklefingers asked: No one is going to drink your yellow kool-aid. Your totalitarian snake oil ideology has been ineffectual and irrelevant since De Stijl/Neoplasticism tried it. There is no dialogue here, you won’t even respond to this with anything more than an “X”. Please don’t write on anymore Rothko’s (or any other pieces of art for that matter), they are not yours to write on, and some people really enjoy them. No one wants you here yellowism, go home.
Marcin Lodyga “You can start painting again, in yellowism” yellowistic draft signed and dated on the front poster printed for the occasion of Duchamp season in Barbican, London 150 x 100 cm executed in 2013
Yellowism is not dadaism or neo-dadaism. If you think that yellowism is dadaism then actually you are a dadaist, because you try to devalue yellowism and make it meaningless. Dadaists were nihilists and they “promoted” nonsense. The fact that in yellowism everything means yellow leads to the wrong conclusion that everything means nothing and therefore yellowism is perceived as nihilism /dadaism. This is the big misunderstanding. The real consequence of yellowism existence is the philosophy of ONE and the vision of many different isms (existing outside of art) which can be reduced to (one) yellow-ism anyway. Although yellowism clones exist under different names – they are yellowism. In the future: many one-perspective “worlds”. Not only one “world” full of perspectives (meanings), many various subjective interpretations – like in postmodernism, especially postmodern art, but also many separate “worlds” (greenism, blueism, chairism) with one perspective each, concentrated on one meaning only. Yellowism, divided into many isms, will be positioned away from the forever developing, “organic” realm of art.
The total flattening announced by yellowists is more humanitarian than dadaism because it doesn’t leave people with nothing – inside the desert of meanings where you can watch only the wrecks and corpses of culture. Yellowists save one meaning (yellow) for everything and also they let you live in the “yellowistic totalitarian illusion of many”- you can exist in autonomous groups called greenism, blueism, chairism or skyism etc. but you will be a yellowist anyway. All roads lead to Rome. The universal Rome – the absolute truth will be always outside of art.
Dadaists are nihilists, they do not offer anything, they don’t show a new perspective, new possibilities, they replace everything with nothing. » Dada (…) wants nothing, absolutely nothing, and what it does is to make the public say ” We understand nothing, nothing, nothing “. “The Dadaists are nothing, nothing, nothing and they will surely succeed in nothing, nothing, nothing.” « 391, No. 12, Paris, March 1920 Francis Picabia who knows nothing, nothing, nothing.
Nihilists say that without absolute, universal, and transcendent values, there can be no real values at all. Friedrich Nietzsche, however, argues that the lack of such absolute values does not imply the absence of any values at all. Nietzsche “permits” the values of many different and even mutually exclusive perspectives. This is called “perspectivism” – all ideations take place from particular perspectives. This means that there are many possible conceptual schemes, or perspectives in which judgment of truth or value can be made. This leads (me) to postmodernism. Postmodernism is the consequence of Nietzsche’s perspectivism but is nihilistic. The proliferation of alternative perspectives, beliefs and values makes that postmodern society is foundationless.
This what we see in the galleries is the result of postmodernism or post-post modernism, or postpostpostmodernism, whatever. Many perspectives, many points of view, not one grand and universal but many interpretations closed inside the circle called “art”. In the future artists will resign from art, will abandon this circle. Art full of many perspectives will still exist but will be surrounded by – isms. Some artists will never leave the territory of art but there will be yellowists, greenists, chairists looking at them from outside – located in one perspective circles.
All the other isms are actually yellow-ism because, they have the same architecture, logic. Finally they can be reduced to yellowism, flattened to yellow-ism. However, people will need this totalitarian illusion of many isms, they will construct their own contexts, for example greenism,redism, chairism or godism, and they will be happy inside the isms but all the new one-meaning worlds can be always considered as yellowism.
Yellowism doesn’t replace (like dadaism) all the values with nothing, yellowism gives one sense instead of nonsense. Yellowism presents the vision of many autonomous territories around multiperspective art. Yellowism saves the ONE – whatever it is: blue, green, chair and offers the new grand philosophy of ONE.
Marcin Lodyga, Khadija Davies Portrait of Members of Art & Language with Caps, in the Style of Jackson Pollock yellowistic draft signed and dated 18/01/13 on the front magazine cover, pink ink 22.4 x 28.6 cm Executed in 2013
►► Discipline and punish.The birth of the black hole
Yellowists see the whole domain of reality and the whole domain of art as gigantic readymades which can be transported into the context of yellowism. Yellowism is a specific prison, a ghetto in which you are free from freedom, in which the freedom of interpretation doesn’t exist. Every content placed in this territory defines yellow color. It requires a noetic discipline. You have to respect the internal yellowism law. Yellowism is a bit like a black hole – most of the information about the matter that went into forming the black hole is lost. In the end yellowism only remembers the total mass, charge, and angular momentum. The physical form of objects and beings transported from art and reality is preserved, but all the forms carry only one, always and forever the same, identical message. You can observe that something is moving inside, you can watch pieces of yellowism free from the past and future; there is a movement but there is actually no time.
