Building Power: The Johnson Publishing Company
By Douglas Boatwright
Stray Light, a film by the artist David Hartt, is a portrait of the headquarters of Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) in Chicago. Founded in 1942 by business visionary John H. Johnson, JPC launched seminal American titles such as Ebony and Jet magazines. The company's eleven-story building is an iconic presence on South Michigan Avenue, with an illuminated rooftop marquee that's a landmark in itself. Designed by pioneering black architect John Moutoussamy, a partner in the Chicago firm Dubin, Dubin, Black and Moutoussamy, the JPC building was finished in 1972. The International Style exterior, sober and stripped of ornament, stands in stark contrast to the exuberant interiors, realized by famed Palm Springs designer Arthur Elrod. Vibrant colors ad precious materials - fur, ostrich-skin wallpaper, Hermès leather, and Chanel tweed upholstery - permeate every JPC department on floor after floor, from book publishing to radio to cosmetics.
David Hartt // The Republic
By Stephanie Cristello
A car thrown onto its side. When we visualize this image, we imagine a symbol of revolt. It is an attack on orientation, on forward movement, on progress – but it is also an image inescapably attached to the political domain, to capital and to the state, though the car itself is ubiquitous. It exists as a symbol that represents the facets of modern culture that are rarely visible – without the institution of the industrialized world there could be no car – yet becomes instrumental in envisioning the landscape of social unrest. We imagine a city strewn with overturned vehicles in the aftermath of an uprising, as if they were interlopers, their presence imposing small, but significant disruptions onto the pristine city grid. This is the image we attach to riots. You can almost hear the chaos, the loud and garish tableau of misconduct and lawlessness that we have based our mediated experiences onto, through snapshots in newspapers, artifacts, and archives. Though we could conjure the image in relation to any number of current events, the car remains part of the iconic and distant image we categorize as a symptom of “revolution,” in black and white, never in color, and specifically not from now.
Purple Magazine's Purple Diary
Photos by Elise Gallant
David Hartt at Studio Museum in Harlem
by Aimee Walleston
One of the first photographs encountered in David Hartt's multimedium exhibition "Stray Light" was a compelling close-up of a glass window etched with "JPC"—the Johnson Publishing Company's logo—in lustrous gold letters. The Barthesian punctum of the photograph, titled Test Kitchen at The Johnson Publishing Company Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois (2011), is the logo itself, which is chipped in several places.
David Hartt: Stray Light at the Studio Museum in Harlem
By Andrew Russeth
‘Award Room,’ 2011. (Courtesy the artist, MCA Chicago and the Studio Museum)
In 2010, the Johnson Publishing Company, the publisher of Ebony and Jet, sold its 11-story modernist headquarters in Chicago. When the office opened in 1972, it was the first major building to be designed in downtown Chicago by a black architect in 200 years, and in this elegant, understated exhibition, Windy City–based artist David Hartt takes us inside the building after the sale, before the company moved out, in seven photos and a 12-minute video accompanied by the music of a jazz sextet. (Scored by Nicole Mitchell, that graceful soundtrack is alone worth a visit to the show, which was curated by Michael Darling at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and is presented here by assistant curator Thomas J. Lax.)
A CLASS ACT, David Hartt Stray Light
By R. Wayne Parsons
On some occasions there is more to a photograph than meets the eye. This is very definitely the case with David Hartt's exhibition "Stray Light," which documents the interior of the Johnson Publishing Company building in Chicago.
This is a small show, with only seven large color photographs displayed. But the star of the exhibition is a twelve-minute video of the building’s interior scenes. Depicted in both the photos and video are such staples of contemporary corporate culture as the main entrance lobby, employees’ cubicles, a test kitchen, file cabinets and other office furniture, a small in-progress editorial meeting, and fashion accessories for the firm’s successful forays into this business niche.
David Hartt: Stray Light at the Studio Museum in Harlem
By Eva Diaz
Until recently, the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) was headquartered in the first skyscraper in Chicago owned and designed by African Americans. The firm was home to a suite of ventures: Jet and Ebony magazines, the now-defunct journals Copper Romance, Hue and Tan, and Fashion Flair, a line of cosmetics for women of color. At the time of its sale in 2010, the building was also a relic of a rather ostentatious kind of early 1970’s décor. Shortly before the property changed hands, artist David Hartt photographed and filmed at the site, capturing the rhythms of work in this unique environment, as well as the unmistakable signs of decline in the field of print publishing.
David Hartt At Corbett vs. Dempsey
by Daniel Quiles
David Hartt’s exhibiton “For Everyone a Garden” took its name from a 1974 book of the same title by Moshe Safdie, an architect of the iconic Habitat 67 apartment complex in Montreal. Safdie’s democratic proclamation more generally echoed the utopian modularity of late-196-s architecture (both “paper” and realized). In Hartt’s hands, Safdie’s phrase became a slogan appearing—in one of two sixty-by-eighty-inch framed illustrations by Marvel Comics draftsman Kalman Andrasofsky—as the message on protesters’ signs in a march through a generalized urban setting derived from Katsuhrio Otomo’s 1982-90 Akira manga series. The protesters, however, fill only the left hand of the composition. To their right are generic urbanites—bland couples and professionals talking on cell phones – seamlessly integrated with a modular apartment block, designed by Hartt in the Safdie or Yona Friedman vien. The second illustration depicts a man in a suit befitting a gangster or an actor of this structure. Rather than bank buildings or public spaces, it is ‘60s modular futurism – here indistinguishable from bourgeois modernism – that these ambiguous figures occupy.
Q&A with David Hartt
By Madeline Nusser
In David Hartt’s exhibition for everyone a garden, there is no shortage of architecture and industrial design references. A Moshe Safdie book inspired the title, glass sculptures resemble French architect Jean-Louis Cheneac’s module designs, and USM shelving units act as de facto pedestals. The artist – whose recent show, Stray Light, opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and is now running at Studio Museum in Harlem – uses research and photography to mine the build environment. Hartt talked to AN about design and identity – including, in an effacing way, his own identity – during his exhibit’s April run at Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery. The interview starts organically, as Hartt and Madeline Nusser walk by an artwork titled “Mutirao.”
David Hartt in conversation with Thelma Golden and Thomas J. Lax
The exhibition David Hartt: Stray Light takes a distinctive look at the Chicago headquarters of the Johnson Publishing Company—a paradigm of an American black-owned business, a purveyor of black taste and home to Ebony and Jet magazines. David Hartt (b. 1967), a Montreal-born, Chicago-based conceptual artist and 2012 recipient of a USA Fellowship, began the project shortly before Johnson Publishing sold the iconic eleven-story South Michigan Avenue building in 2010. Hartt captures the building—which remained virtually unchanged since its 1971 design by architect John Moutoussamy (1922– 1995) and interior designer Arthur Elrod (1926–1974)— through photographs, video and sculptures that convey a unique sense of both intimacy and detachment.
David Hartt at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Johnson Publishing Company inspires David Hartt’s MCA Screen installation
By Lauren Weinberg
From the first seconds of his 12-minute video, it’s obvious that David Hartt’s documenting an extraordinary office. True, the artist captures grey cubicles, fluorescent lights, taped-up cartoons and a smiley-face mug. But these signs of a typical American white-collar workplace are outnumbered by shots of mod furniture, opulent wallpaper and a vast art collection. Also notable: Almost all of the employees we glimpse, typing at their computers or talking in conference rooms, are black.