Henry Codecs

[L to R] Henry Codax, Lemonade 1, Strawberry 1, Lemonade 2, Strawberry 2, all 2017, all 7’x3.5′, all acrylic on canvas, as installed in “Strawberry Lemonade,” 2017-18 at Everybody, Tucson, Arizona

I confess I thought Henry Codex’s project had fizzled out, when in fact, I had just lost the thread. Since 2017 Codax has had solo shows in Zürich, Paris, and Tucsontwice. This morning Joshua Caleb Weibley skeeted some begrudging praise for Tucson gallery Everybody’s second Codax exhibition, which is currently on view.

Installation view of Henry Codax’s 2023-24 exhibition at Everybody

Unlike the first, “Strawberry Lemonade,” which was staged in Everybody’s original warehouse situation, this untitled show of untitled works fills Everybody’s current murdered-out bungalow space. For an artist known [sic] for large, pristinely executed monochromes, these new paintings, as the gallery’s terse press release notes, “mark a shift in the artist’s approach.” Well, yes and no.

Continue reading “Henry Codecs”

This Looks Like That: Henry Codax Silver Paintings At Martos Gallery

Remember how, when Christie’s tried to sell a Henry Codax painting as being by Jacob Kassay and Olivier Mosset, Kassay issued a statement saying he had nothing to do with the painting, and his “name should not be associated with it”? I don’t think Henry Codax got that memo. Because the new, silvery Codax paintings as Martos Gallery look like they’re trying to give Kassay a big ol’ hug.
Installation shot of Jacob Kassay’s 2013 show at The Kitchen titled, interestingly, Untitled (disambiguation)
For an artist who exists only in the pages of a crowdsourced novel, Codax sure keeps busy IRL. There have been multiple shows every year since 2011, and honestly, just look at this detailing; these paintings are not slapdash affairs:
Clearly, Codax knows his way across the surface of a monochrome.
Henry Codax iridescent paintings, at Martos Gallery through Oct 4, 2014 [martosgallery]
Henry Codax at Shoot the Lobster at Gavin Brown

Henry Codax at Shoot the Lobster at Gavin Brown

Gavin Brown’s enterprise has a show of Henry Codax paintings organized by Shoot the Lobster.
The press release quotes an interview Codax did with Peter Scott, which ran in Grey Magazine in March. Scott runs Carriage Trade, where Codax’s paintings were shown for the first time in Summer 2011.
Henry Codax, installation view, 2011, Carriage Trade
Shoot the Lobster is the projects program/backroom of Jose Martos’ gallery on 29th Street.
Henry Codax, NADA NYC 2012 installation view, Martos Gallery
Martos showed Codax’s paintings twice in 2012: first at NADA NYC in May, then in the gallery from June through August.
Henry Codax, “Long Suffering,” installation view, Summer 2012, Martos Gallery
Martos Gallery’s current summer show is No Place Like You, works by Peter Scott. Shoot the Lobster’s current summer show is No Place Like You (continued), a related group show with works by Dan Graham, Servane Mary, Heidi Schlatter and Jaques Tati.
Last year, I wrote of Codax’s practice:

What little we know of Codax comes from fiction, but his paintings are real, physical facts. As the ambiguities about the artist persist, even multiply, the paintings remain unchanged. When I first saw Codax’s work last summer, it intrigued me. I liked it, but worried that it might be a stunt, a one-liner in the form of a show. But Codax keeps making and showing work. And selling it, sometimes to people who try to flip it. And getting reviewed and written about. At some point, it’s possible that the persistence of Codax’s paintings may overcome the uncertainties of their origins. We’ll just accept them–and buy and sell and show them–for what they are: Henry Codax paintings.

