Markus Amm

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Untitled, 2007, Synthetic enamel on paper and graphite on canvas140 x 107 cm

When I first encountered Markus Amm’s work in the halls of Booth School of Business, I was  quite taken with his formal/material operations. Simultaneously mysterious and obvious, I wonder what parameters or set of instructions Amm is both working within and against to arrive at these very physical constructed images. It seems there are internal forces at play that are left open for the viewer to project into and complete. It seems more about this sense of projection than erasures or sites of removal.


Untitled, 2005, Diptych, Graphite, oil on canvas board 50 x 60cm each

After visiting the paintings several times, they did not empty out quickly. Amm also maintains a body of work in the photographic process of photograms by using direct application of positive shapes against the exposure process on photo negative paper. This immediacy, limited palette, and controlled material experimentation in both the paintings and the photographs is infinitely intriguing.


A recent resurgence of the photogram process brings new light, new structures, and a new set of tensions to bear on the medium. Another artist working in the process who is also harnessing color and creating fields is, Walead Beashty.

Walead Beshty. Photogram. “DIRECTIONS: WALEAD BESHTY, LEGIBILITY ON COLOR BACKGROUNDS” at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., 2009.

“Working in both color and black-and-white, Beshty revises this historical technique by enlarging the scale of his photograms and making use of more contemporary technologies, such as color processors. In addition, rather than placing objects on photographic paper, Beshty folds or curls the paper before exposing it repeatedly to light, creating interlocking facets of prismatic color. The resulting works present themselves as seductive, elusive abstractions, yet they are actually material representations of the very process of their creation.”  –Hirshhorn Museum website

Beashty and Amm’s photo interventions immediately bring to mind the master and Bauhaus-to-Chicago pioneer of Constructivism, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. In the early 20th century Man Ray  and Maholy-Nagy first experimented with cameraless photograms. Now Amm and Beashty pay homage to these artists in their updated photogram interventions. Essentially these artists are sampling and repeating a time tested process by bringing it into the 21st century and proving it can hold new content and hold up in new contexts.

Markus Amm in University of Chicago Booth School of Business Collection.

Chroma Crush: Anne Truitt

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Anne Truitt's 35th Street studio, Washington, DC 2004.

Anne Truitt has always stood out in my mind as having a command over peculiar color. Truitt’s totemic wood sculptures hover on their bases and emit color from the inside out. This is achieved through a laborious process of mixing pigments, application, sanding down, and applying layer after layer in this manner. Pigment settles deeply into the very fiber and grain of the wood. At a certain point the “woodness” falls away and strangely, color takes on an agency of its own, supported by the structure itself. Truitt’s instinct for color and form has led her to attribute certain references to nature, geographic place, time of day, as well as the corresponding qualities of light in titles such as, A Wall for Apricots, Autumn Dryad, and Valley Forge.

Anne Truitt in her Twining Court studio, Washington, DC, 1963.

Anne Truitt began exhibiting her geometric minimalist abstractions in 1961. And in 2009 I visited The Hirshhorn Museum’s exhibition,  “Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection”  curated by Kristen Hileman. Although the installation and display strategies of the work were problematic and detract from the sculptures, it was a very complete introduction to Truitt’s oevure. The sculptures have a presence that came as a surprise and felt uncanny due to their body-like scale.

The Hirshhorn Museum presents the first major exhibition of Anne Truitt's work since 1974. "Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection" is a survey of two- and three-dimensional works made during her 50-year career. Please include a copyright credit line with any photograph of Truitt work: Artwork © Estate of Anne Truitt.

Writing in April, 1965, Truitt stated: “What is important to me in not geometrical shape per se, or color per se, but to make a relationship between shape and color which feels to me like my experience. To make what feels to me like reality.” (Private papers.) –Anne

In Anne Truitt, Working, a film by Jem Cohen, Truitt points to a “sickish color” and talks about layering that one under another in order for it to “zoom into being, in order to lift up ten feet into the air.”  (fast forward to 2:14). Cohen sums up Truitt’s endeavors in color as one that is “scientific search and in ways a spiritual search” in an attempt to “set color free in three dimensions.”

Yaddo 2003.


Spectral Landscape (with Viewing Stations)

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Plug has its finger on the pulse of current art practices! Here is a feature on Gallery 400 whose current exhibition has similar interests as Plug’s current Dramatic Chromatic:

Richard Mosse,"Taking Tiger Mountain," 2011, digital C-print, 74 x 92 in. Collection Nick Cave. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Spectral Landscape (with Viewing Stations) is co-curated by artists Pamela Fraser and John Neff for Gallery 400.

