Photograph from Taliesin's Hill Crown to its Living Quarters. September 2005.

False Clerestory at Taliesin

I took this on Taliesin’s Hill Crown in September 2008.

What’s a clerestory?

Clerestory—

“1. An upper zone of wall pierced with windows that admit light to the center of a lofty room.
 2. A window so placed.”

My definition comes from Dictionary of Architecture and Construction, 4th edition (McGraw-Hill, New York, 2006)—

Yes, I own that volume. I don’t understand everything in it, but I feel super prepared.

The Art History teacher who introduced the term to me said it was pronounced “Clear-story”. But I’ve also heard it pronounced, “Cler-eh’-story”.
Yet, I only found the first pronunciation (the way I was taught). So, a big “whew” toward our teacher, Dulcia, and my own memory.

Or, easily, we’ll just look at a pretty picture from Wikimedia, of what a clerestory looks like from inside a building:

Interior clerestory view at Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California. Photo by John Lloyd of Concrete, Washington, United States.

Where you see Taliesin’s false clerestory:

That’s in the photo at the top of this post, under the tallest roof you see.

You’ve also seen current photos of it in several of my posts already.

What – you didn’t realize I would constantly pull out my posts like baseball cards? Then my sneaky job of edumification is going along nicely.

Well, either that, or you’ve left the page b/c I write too f*****g much.

Oh, and that is one area where Wright, imho, changed things in ways I’m not crazy about.

You see the clerestory on tour

when you enter the living quarters.

As I wrote in the post, “Why did you have to do that Mr. Wright?”, that clerestory didn’t come in until the 1950s.

To see an early appearance in photographs, we’ll play a game of “spot the difference“.

First I’ll show you the “before” photo. The photo below was taken by former Wright apprentice, John Geiger (1921-2011), when he was in the Taliesin Fellowship (1947-1952).

Color photograph from Taliesin's Hill Crown to its Living Quarters. 1947-1952.
Photograph by John Geiger. 1947-52.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Taken from the Taliesin Hill Crown. Looking in the same direction as my photo at the top of this post.

There’s no clerestory at the roof over Taliesin’s Living Quarters.

Compare that, with what’s below.

This is the “after” photo. The photographer took this on April 3, 1953. It was also taken on the Taliesin Hill Crown and the Living Quarters has the clerestory:

Black and white photograph from Taliesin's Hill Crown to its Living Quarters. April 1953
Taken by Richard Braun or his brother.
Property: Taliesin Preservation, Inc.

While the Taliesin Fellowship was still at Taliesin West, Richard Braun and his brother came out to Taliesin and took a bunch of photographs. Years later, he took a tour at Taliesin and decided to give his photos to Taliesin Preservation.

Here is the kooky thing about this particular clerestory

The clerestory didn’t, and doesn’t, do anything.

Clerestories are there to bring in sunlight. This clerestory does not.

When you see the clerestory from the outside it looks as if light is coming in to Taliesin’s living quarters. Like the light coming taken at the “Winchester Mystery House” that I showed above.

Take a look at the photo I took in Taliesin’s Living Room that I posted in “Bats at Taliesin“:

Color photograph looking south in Taliesin's living room. Taken October 2003.

If the clerestory were doing its job, you’d see a line of light in the balcony behind the Buddha that stands back there. Yet, there’s only blackness.

And the photo I took below shows what you’d see if you were standing in that balcony:

Photograph from balcony at Taliesin. Taliesin's living room is in the background, past the Buddha under the white sheet.
By Keiran Murphy. Taken February 27, 2004.

I took this photograph in February 2004.
Scanning my memory, I was probably there while working on a chronology of this part of the building. That was a crazy assignment I should write about some time.

So, why did Wright do this?

There isn’t any evidence that Wright added the clerestory for a photograph, like he did maybe for Architectural Forum (like I talked about in my last post, “Taliesin West Inspiration“).

And, while I went looking for things in my copy of Frank Lloyd Wright: Complete Works, volume 3, 1943-1959 it wasn’t helpful. Because I thought maybe he was thinking about clerestories at entrances.

But then I thought:

in order for someone to get to “the front door” at Taliesin, they’ve got to walk quite a long way.

But, I found one building that might have been part of the process. It came at around the right time. That’s –

The Harold Price, Jr residence:

a.k.a., “Hillside”. The link I put above takes you to one of Maynard Parker’s photos of Hillside, but I put a color photo of this area, below. It comes from Frank Lloyd Wright: Completed Buildings, v. 3, 340.1

Photograph by Maynard Parker of the entryway at the Harold J. Price, Jr. home, Bartlesville, OK

I took this photo in the book with my smartphone; that’s why the photo almost looks like a painting.