Which seems both truer and wronger today. Codax’s paintings certainly persist. After three Summer shows in New York, it may be time to consider Henry Codax paintings a fixture, a tradition. A Codax show holds the gallery walls while the nonfictional art world is out of town. They’re the painting equivalent of a lamp timer, set up to convince the passerby that someone’s home.
They’re a housesitter that doesn’t water your plants And won’t cover your bills. Because is it just me, or are these some of the same actual paintings? Why doesn’t anyone want the yellow one? Are Codax paintings like Hirst Spots, no two colors alike, or are people still just not getting it?
From the Grey interview:

Scott:…Though the idea of a pseudonym may not be new, if this was a recent example, it entered it into a system of valuation and exchange, which is dependent upon a traceable identification between the maker and the object. This identification was never made publicly, nor offered contractually, which created problems when the work came up for auction. The speculation around the authorship dovetailed with the market speculation around the work until they were indistinguishable to some.
Codax: Until the auction.
Scott: The irony is that the market speculation was hindered by “Henry’s” rumored origins being asserted as fact. As long as you remained an artist that “might have been” created by actual, living artists, there was no “true” identity to be lost. The moment that any living person either claimed or disclaimed you, you were subject to verification to establish your “actual” worth.
Codax: So you’re now saying I no longer exist.
Scott: I’m saying you exist through all the paintings out there attributed to the artist Henry Codax.

Lights are on. I believe.
Henry Codax Shoot the Lobster at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, through 10 Aug 2013 [gavinbrown.biz]
An interview with Henry Codax [grey-magazine]
Previous Codaxplanations on greg.org:
Henry Codax at Auction; Speculation, on the Codax auction aftermath

Henry Codax à Paris

I tell you, now I cannot get enough of that Henry Codax.
Fortunately, Codax isn’t letting a little auction setback, or the fact that he’s a fictional character from an anonymous corporation’s collectively authored novel, cut into his practice. Or his brand. The more I think about it, Jacob Kassay’s insistence to Christie’s and their bidders that his name should not be associated with Codax’s painting ends up reaffirming Codax’s own authenticity. Untitled (Dark Grey) is NOT a stealth Kassay; it is what it’s certified to be: a Henry Codax painting.
And for those wondering about Olivier Mosset’s rumored/reported involvement, and asking why we’ve never seen Mosset and Codax in the same room, hmm? Well.
[l to r] Henry Codax, Hugo Pernet, Olivier Mosset, at Triple-V, photo by André Morin via Triple-V.fr
Just two days after the Christie’s non-sale, Triple V, a galerie in Paris’s 13th, opened an all-monochrome group show featuring Henry Codax, Stéphane Kropf, Hugo Pernet–and Olivier Mosset. So there you go.
Mosset and Kropf have shown with Triple V before, and Kropf has shown with Codax before, at Susanna Kulli in Zurich last October. Birds of a feather.
Triple V’s show sounds quite nice, providing examples of artists’ differing engagements with the history of the monochrome. Pernet’s triptych, Rouge, Jaune, Bleu #2, 2012 [above, center] is the chromatic negative of the Ellsworth Kelly triptych that gave it its title, Red, Yellow, Blue. The two door-shaped Mosset paintings [right] are from 1979-80. Kropf’s painting counters the idea of monochrome as content-free by showing all the drips and traces of its making. And Codax. The gallery’s announcement for the show, provided by one of Triple V’s Vs, Vincent Pecoil, only adds to the possible explanations for Codax:

On sait par exemple peu de choses d’Henry Codax, tout d’abord, sauf qu’il est un personnage d’un roman intitulé Reena Spaulings, un peintre portant la barbe et réalisant des peintures monochromes. Le fait qu’il présente ici deux tableaux ne va pas dans le sens de la fiction, mais il se peut aussi que la-dite fiction soit inspirée de faits réels. Il est possible également qu’il soit plusieurs, collectif d’anonymes, au même titre que les auteurs du roman en question. [emphasis added]

