Like A Timeline


I’d been looking at these circles for three days, individually, one at a time, one layer on, one layer off, a long drawn out comparison that I pilfered together from memory, often sometimes in rapid succession, adjusting, fretting a bit, wandering through my uncertainty if they were going to work. This way of designed was like a version of the perpetual present — difficult to discern the pattern.





Then, when looking at them all at once, like a timeline drawn in retrospective, the small multiples were in an entirely different conversation, a rhythm of changes better understood, elongated into visibility.


Gravity and Diffusion


The ink languished into a register on the folded sheet, an inversion edited by gravity and diffusion.

I’ve been working on this essay/narrative/piece for (oh, boy) half a year, off and on, and I still don’t know quite what to call it, and that’s after approaching the whole experience with ten thousand words. I’m trying for something with it, striving, and still feeling uncertain if I’ve written one word that really expresses what had originally struck me as a secret lesson about the mystery of experience.

Maybe everything that you make along the way, or that gets made accidentally, even if you never get to where you think a thing might be able to go, can be your things. The art that you find along the way.

The Glass Title


The wall card — across soft letters painted onto a clear laminated sheet of plastic — told me and everyone else that “there were ten crossed-out candidates on the reverse of the canvas in addition to others noted in his correspondence, including Opera, The Holy Family, The Metronome, and Night and Day.”

I preferred the first three in that list, greatly, over the title Magritte eventually settled on, The Glass Key. But here, on a different floor in a different exhibit, was partially an answer to my earlier line of questioning about the sourcing and transmission and inside-baseball and behind-the-canvas about titles.  And here was one piece in which the title was on the piece itself. Was that the exception, or the rule? But patrons and visitors didn’t get to look at the back of the canvas. And, now that they/them (whoever the hell it was that wrote that paragraph) mentioned it, I’d sure like to look at the back of all of these canvasses. Did he title everything on the back? The titles sure were significant for him, all ten of the previous educated guesses, floating around. If I’d liked these three titles, and found something about that process of discovery an intriguing relationship to ponder (because I’d already moved beyond how good the painting itself was, on its just straightforward merits, even without the title), it would be nice to know about the others as well.

Because why had I liked these titles more?

What other secret information were they obfuscating by always hanging these things in frames, protected and elevated; the opportunity to see the backside and seams of the canvas awarded perhaps only to some wealthy donor, or an MFA student in mid-twentieth century surrealist art writing their thesis on the treachery of lost titles, or another artist embarking on some mixed curation in which they hung everything backwards, on a long sheet of glass like at an aquarium and you had to imagine the more famous sides.

The Solstice Constraints


I could, in fact, imagine my similar summer-themed collection on display, although not in such a formal gallery. At least, not yet. It was a few levels of quality below what I understood would be curated as an exhibit. Although the maneuver itself, the concept, was perhaps correct — so I should just keep iterating, stealing, borrowing, re-mixing, posting, pushing, publishing. As much as it had been my art (oh good lord, I’ve called it the three letter word), the posters illustrated what a series of constraints allowed for, if you kept at it. That it was even something I strive for at all is such a confusing, embarrassing, and easily misunderstood inclination.

However, though, let’s play at the pretentiousness for a moment.

Valkyries, 2009
Stallion, 2012
Longboards, 2013
Nautilus, 2014
Deloreon, 2015
Shadow, 2016
City, 2017
Fossil, 2018

What I could also, in fact, imagine I’d suggest being printed on the wall — adjacent or perhaps below — is how the ultimate constraint, of having canceled the party in 2008, was what planted a small seed that began the whole project.

Not that another break would lead to something newer or better. But I keep wondering if I could stick with this type of limit, hold fast to it creatively in an entirely other medium and situation.

The Summer Constraints


On the other side of the Calder collection was a U-shaped gallery, like some small form of intermission of posters. There’s a remarkable consistency to the posters across their nearly five decades of production. They’d started as an in-house promotion for the internal corporate party, in 1970, for Herman Miller. All of the framings were tight, too close, almost, as if they were in your face, about to smell and eat the screen printed colors.

All situated at once, the consistency was quite enjoyable and inspiring and impressive. It was a series, the white space constituting the year-long gap between summers.

“These could be your Solstice posters,” she beamed.

“Totally,” I answered, excited and sheepish all at once.

Yes, if you made one per year, or per month, or per day, as I had, eventually that would add up to a series. So first decide on a format, a size, a limited perspective, and just keep working within those constraints.


We’d been talking about going for months, and the Calder exhibit itself was only “up” for a few more weeks at SFMOMA (or so we thought). My mother and I entered the gallery space on the third floor after a long drive up the coast and three trips over the park across the street.

On the second floor, she’d just renewed our dual membership, in person because she qualified for the senior discount and needed to show proof. The woman behind the kiosk desk in front of the screens with their bright red backgrounds and white lettering thanked us for renewing and offered free audio tours for the visit.

The Michelin-starred restaurant on the ground floor, in situ, was “taking a break” and would be open again at five. Our timed tickets for the featured attraction, the Magritte, was at five-thirty, and we needed to eat first, and I was tired, so we’d crossed the street and walked (again) past the Google event setting-up all across the outdoor park areas of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Pallets forklifted out of box rental trucks, watched over by security guards, circling construction workers in hard hats scaling temporary white PVC constructions-approaching-sculpture. How did I know it was Google? Well, the cloud logo, in its primary colors, and the event badges from the convention center when we walked out of the parking garage. There were billboards, too, across the city.