There’s not a clerestory above the entrance, but a balcony. However, the view looks similar to what Wright did at Taliesin. So, when you come to the Price Jr. house, there’s what looks like a clerestory right above the door. Maybe Wright made the change because he was testing out the composition?

I mean, there were things he apparently did at Taliesin to test things out, or maybe because he liked what he did for someone else. And, like I wrote in my last post, he changed things for a photograph. But, despite how practical these things were, people at Taliesin could usually more-or-less use them when he was done.

But there’s no mistake: this design change that Wright made at Taliesin is completely unusable. Hey – it’s Taliesin Trompe l’oeil!2

First published July 4, 2022.


Note:

  1. Yes, I own all of the volumes from the “Completed Buildings” series (there are 3). I had stopped smoking, and was rewarding myself. Plus, I was hoping the books would become as valuable as the Frank Lloyd Wright Monograph series (c. $8k for the full set of the monographs in hardcover – girl’s gotta dream, right?).
  2. Maybe not, really. But I like those words. And Wright playing tricks with Taliesin always pleases me.
Two women at The Whitney Museum of Art looking at Untitled (Hujar Dead) by David Wojnarowicz

David Wojnarowicz

Looking at Untitled (Hujar Dead), 1987-88. “Hujar” was Wojnarowicz’s mentor & dear friend. The piece has writing silk screened over photographs of Peter Hujar (who had just died from an AIDS-related illness).
The writing, in part, says,
“I’m a thirty seven foot tall one thousand one hundred and seventy-two pound man inside this six foot frame      and all I can feel is the pressure      all I can feel is the pressure and the need for release.”

My husband and I were driving in the car and “It’s Been a Minute” with Sam Sanders came on. Sanders interviewed Sarah Schulman, co-director of the ACT UP Oral History Project and the author of Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 (“ACT UP” comes from AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). It’s a great interview that I encourage you to listen to.
https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510317/its-been-a-minute-with-sam-sanders

Listening on the radio, and the fact that it’s Pride Month, pulled me to write this post. It’s about another long-term interest of mine: the artist David Wojnarowicz [VOY-nə-ROH-vitch].

Who was Wojnarowicz?

Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was an American multi-media artist who died of an AIDS-related illness and was the subject of my Master’s Thesis in Art History in 1994.1

If you’ve not heard of him, you know at least one of his pieces: it’s Untitled (Falling Buffalos).2 I’ve noticed it a lot online and it was also the cover of the CD single, “One” by U2. The piece also graced the cover of his book of essays, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, which I took a photo of, and that’s below:

Cover of the book, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, by David Wojnarowicz. The book is sitting on a small table with my notes in the background (as apparent decoration?).

This post will not be a biography on the artist. That was expertly done by Cynthia Carr in her book, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz.

Talking about why I can’t really talk about him

I’m not certain I can properly write about him at all. This sense of inadequacy also explains why I didn’t go to NYC 1990-92 to find him. I kept imagining walking up to him (myself a white, suburban girl with combat boots as my ONLY hard-ass protective badge) and saying. . . what? “Um. . .  I like your work”?

This was a man who, according to Close to the Knives, lived mostly on the street when he was a teenager (you’ll have to read Carr’s biography to understand more), and (among other things) created art in a falling-apart pier on the Hudson River by spray painting on the crumbling walls and, one time, throwing grass seed on the rotting floors (you can see the grass in the 6th photograph from the Hyperallergic page linked to in this sentence).

My encounter with his work came at a good time:

His time at the forefront of art began in the 1980s while he participated in the art scene in the East Village of New York City. The energy and dynamism of his work drew me when I first encountered him in an article in The Village Voice3 in 1990. He didn’t seem to apologize for being gay, or for being angry at the rampant homophobia surrounding the AIDS crisis.

And while some see him as “an angry artist”, I never did. It seemed to me that his anger was completely justified. If you watch him on YouTube you can see him explain reasons to be angry.

And if you don’t remember the unchecked, cruel, homophobia surrounding AIDS in the 1980s – mid-’90s, then you either never knew of it, or you don’t remember (not that homophobia wasn’t there before, but [expletive expletive expletive deleted] people were dying).

And, while he was not explicit, Wojnarowicz wrote at times about erotic homosexual situations. Due to this my advisor told me to switch 2 of the professors on my thesis defense team. He said that, while they wouldn’t admit it, they’d never accept the thesis because of their problems with Wojnarowicz’s sexuality.

Now, here are links to a small bit of his art:

While I was first drawn to his painting, my thesis concentrated on his photography, which he began exploring in the late 1970s in a series called “Arthur Rimbaud in New York”.

He made a mask from a photograph of artist Rimbaud’s face and took photographs of the model with the mask all over New York City in a variety of different situations. I find it interesting that he explored a similar subject as Cindy Sherman, with her Film Still series of the same time period. It was the wearing of a mask. Plus, using Rimbaud automatically throws in “The Flaneur“: the withdrawn man watching society around him.