I won’t translate the whole thing, but just pick out the two new possibilities. The first is that the fictional character Codax might be “inspired by real facts,” an actual painter out there somewhere. [We can somehow process this distinction between fact and fiction when it comes to novels and movies, even if we do it by insisting on conflating authors and actors with their creations, even after their obligatory denials.
Henry Codax, Untitled (Bubblegum Pink) and Untitled (Day-Glo), 2012, photo by André Morin via Triple-V.fr
The other possibility, which seems new to me, is that Codax may be a collective, anonymous project of the Reena Spaulings/Bernadette Corporation itself/themselves. Corporations are people artists, too. Yet all explanations remain resolutely unconfirmed. And what’s wrong with that?
What little we know of Codax comes from fiction, but his paintings are real, physical facts. As the ambiguities about the artist persist, even multiply, the paintings remain unchanged. When I first saw Codax’s work last summer, it intrigued me. I liked it, but worried that it might be a stunt, a one-liner in the form of a show. But Codax keeps making and showing work. And selling it, sometimes to people who try to flip it. And getting reviewed and written about. At some point, it’s possible that the persistence of Codax’s paintings may overcome the uncertainties of their origins. We’ll just accept them–and buy and sell and show them–for what they are: Henry Codax paintings.
09 mars — 14 avril 2012 Henry Codax, Stéphane Kropf, Olivier Mosset, Hugo Pernet [triple-v.fr]


Thumbnail image for henry_codax_dk_grey.jpg
Henry Codax, Untitled (Dark Grey), 2011, via christies.com
Wow, do I owe Henry Codax an apology.
Last week I’d declared the fictitious painter’s beautiful gray monochrome a failure because, not only did it not “Strip away any obvious authorship,” the Christie’s catalogue text for the painting laid authorship down in thick coats by stating as fact that Codax was “a pseudonym created by New York-based artist Jacob Kassay and the Swiss conceptual artist Olivier Mosset.”
installation shot, Henry Codax paintings, Carriage Trade, June 2011
I’d been surprised to see the attribution laid out so definitively, especially after re-reading the source of that attribution, Andrew Russeth’s Gallerist NY article on the Codax show last summer at Carriage Trade. Russeth did indeed report that “a source”–who he did not characterize in any way–had told him about the Mosset/Kassay collaboration, but Carriage Trade would not comment on Codax’s origins–and still won’t, btw–and both real-life painters’ galleries stated they had no idea about the work or the project.
Olivier Mosset paintings installed with bikes by Jeffrey Schad and Vincent Szarek, 2011, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica
In the Wikipedia age, though, where truth is trumped by verifiability, Russeth’s article was proof enough for the paintings to find buyers. And for at least one buyer, who apparently figured they’d cash in on the recent Kassay mania by flipping the dark grey monochrome at auction. And for Christie’s, who ignored the work’s similarities to the venerated-but-less-marketable Mosset’s work to assert that “In the present example, Kassay’s iconic silvery paintings have been replaced by a sleek, anonymous grey surface.”
Yes, well. Actually, no.
At Christie’s First Open sale last Wednesday morning, the Codax had been bought in, which means it didn’t sell, either because bidding didn’t reach the reserve price, or because there was no bidding at all. At first, I’d figured the work wasn’t Kassayish enough after all, or that its conceptual conceits were too cute for the speculators in the market.
Henry Codax and Stephane Kropf at Susanna Kulli Gallery, Zurich, Oct. 2011
But then someone who attended the sale told me that Christie’s had read a statement, known as a saleroom note, before bidding began, in which Kassay said he’d “had nothing to do with” the painting, and that his “name should not be associated with it.” [In trying to confirm the text of the actual statement, I contacted Christie’s, first as press, and then finally as client. The specialist who worked on the lot was helpful, if circumspect. But she also referred me to the sale results page, which, I was told, would have the saleroom notice appended. Except, of course, it didn’t, because Christie’s deletes online references to unsold lots completely, in order to not taint their saleability in the future.]
Whatever was said was apparently enough to dissipate the Kassay cachet. [Christie’s did not receive a similar demand from Mosset.] But more importantly, or more interestingly, it also reopened the speculative possibilities surrounding Codax’s work and who might have made it. And how it closes and generates gaps between an object and the projections upon it.
Olivier Mosset work in 1107 Manhattan Ave, a group show at Spencer Brownstone, which also included works by studio neighbor Kassay, Sept. 2011
The real [fictional] Codax, the character in Bernadette Corporation’s collectively authored novel Reena Spaulings, was known for “expensive, impressive monochromes.” Yet these were neither, and after failing to sell at auction, they were even less so. Reviewing the show for Frieze, Piper Marshall noted the authorship issue’s resonance with Mosset’s earliest practice, when, as BMPT, he and three fellow painters, Daniel Buren, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni, would make and sign each others’ work.
Jacob Kassay installation, eight square, silvered paintings at Art Basel, June 2011, image via gallerist ny
But once Gallerist published their persuasively well-informed speculation, these large, uniform, anonymous paintings suddenly became a roomful of *wink* Kassays, which, unlike the roomful of square Kassays just shown at Basel, were available to buy. Even if you weren’t “a real museum.” And at up to 95% off. As long as you didn’t mind the uncertainty. And as long as you were happy with an unsigned painting accompanied by a certificate authenticating the work only as by “Henry Codax.” And if the work is ever captured by the market, the artists will deny all knowledge of its existence.
Our capitalist culture is based upon the premise that corporations are people, too, and legal disputes are regularly resolved by exchanges that include “no admission of wrongdoing.” With a political system where plausible deniability is S.O.P. and legal motions are made that “neither confirm nor deny” their subjects. It does makes one wonder why the art market can’t accommodate a painting by a fictitious artist derived from a collectively written novel by a fictitious gallerist published by a corporation, even without the unconfirmed involvements of two well-known, living artists.
So Henry Codax, I sincerely apologize, and I salute you, for you are truly an artist of our time. C-A-L-L M-E.