Yellowists don’t punish art, they don’t take a revenge on art or reality. Manifesto of yellowism is not a death sentence for art. Yellowists don’t destroy and don’t create. Yellowism is not vandalism and it’s not a form of creation. There is no postmodern, Derrida’s deconstruction, any destruction or creative construction inside yellowism. There is something else: flatstruction. Everything is flattened to yellow, all interpretations are ironed to one flat surface, to one meaning. The total flattening (flatstruction) is a state of permanent homogeneity. Yellowists don’t create and they don’t destroy, they make everything flat therefore, inside yellowism, deconstruction, creativity, vandalism, surrealism or fascism or anything else is flattened to one, to the expression of yellow.
Artists push the boundaries of art and are imprisoned in their seeming freedom. Yellowists are free outside of art. They resigned from art, they overstepped the boundary and the fact that everything can be about yellow gives them the almost cosmic freedom.
Today you can overstep the border, you can be a bit like Alice through the looking glass, you don’t have to, together with other artists, push the boundaries of art further anymore, now it’s time to cross it and discover the another, still unknown for many, space called yellowism. Of course, you can stay where you are and run your artistic life in harmony with the motion of postmodernism. Yellowists don’t announce the end of art; they say in manifesto: art is a forever developing whole. They don’t promote a slogan: “art is dead”, they rather say that yellowism is dead and always was dead and always will be dead. Therefore they don’t want to replace art with yellowism. They just introduce a new autonomous territory, specific environment which is parallel to the context of art. They give you a vision of time in culture when the resignation from art will be a trend. Yellowists show you the possibility of alternative existence in which the fact that you abandon art is considered as the most creative decision. It doesn’t matter what the condition of art will be after twenty or hundred years – yellowism will be still the same. Any changes and any progress around yellowism are and will be, metaphorically speaking, like a tank of formaldehyde for a dead animal.
I visited this exhibition last week and was very impressed. The paintings are incredibly familiar ( at least, the 60s pop art pictures) but to see them full size in a gallery is a monumental experience. They are huge. This is what gives them their power.
Lichtenstein has been accused of being shallow and only concerned with surface but there is a suprising depth in much of the work in this exhibition. The Late Nudes and Chinese Landscapes are particularly affecting. The landscapes enhance and yet subvert the Japanese originals by their sheer size but the use of dots is incredibly subtle and project a calm atmosphere.
This is what the program notes say about the nudes:
Unlike many artists, Lichtenstein did not use live models for his depictions of the female body; instead he returned to his archive of comic clippings to select female characters as subjects – and then literally undressed them, by imagining their bare bodies under their clothes before painting them as nude.
The paintings Nudes with Beach Ball 1994 and Blue Nude 1995 are examples of his late approach to the nude, brought together at a huge scale in original compositions of single, double and group portraits. The result is a disturbing violation of conventions. The noble nude has been rendered as erotic graphic pulp; the paintings propose her large schematic bland body as an object of desire, yet she experiences desire as well, often captured in a state of reverie or bliss. Like Picasso and Matisse before him, Lichtenstein’s fascination with the painter/model relationship reaches a new level of intimacy and sensuality, meshed with the formal concerns of his painting.
His reimagining of works by other artists also display a greater depth than some people might have thought. He covers many different periods and brings more than just parody to the work. In fact, he shows just how effective the use of lines and dots can be.
Still, my favourite of his is his first pop art picture “Look Mickey” to prove to his son he could paint pictures as good as in the comics. Now that is real genius! The rest, as we know, is history!
Otto Gross: minor character in David Cronenberg’s New Film, A Dangerous Method – major character in Eric Koch’s 2008 novel, Premonitions.
If you have seen the film, you will remember Otto Gross, a handsome character, played by Vincent Cassel, who gave the advice never to repress any sexual urges.
In Eric Koch’s novel – written without any reference to Jung’s love affair with Sabina Spielrein – he gives the same advice. Freud first welcomed him as an unusually gifted disciple, then rejected him because Gross turned out to be too radical for him, and too unethical.
Here are some extracts from the introduction:
“He was the nearest approach to the romantic idea of genius I have ever met, and he also illustrated the supposed resemblance of genius to madness.” Ernest Jones, Free Association, Memoirs of a Psychoanalyst, page 173.
This is a poem/song I wrote in 2005. It was inspired by the name and the view of a restaurant on the island of Skiathos in Greece. I was trying to connect with the space between consciousness and sleep, that space when thoughts drift without any idea of rationality, when words just connect with each other and everything makes sense! I composed a backing that I recently rediscovered and will record it again!
The first time that I saw you
I was dressed in black.
The last time that I saw you
You said you won’t be back.
Oh Infinity Blue
There were times
When I thought I could be with you
To be a real lover
And always be true.
Oh Infinity Blue
The angels came down once
And they spoke to me.
They gave me a message
That would set me free.
Oh Infinity Blue
The sun it was setting
It set in the east.
And somewhere inside me
It unleashed the beast.
Oh Infinity Blue
I walked through the centre line
Of what’s right and wrong.
And I tried to find freedom
In the words of a song!
Oh Infinity Blue
The words they controlled me
They forced me to stand.
When I was lost at sea
They showed me the land.
Oh Infinity Blue
And as I was waiting
For wisdom to come.
The words came and showed me
The warmth of the Sun.
Oh Infinity Blue
Between what is lost
And what cannot be
The words are like diamonds,
The words set you free.
Oh Infinity Blue
I was looking for mercy
I was looking for love
The words they came to me
Like a snowy white dove.
Oh Infinity Blue
I looked in your eyes
And I found mystery
And love, peace and mercy
Was our destiny!