“Exploring color as both a formal and a social force, Spectral Landscape (with Viewing Stations) arrays artworks around the gallery according to a loosely organized color spectrum. Envisioned by the artist-curators as an environment—a landscape—the project is created not only from works using spectral color, but also from instances of achromatic, invisible (infared, thermal, supernatural), and variable (metallic, iridescent) color in art. Spectral Landscape (with Viewing Stations) reveals and embodies how artists navigate the complex interactions between colors, histories, references, and sensations.”

Judy Ledgerwood

I love the way Judy Ledgerwood’s work bends architecture and corners via pigments.


Zachary Buchner, "Untitled (Pink Yellow)," 2010, plaster, enamel, burlap, and plywood, 72 x 48 in.



Anne Collier. Aura (John Baldessari), 2003Dye-diffusion transfer (Polaroid) print, 4 1/4 x 3 1/2 in.


Adam Grossi. Call and Response, 2011Acrylic on wood panel, 48 x 48 in.

Color: Remixed and Expanded  at Gallery 400

Spectral Landscape (with Viewing Stations) is on view April 27-June 9, 2012.

The excellent Exhibition Essay.

If you are in Chicago, be sure to check out the Color Film Series that accompanies the exhibition. The lineup includes: Stan Brakhage, The Dante Quartet, 1987. James Bidgood, Pink Narcissus, 1971. Peggy Ahwesh, The Color of Love, 1994. John Kramer, Carrie Yellow, 1998. Paul Dickinson, Infrared Nail Pull, 1998. Nova Paul, Pink and White Terraces, 2006. Cheryl Donegan, Flushing, 2004.

Tyree Callahan Chromatic Typewriter, 2012 Modified 1937 Underwood Standard typewriter, pigment, resin, and oil on paper, 12 x 14 x 21 in.



posted in: Architecture, Blog, Site Visit, Superstruct | 1

This past April (while on a road trip from NJ to KC), I had the opportunity to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s domestic commission, Fallingwater, nestled in the woods of Pennsylvania just outside Pittsburg.

Fallingwater: Initial Approach

What is immediately clear upon approach is that Lloyd knows his architectural history. It would appear that Wright synthesized certain principles of design from across a spectrum of cultures and histories. These principles of balance and grace were clarified, and then combined to achieve a new harmony. Clean lines, flawless integration with its natural surroundings, and modular domestic amenities inside and out are reminiscent of Japanese architecture.  Every square inch of space, overlap and point of contact is considered.

One of the most glaring differences between experiencing this home and contemporary homes are that the proportions of everything- thresholds, to rooms and windows, planters and the pool- each one is so contentious.

Frankly, I was shocked to see Wright use an ochre color of paint applied to concrete shaped into soft round, repeating curves. When I think of Wright’s style, angular bricks in squat midwest prairie iterations spring to mind. In my humble opinion, Falling Water also references Adobe abodes, so characteristic to the American Southwest.

Pueblos de Taos, New Mexico

The ochre body with red window trim made the home both pop and recede into the foliage depending on the strength of the sun through the clouds that day. I overheard a passing guide mention the color was derived from the underside of a fallen, dead leaf.

Falling Water's cantaliever

Paint Colors: Wright’s desire to create a unified and organic composition limited the color palette at Fallingwater. Only two colors were used throughout:  a light ochre for the concrete and his signature Cherokee red for the steel (PPG Pittsburgh Paints). –Fallingwater Facts

Even though this home was built in 1936, its vision and clarity resonates today. I wonder what kind of lives were enriched by existing amidst nature mingling with these walls. Fallingwater is a fantastic specimen of “superstruct,” the original foundation here literally being nature and conceptually being a myriad of architectural histories/principles that are built upon. It is a structure quietly ahead of its time.


Fallingwater is anchored seamlessly into natural rock. (extra points if you spot my mother)
We even admired the patio furniture; the raised center design takes into account the position of lounging legs and feet.


Peter Volkous sculpture signed '58 spotted by the spring-fed pool

Walking the West Bottoms

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Something draws us to the West Bottoms. People come here to commemorate important life events, weddings and graduations. They use its tall brick walls as a backdrop. Maybe they want something solid and unchanging to frame a fleeting moment. Maybe they don’t realize that change is the very definition of the West Bottoms, the only constant in its turbulent history.

The Bottoms have seen native tribes and displaced Indians, traders and fur trappers, immigrants and escaped slaves, cattle and livestock on trains, merchants and travellers on steamboats. From the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, steel workers sent the tanks floating downstream that would eventually land on foreign beaches and defeat the Axis powers. And, oh, the cattle. You could once look in one direction and hardly see anything else, while a whole city of houses and churches, bridges and elevated rails, flour mills, schools, hotels and train depots stretched to the foot of the bluffs behind your back. Most of this was washed away by fast-rising water. The water is a constant too. After every flood some things are repaired or built again. Others are forever lost or abandoned.

