A short story by John Morse
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Branda Mangum Next Step through the Colors, 2015, quilted fabric, 8x8ft
The art of Branda Mangum, a master quilter based in Northern Florida, was exhibited in 2010 at Wm Turner gallery in Atlanta in the "Surrealist Next Door," curated by Morse. Soon afterwards, he and Mangum began collaborating on a new work based on a design by Morse but entirely left to the interpretation and execution of Mangum. The result pulls together a composition of 784 four-inch cloth squares bespeaking the color spectrum overlaid with a "pedestrian crossing" appliqué of black and white squares that echo the hues and values of the background colors.
Texas State Capitol, Austin 2015, paper collage 17X22"
Posters from E-3 Gallery, New York exhibitions (clockwise from upper left) John Morse Collage 1996, wtc 1982-2001, 2002, John Morse Collage 1998, and four editions of Look 2014 (visual poem)
Umbrella Arts hosted the official launch of John Morse's newest visual poem, Look, on October 23, 2014. Disguised as a 1960s style photo news magazine, the poem examines issues of voyeurism, celebrity and the modern surveillance state in an astonishingly brief snippet of verse, 17 words across eight glossy pages. Published in a numbered edition of 5,000, the magazine has been secretly placed in laundromats, airport lounges, nail salons, waiting rooms and other such spaces across America by a small cadre of volunteers who distributed them from Vermont to Florida, Seattle to Ohio, and around the world. The Twitter hashtag #LookPoem has documented many of the placements by various volunteers. In January 2014 an artist-signed copy of the poem was accepted into the Poetry Foundation's library archives in Chicago.
Many artists want an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. John Morse did not wait for the invitation.
Morse, who has spent decades gamely engaging visual poetry, installation, collage and public art, gently invaded the iconic museum on July 12 to create The Color Spectrum at the Guggenheim, a walking panoply of the rainbow flag featuring six collaborators, each in an oversized t-shirt in one of the primary or secondary colors. Aligned side-by-side, the pop-up installation/guerilla performance wended from the top of the museum's famed circular walkway to the floor of the conical rotunda in a literally moving interpretation of a prism.
The event, quiet in its presence but full voiced in its imagery, intrigued more than a few museum goers, according to the event’s participants who reported such comments as, "Look! It's an art piece!" and "You are art, aren't you?" Museum personnel, too, seemed largely bemused by the event, with at least one guard asking the colorful six, “Where’s my t-shirt?”
Though photography is not allowed on the museum's ramp, several onlookers discretely documented the happening. They included sculptor Jaynie Gillman Crimmins, who managed to catch a particularly compelling image, and award-winning cinematographer Edward Marritz, co-shooter of 1994 Best Oscar documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, who captured the happening in footage featured in a brief video posted to YouTube. For the video, Brooklyn based musician and frequent Morse collaborator Ford Rogers composed and performed an original soundtrack, Round and Down.
The color spectrum has been a consistent touchstone in Morse's public art since at least 1988, when he installed The Color Spectrum in Fruits and Vegetables, an actual a 16-foot wide wooden fruit stand densely packed with – yes – fruits and vegetables arranged à la the rainbow, for an opening at the then nascent Socrates Sculpture Park. In late 2012, he tied 50 “Rainbow Prayer Flags,” a gay flag interpretation of the traditional religious strings of cloth squares, at street corners throughout Atlanta as a way to welcome in 2013. As recently as this past June, he and collaborators reconditioned a graffiti covered wall in Atlanta with a Stonewall anniversary salute of color and neighborhood pride (see below).
Morse has a long history of placing art in surprising, often unexpected places, though this is the first time that the unexpected place for art was, in fact, an art museum.
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In late June, the artist’s studio, with help of neighbor Skip Marklein, commandeered a longtime Atlanta eyesore into a rainbow homage to the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, considered the beginning of the modern LGBT movement.
Click here for local coverage on the Atlanta gay news blog Project Q.
A.Lincoln, 2015, found paper collage, 18"x24"
A Blotto installation on a phone kiosk in Brooklyn Heights, June 2013. (Photo courtesy Steven R. Smith.)
The campaign's phone kiosk version. Other venues include posters at city-owned parking facilities, Jumbotrons at the stadiums of New York's minor league baseball teams in Staten Island and Brooklyn, as well as every coaster and napkin served with beverage at baseball games this summer.