Henry Codax At Auction

Jacob Kassay can’t hide. One of the square monochromes he allegedly1 created allegedly2 with Olivier Mosset for last summer’s Henry Codax show at Carriage Trade is being flipped this week at Christie’s.
Fortunately [sic], it’s the awesomest, i.e., most Richterian-looking, one: Untitled (Dark Grey). I love the lot description too much not to quote it in full:

Henry Codax, a pseudonym created by New York-based artist Jacob Kassay and the Swiss conceptual artist Olivier Mosset, is referenced from a fictional character in the contemporary novel Reena Spaulings published in 2005. Co-authored by the collective Bernadette Corporation, an international conglomerate of artists, critics, dealers, and performers, Codax is described in the novel as a painter that [sic] “devotes his practice to a steady production of expensive, intimidating monochromes.” In the present example, Kassay’s iconic silvery paintings have been replaced by a sleek, anonymous grey surface. Stripping away any obvious authorship, Kassay and Mosset’s Henry Codax joins the company of fictional and psuedonymous artists including Marcel Duchamp’s Rrose Selavy and Richard Prince’s John Dogg.

With a beefy credit line like that, the one thing this work fails at is the stripping away of authorship. And with an estimate of just $10-15,000, Codax is still quite a ways away from expensive. But it’s early.
1 & 2 UPDATE: I can’t imagine that it was designed to, but this Codax Moment turns out to be a crisp snapshot of how rumor becomes reporting, which then calcifies into bankable fact.
Between the time I read Andrew Russeth’s story last year of rumors about Kassay’s and Mosset’s involvement in Henry Codax’s art and this auction, I’d already forgotten that neither artist nor any gallery involved with them or the show had ever commented on or claimed authorship. In fact, the artists’ reps said they knew nothing about it. Andrew even wrote of Kassay’s possible involvement, “Of course, that is all speculation: with no one stepping up to claim authorship of the works, it is impossible to say.”
And yet less than a year later, here is Christie’s, describing both artists’ participation as fact, and selling the painting on that basis. And I, too, basically said, “Sure, that’s how I remember it, I guess.” Except that Christie’s goes even further by linking this gray canvas directly to the shiny auction hotness of Kassay’s silvered paintings. Even though the only real similarity is the color range.
And though the format’s a bit different, if Codax’s work looks like anything, it’s Mosset’s conceptual monochromes. Of course, Mossets are not as frenzied a commodity as Kassays are, so that evidence/resonance, not furthering Christies’ purposes, goes unmentioned. And again, unclaimed and uncommented upon by the artist.
If there’s a question of whether the hyper-speculative Kassay auction market had the theoretical chops to handle the authorial ambiguity associated with Codax’s work, they were dispelled last week, when the painting failed to sell.
UPDATE 3: And failed to sell in a very fascinating way. Kassay insisted that Christie’s read a statement disassociating his name from Codax’s work, which restored the ambiguity surrounding the fictional painter’s factual progenitors to a nice sheen.
Mar 7, 2012, Lot 69: Henry Codax, Untitled (Dark Grey), 84x84in, est. $10-15,000 [christies]
Previously:on Jacob Kassay and collaboration
Related: Piper Marshall’s review of Henry Codax’s Carriage Trade show for Frieze [frieze]