We come here now for other reasons. Back-alley bars with live jazz slinking through port hole windows. Fugue-inducing 3 AM concerts with ten drummers and all manner of electronic instruments.  Burnt ends slow cooked and drenched in a sauce of tomato and molasses. Grown men riding angry geldings. Giant pork tenderloins between crappy wood laminate walls. Framed photographs and vibrant paintings in stark white rooms. Moscow mules in a copper mug. People live in old flour mills, work in grain warehouses with charred beams and open elevator shafts. People come here to buy, to sell, and to explore. People come here to create things.

I’m walking down the street on a March day, sky electric blue. It’s still cold, especially when the clouds swirl over the sun, or I walk in the shade of the brick buildings. Every so often the wind picks up and pelts my face with tiny grains of sand and loose gravel. A few bikers idle as an orange train clatters by. A building curves to match the bend of the tracks below, ghosted layers of paint still visible on its brick facade. Rail spurs reflect the sun. Something draws us to the West Bottoms, something far more than nostalgia. We’re drawn here by the excitement, the rarity of finding a place so specific and so distinctly urban, yet so undetermined, expansive and full of possibility.

Words and pictures by Gavin Snider


conversations public and private

posted in: Blog, Collaboration, Writings | 0

here is how i gloss your response [see posts by sonya blesofsky and jack rees below] as a series of questions: 1) what gives our art-making logic? 2) what makes one’s own work consistently engaging? 3)what is it that makes jury-rigged forms so compelling? initially, number three engages my attention, maybe because the logic of a response in (and to) pictures is so undefined (read: open ended).

i agree: that which is cobbled together smartly, is often oddly compelling. My shorthand for this is kluge: the quick fix, the temporary solution constructed from material at hand that ends up “working.” what i find compelling about a good kluge is the way it marries things that in other, more considered, frames would not be part of the same solution—elegance and awkwardness, form and idea, necessity and impermanence.

one example might be drawn from the etymology of jury-rigged: a temporary mast erected on a ship when the permanent mast is no longer functional ( in this situation the revised object must function under great stress yet all involved understand it to be only as functional as needs be—life saving necessity meets just good enough.

form and idea are, of course, often married in art yet in a kluge, allow for what might be called category shifting which is a singular mark of distinction. the picture you selected of the water bottles hanging from the seat rack of a motor bike is a case in point. in that circumstance, hanging the bottles from their tops is a satisfying kluge, unexpected but just “right.” one admires the solution because the idea is good, novel, and ad hoc while the form is pleasing.

so as not to beat a dead horse, i would make an analogous argument argument for elegance and awkwardness yet; to my mind, these deserve special consideration. our visual world is so cluttered with crafted yet meaningless objects that one is tempted to depend on a lack of craft (or even the semblance of a lack of sophisticating in making) as a way to call attention to the handmade object. the implicit claim is: this work means something simply because it is not “polished.” sadly, the implication does not hold up to scrutiny. not polished is not polished and significance, though inexorably tied to form, is not automatically present by virtue of an object being hand-made.

in this context, i wonder at your seeming pride in removing alchemy from the mix. why is it that magic and transparency are contradictory? seems to me the trick is to present in the objects we make, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts—just like a good kluge.

Constraints and Joy in Superstruct

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As a designer and an architect, I truly enjoyed visiting Plug’s latest exhibition Superstruct, which offers a mirror to reflect on issues of design, habitation, and spatial relationships, in both their binding terms and more optimistic (partial) escapes from superstructure. Aside from related historical queries that bounced initially to mind, such as Piranesi’s prisons drawings or the deconstructionist investigations of Tschumi and Eisenman, it was particularly stimulating to peruse through Brady Haston’s sketchbook on display. What grabbed my attention, as it frequently does when afforded the privy of one’s ideas in her/his sketchbook, was in the evolution that occurs chronologically, and witnessing the return to larger themes and ideas through time. For me, what resonated most was in Haston’s use of the gridded and parallel lines of the notebook through a couple of years. The constraints of the lines and grids beckon happy violations, but these still often return to the imposition of the page’s order and limitations. Seeing how one day’s drawing bore on a later work reminded me of some of my own desires and inclinations, particularly in geometry as it applies to space – the desire to break and be happy, while still fully aware of the constraints.
The design of the Rocket Grant project Elizabeth and I are working on has wrestled with similar questions, albeit in three dimensional form. We have chosen to pursue a project a form that is structured by social/historical knowledge, not just in the contents, but in the composition of a cabinet with legs, a base, and a display top, with straight lines and stretched surfaces that seem to offer freedom, but in reality create constraints for intentional mediation and violation. The cabinet attempts to dissolve and resolve an understanding of the world, which occurs manifestly in its physical form as well. Particularly, how a taut membrane can be redefined as flat, gridded tiles, with openings to view works of art and intellect within. Such an effort encompasses a struggle with the grid, and an attempt to make something greater of this order to create, ultimately, some glee between the lines.

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