I’d developed a sense for these things, my mother noted, and it always perked up at the load-ins, the load-outs. And by sense, I mean an obsession with how things were constructed, especially temporary productions, like a job site. You saw how everything was made, the curtain pulled back before the final layout was finished, and everything unfixed rolled across on black boxed wheels cushioned by their importance. There was a staging manager’s aspect to the whole thing, but no actors, and quite a mess. But it often felt like far too much attention to detail, is what I thought, to make something with such evident attention to details, just so on-brand with a theme orchestrated from a cohesive pattern in the chevroning palette of throw pillows amidst the seating areas on grass patches.

I thought of Versailles, and the palatial grounds and the holdings of court affairs. This afternoon party, built well ahead of time, for a lunch the next day, must have descended from that lineage of opulence. There was a power now in what these ideas could bring about.

We walked past it again after our late lunch on the way back into the museum and the exhibit on the third floor.

Given how much we had talked about it, the room itself felt smaller than expected. I read the wall signage title, the alexander calder in raised three dimensional text extruded from the wall, two shades of gray, all lower case, diagonal lines, the scaling up flat against the wall, as much a title for the cloud party across the street as it was for the exhibit itself, with its various sized maquettes, in bare metal, flat black, and full sizes.

It was the room full of Calder and his sculptured pieces. Geometries without platonic ideals, in vectors without calculation, full of some intersection of organic and playful. Nothing hanging from the ceiling, but large pieces on the ground almost like birds, fossils from his birthplace era of Pennsylvania steel.

The curator’s inscriptions on the wall were occasionally playful and discussed the title of the largest piece outside, The Kite That Never Flew (“even when placed outdoors and subjected to San Franciso’s mighty winds, will never fly away”) and its smaller scaled model inside. Oh, what an asshole, I thought, telling a whole brilliant, clever story in his title.

Discounting everything else I knew about art, which was not all that much, except that I kept going back about as frequently as anyone that I knew, I had a funny question. Probably a stupid question, really:

Why did we know this was the title? And how?

How, specifically, did those words, that little ironic sentence, get transmitted, along with all of the other info that seems to trail along these objects. It wasn’t like a book, or a song, or a play, where the title was printed with the thing in itself directly attached to it, in the middle of the situation. When this wasn’t in a museum, how was it titled? He signed the work, I could see outside on the larger piece, blown in with a torch of some kind, a large C with a tail that crossed a smaller A. But the title itself lay elsewhere —  if it lay anywhere else at all besides the text on the wall, or in the book with photographic reproductions and long essay — and in the case of this damn Kite thing, it really seemed to add a lot to your demanding interpretation of the object itself to know the title.

Was there some official way in which a piece of art was titled? And who authenticated that? What if they changed their mind? At what point was the piece done and then the title affixed to it, all that semiological stuff happening. Somewhere else, behind the scenes, well before I was born or stepped into the exhibit, some consortium of humans conspired to make sure this title continued. There was an unseen process at work here, and I felt like my question wouldn’t find a definitive answer.

Was it just a part of a convention, between the artist, the steelworkers who helped him generate the pieces, the art critics (who demanded some words of some kind beyond the pointing and nodding and shaking of hands and heads), the curators who needed a title to help identify and interpret, the buyers or philanthropists who would invest in the piece and then share it. “Purchase, by exchange, through fractional gifts” seemed as much a title of significance and complication as everything else I was reading— who owned it. Yes, Calder having finishing (or perhaps having only even conceived) probably just told someone, or wrote in his notebooks, and discussed the piece as it was created. To the museum itself, it had another name, “FC.196,” taxonomically nearly the two hundredth artifact of the “Fisher Collection.”

His smaller pieces in the exhibit, full of color and tensile mobile equilibrium each sat on their own pedestal, built just to the exact proportions, long drawn out horizontal dimensions. My mother stood before them.

“I look at these, and they just make me feel very happy,” she confessed.

I liked the primary colors and how the shapes diminished their straightforwardness and their purity of hue. But I wanted to know who built these light gray boxes, who made that curatorial decision, as elegant in their proportion, they were as much the experience, even if you might think they disappeared. They didn’t, at least not for me. I wanted to know how they’d arrived at those diamond shapes, building space around these specific pieces that would be temporary. The full-scale pieces were more obvious in placement. They needed to be outside, and there was only so much room. Were they craned in? Or, given the nuts and bolts, did the pieces come apart for installation? His work felt like that, even the smaller pieces like you could have put them together yourself, despite how balanced and full of movement they were.

They were like dinosaur fossils. Everything in the room, from the scaling, a reconstruction.

The small maquette, unpainted, bare metal, probably could be flown.



At a length beyond which I’ve yet given myself the proper runway, I’d like to write about what happens inside (and at the limits of) museums.

I get angry, at the wall card text and their choices of words.

And yet I also occasionally delight in their small narrative obstructions.


I get distracted by all of the patrons; their shoes, their pacing, their notebooks, their clothing, and especially couples and the way in which the art seems to act as a prism into their relationship.

And perhaps even more so by the security guards standing watch over the rooms and the lines on the floor from which invisible force fields ascend. While at once it seemed like an incredibly tedious and perhaps difficult line of work — standing all day and playing wall monitor — it also seemed like an incredibly interesting opportunity.

There was some other kind of expression of change — measured by the rooms — if you watched the exhibit floor like a sailor witnessing her tides.