On Jacob Kassay And Collaboration

image: portlandart.net
I confess, I was as taken as the next guy by the Shiny Object-ivity of Jacob Kassay’s electroplated solo debut at Eleven Rivington in 2009. Next guys like Portland Art’s Jeff Jahn, who wrote the show felt “more in touch with the unsettled world of 2009.” And Andrew Russeth, who nailed the charred & mirrored monochromes as “look[ing] like elegantly abused luxury goods.”
And I had a big setup here, which I just deleted, about how I’m really not trying to add to the burgeoning body of Kassay concern trolling, articulated most clearly by Sarah Douglas, about the risks of overnight market success on the emerging artist.
But then I read Ed Schad’s earnest attempt to strip the market hype preconceptions from his review of Kassay’s current show at L&M Gallery in Los Angeles. And I have some issues.
On their face, Kassay and his silvered paintings seem almost too perfectly suited for the Art World’s Next Top Model cautionary tale. It’s like they’re a trap, paintings perfectly calibrated to separate the most narcissistic collectors from their dough. The installation of silvered paintings at Art Basel [below] didn’t help, and neither did Kassay’s dealers’ assertion that the paintings, a suite of eight, would only be sold together–and to a museum–for somewhere around EUR250,000.
Jacob Kassay: Untitled, 2011 / Art Unlimited / Art Basel 42
It’s hard to counter this narrative; or to wonder how much discourse around Kassay’s work is critical backfilling prompted by dealers or other vested interests. And I think Schad captures the difficulty well, questioning the conceptual underpinnings of Kassay’s show in the face of his monochromes’ unambiguous, materialist beauty:

I get the impression that the center of L&M’s show, a large work on paper placed on rough 2 x 4 studs with a ballet barre positioned in front, is Kassay’s attempt at giving us what may be a position, although that its orientation towards giving the show a conceptual reading also does a disservice. The work is ineffective, pitching a now typical rough D.I.Y look that is often misconstrued for sincerity and humility. Work like this neither sincere nor humble, but instead uses tropes of sincerity and humility as a cop-out for rigorous thinking. I have to admit, that Kassay’s center piece looks grad-school and virtually destroys the mood of refinement and elegance created by the smaller works.
I can’t fault Kassay entirely for this. After all he is young, and perhaps the impulse is to bring a little resolution and a little art history positioning to a practice that is probably more at home in explanation-less experimentation and straight ahead aesthetics. With the ballet barre, suddenly we are allowed to think of performance, of metaphor, of the history of Rauschenberg, his performative collaborations, and his white paintings, the idea of a monochrome as blank surfaces or “landing strips” for dust, light and shadow

Schad’s identification of the monochrome as Kassay’s field of bold engagement is right-on, but I think his skeptical de-emphasis of the artist’s reference to Rauschenberg, the conceptual and the collaborative is a mistake. These may turn out to be central elements of Kassay’s practice.
From the L&M press release:

This installation conceit engages Kassay’s interest in artist collaborations such as Rauschenberg and Johns designing sets for Merce Cunningham performances and an abundant history of multi-media collaborations. It evokes these ideas, but also takes into consideration the gallery as a place for practice, repetition and the natural gradients provided by the light, the white walls and the work itself.