Another series of black & white photography (and photo collage) comes about a decade later, and I think it should be mentioned. It’s “The Sex Series”. It’s fascinating, intricate, includes his writing, and can be interpreted a variety of ways. The piece I’ve linked to is what I started my thesis talking about (I won’t put in my text; it’s 10 pages long). But just these two things (Arthur Rimbaud & “Sex Series”) give you a hint of how wide ranging his work could be.

Here’s what I took at a retrospective:

I took this in 2018 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art in NYC (“History Keeps Me Awake At Night“):13 art works on the wall in the Whitney Museum of Art during "History Keeps Me Up at Night"

Wojnarowicz was put into the category of “Graffiti artists” in the early 1980s (like artist Keith Haring) because he painted on the tops of trashcans and used stencils, among doing other things. The photograph above has one of his stencils, “Falling Man” in a piece on the left.

My Major Professor (advisor) was generous in encouraging me to pursue the artist for my thesis, even though Wojnarowicz had passed away only two years before. I didn’t majorly screw up on it, and am mostly proud of my writing. And still proud of my thesis title: “The Inscrutable Imagination and the Politics of Visibility in the Art of David Wojnarowicz”. It’s earnest, complex and, like the thesis text, has the hard, serious chunkiness of homemade artisan bread.

A list of books and articles about the artist:

Since I really cannot write about the man the way he should be written about (I’m the Taliesin Historian, not the Wojnarowicz historian), I’ll add some of the books/articles on him/by him/from exhibits on his work:

David Breslin and David Kiehl, ed. David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night  (New York, NY: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018). Exhibition catalogue

Cameron, Dan, Fever: The Art of David Wojnarowicz (Rizzoli, New York, 1998). Exhibition catalogue

Carr, C., “Portrait of the Artist in the Age of AIDS,” Village Voice, February 13, 1990, 31-36

Kuby, Adam, “The Art of David Wojnarowicz,” Out/Look, vol. 4, no. 4   (Spring, 1992), 53-62

Lippard, Lucy, ed., David Wojnarowicz: Brush Fires in the Social Landscape  (1995, Aperture, 2015)

———-, “Out of the Safety Zone,” Art in America, vol. 78. no. 12 (December, 1990), 130-139+

Wojnarowicz, David, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration (New York: Vintage Books, 1991)

———-, David Wojnarowicz: Tongues of Flame. Works 1979-1989, Barry Blinderman, ed. (Normal, Ill: University Galleries, Illinois State University, 1990). Exhibition catalogue

———-, Memories That Smell Like Gasoline (Artspace Books, San Francisco, 1992)

Some URLs:

Talk about “full circle”: it’s the reproduction of the piece (owned by the Chazen) that I first saw in the now-Chazen Museum of Art at UW-Madison less than six months after I started Grad school. A person’s bandaged hands (in B&W silver nitrate) are in the background, while the text is in the foreground.

What struck me:

Instead of the energetic, intense man I first saw, the words on the piece (a lot of his art includes writing) showed a 36-37-year-old-man discussing the reality of his oncoming death:

“I can’t abstract my own dying any longer. I am a stranger to others and to myself and I refuse to pretend that I am familiar or that I have history attached to my heels. . . .” Ending with, “I am disappearing. I am disappearing but not fast enough.” The pain and exhaustion struck me and I stood looking at it for an unknown amount of time. I ended my thesis talking about this work. It wasn’t until I read Carr’s biography that I found out this piece was the last he ever produced.

The “Pre-invented Existence” is what Wojnarowicz felt we all lived in.

First published June 20, 2021.
I took this photograph at the Whitney Museum of Art in NYC during its retrospective in 2018, “History Keeps Me Awake at Night”.
As I often do, when I take photos, I’m doing it mostly for documentary proof that I was there. And I wanted people in the photo so I could remember the actual size of the piece.
You can see Untitled (Hujar Dead) at the Whitney: https://whitney.org/collection/works/48140


Notes:

1 My thesis defense in November 1994 came just under 4 years after my first encounter with Wojnarowicz. December 1, 1994 was “The Day Without Art” on World AIDS Day. I and other Grad students created a series of presentations on it, the first time that had been done at the university museum. Organizing that with other Grad students is something I’m still proud of.

2 I love Wojnarowicz’s work, but the number of artworks that he left untitled is incredibly frustrating.

3 Cynthia Carr mentioned that she wrote that piece in her introduction to Fire in the Belly, her biography on Wojnarowicz. Not to be melodramatic, but I can’t remember how long I stopped breathing when I read that. The piece had an undeniable effect on my life.