Which, hmm. There’s a crossed up analogy there–sets and performance vs barre and practice–which effectively conflates gallery show with studio practice [all puns presumably intended].
I didn’t want to be all Johnny one-note, but since he/they mentioned him first, I can now point out that the paradigm Kassay’s debut on the art world stage most closely resembles is not Ryman or Klein, or even Rauschenberg, but Johns. Rauschenberg’s 1953 Stable Gallery show of white and black monochromes was more scandale than succes, and he fought the unserious bad boy image for many years, while Johns’ work was hailed–and sold–right out of the gate. And while flags and targets might stand out, most of Johns’ earliest exhibited works [1957-58] were monochrome paintings.
And though Rauschenberg’s reputation as a dance collaborator is well known, somehow Johns’ image of painterly solitude persists [at least for me], even though he was deep in the mix. Here’s a quietly remarkable comment Johns made in 1999, while discussing the creation of the artists-for-artists-oriented Foundation for Contemporary Arts, which he still heads:

In 1954 I had helped Bob Rauschenberg a bit with his Minutiae set, his first for Merce Cunningham, and I continued to assist him with most of his stage work through 1960. We were friends with Merce and John Cage and saw them frequently. In 1955 there was an evening of Cunningham/Cage performances at Clarkstown High School in Rockland County where we met Emile de Antonio. In 1958 de, as he was known, Bob and I formed Impresarios Inc. which financed and produced the 25-year retrospective concert of John Cage’s music at Town Hall in New York.

I guess this is all an aside, but the Walker is preparing Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg, a show this fall of their Cunningham archive holdings which, at least in the title, doesn’t consider Johns’ collaborative role. Not that the Walker ignores Johns’ dance work; they have his Duchampian set structures for Walkaroundtime, after all.
henry codax, installation view, via carriage trade
So what’s this got to do with Kassay? Are his only collaboration references in his L&M show? In fact, he’s apparently got another show up right now which takes the model collaboration and the issue of individual artistic creation and authorship head-on. Andrew Russeth reports that Carriage Trade’s current show, an exhibition of monochrome paintings by the fictitious artist Henry Codax, is actually a joint project of Kassay and the minimalism-inflected French Swiss conceptual artist Olivier Mosset.

And now that you mention it, in May 2010, before any of the auction madness, Kassay opened his show in Paris with a collaboration as well. Iconic minimalist trumpter/composer Rhys Chatham performed at Art Concept, with a pair of Kassay’s silvered paintings as a backdrop. Watching video of the gig [Here are parts 2 and 3, total runtime is about 55 minutes.], I’m struck by how the paintings function as screens, reflecting the movements of the small, otherwise invisible crowd.
For the two previous summers, at least, the Paris-based Chatham loomed large in New York. His landmark composition, A Crimson Grail, an orchestra for 200 electric guitars, was rehearsed and rained out at the last minute in 2008 as part of Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors series. It was finally, triumphantly performed the next year. Andrew Hultkrans recounted the euphoric experience for Artforum.
In September, Primary Information is releasing a limited edition LP of the Kassay performance, with an additional work, under the title, Rêve Parisien. And in October, Kassay is having a show at the ICA in London, which is apparently still operating. For the moment, Eleven Rivington is surprisingly not mentioned in ICA’s brief bio of Kassay.
UPDATE Ultimately I’m glad I ended so abruptly; maybe it was enough to spur Andrew into action. He reminded me of the collaboration I’d forgotten, the one which had finally pushed me over the colabo-writing edge. From Karen Rosenberg’s NYT review of this year’s so-called Bridgehampton Biennial, where the backyard is strewn with Lisa Beck’s satelloon-lookin’ sculptures, and the front yard features a 1964 Ford Galaxy awaiting “an ‘artist’s renovation’ by Servane Mary, Jacob Kassay and Olivier Mosset.” Those shiny silver balls’ll throw me ever’ time. [Of course, this show also brings up Bob Nickas’s role in launching Kassay’s work into the discourse. This is at least the third Nickas-curated show to include Kassay. Dance with the one who brung ya.]