Johns’ & Rauschenberg’s Alley Oop

Jasper Johns, Alley Oop, 1958, oil on newsprint on cardboard on fiberboard, 23 1/8 x 18 in., P55 in the Jasper Johns Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 2, from whence this rare, uncropped reproduction that nonetheless omits the original-seeming frame was ganked.

Shoutout to Brian Dupont, who yesterday flagged a recent challenge by Blake Gopnik to identify the comic strips Jasper Johns painted over in his small 1958 work, Alley Oop. Turns out one of Blake’s readers already did the same thing I just did: follow the second Google Images search result to a 20+ year-old flickr post by a guy whose self-appointed mission was to take down Roy Lichtenstein by tracking down all his comic book source images.

Continue reading “Johns’ & Rauschenberg’s Alley Oop”

Danh Vo Facsimile Object (V1)

Danh Vo Facsimile Object (V1), 2021, dye sublimation pigment on aluminum, 297 x 210 mm

Previous mentions of Danh Vo do not begin to account for the extent to which his work has influenced the Facsimile Object project.

The Frenchness of the original Manet Facsimile Object drove me to decide the certificates of authenticity needed to somehow be French as well. I spent a couple of increasingly frustrated weeks looking for a calligrapher who could execute certificates in official 19th century French letter forms. Researching the history of French script, I kept running up against the realization that the image of French cursive in my mind had become Vietnamese.

Danh Vo, 2.2.1861, 2009, ink on a4 paper, installed at Massimo de Carlo through Oct 2021

2.2.1861 (2009 – ) is one of Danh Vo’s simplest, most elegant, and most powerful projects. His father, Phung Vo, copies out editions of a farewell letter Jean-Théophane Vénard, a 19th century Catholic missionary wrote to his father on the eve of his beheading for proselytizing. Phung learned exquisite, French-style penmanship in school Vietnam during French colonial rule, and converted to Catholicism as a gesture of political solidarity with the South Vietnamese regime–but he doesn’t speak French. He’s reproduced the letter hundreds, if not thousands, of times, and Danh includes the letter in all his exhibitions. Phung’s letters will continue as long as he’s able. In the mean time, the father’s elaborate calligraphic texts have become an evermore prominent element of the son’s work.

After deciding not to try to get Phung Vo to make them, I ended up copying his letter for practice, and producing the Manet certificates myself. It’s a pattern I’ve kept since, using period German script for the Dürer certificates, and so on.

Rachel Harrison, 2020 Solidarity print from Between Bridges

I think Vo’s creating 2.2.1861 as a time-bracketed edition, available until it’s not, also informed my own approach to the Facsimile Object editions. Though a bigger inspiration was clearly limited-time editions that arose during the pandemic, like Pictures for Elmhurst and Wolfgang Tillmans’ Between Bridges. They’re available as long as they’re needed, or useful, or relevant, or I don’t know what. It’s not like they’re meant to be disposable, but there is a finitude to them.

Anyway, as much as I love 2.2.1861, I’ve never put one up; they feel pretty intimate, but also pretty fragile, the less handling the better. While wishing Vo and his family all the health and safety in the world, the last year-plus had me thinking about mortality more regularly. And I decided to order a letter now, while I knew they were available. When it arrived–the lead time was several months–I immediately felt like I knew what had to be done, and so I made a Facsimile Object of it.

In a way, this Facsimile Object complicates the relationship between itself, the artwork, and a COA. What would a certificate of authenticity even look like here, but a less expert copy of the original work?

Within minutes of my taking the photo at the top of the post, the tape slipped, and the object guillotined to the floor. It was totally fine, and will be hanging again by morning. It is very sturdy. I can’t tell for sure in the dark, but it also seems to have a slight lack of focus, or a pixel-level distortion keyed to the tiny waverings of Vo’s line. It reminds me of the visual tension present in Richter’s stripe series. Those images are created not by stretching, but by replicating an almost imperceptibly narrow vertical strip of a painting. Will producing a facsimile object cause an unanticipated, slight distortion that’s only visible in person, close up? Daylight can’t come fast enough.

[update: it does! actually, it feels a little blurry. perhaps something about the scanning, or the surface of the paper. Anyway, fascinating.

Previously, related: Facsimile of Authenticity
Is it just the cover of the first printing of the exhibition catalogue for the 2018 Guggenheim show that doesn’t have DANH VO TAKE MY BREATH AWAY printed on top of the letter?

Basquiat’s Anatomy

Posterior View, 1982, one of three silkscreen prints from Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Anatomy, a portfolio of 18 prints, being sold at Christie’s

In 1982, at age 22, Jean-Michel Basquiat created a suite of 18 screenprints drawn from diagrams in Gray’s Anatomy. The artist had received a copy of the book, the Wikipedia of its day, when he was seven, and drawing images from it while recovering from a car accident. Three of these 18, published in an edition of 18+7AP, are coming up for sale at Christie’s this month.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, skull image from the Anatomy Series, 1982, originally published by Annina Nosei Gallery, image via Gallery Red/Artsy

The series does not include a diagram of a knee, but it does include a couple of skulls, a subject which Warhol and Johns both addressed.

Untitled, 1973, sometimes called Untitled (Skull), Jasper Johns’ contribution to Reality and Paradoxes, a silkscreen print portfolio Styria Studios and Multiples, Inc., with texts by Nicolas Calas, this example, 31/100, currently for sale at artspace

FYI, the signature is pencil; the X is screenprinted.

Previously: Taking A Knee

Who Is Aunt Mary?

Charles Sheeler, Aunt Mary, a 1941 print of a 1935-36 image, deaccessioned from the Museum of Modern Art, via Christie’s in 2018.

Since not buying the print of it MoMA deaccessioned three years ago, I’ve been low-key fascinated by Charles Sheeler’s photo of “Aunt Mary,” and the elderly Black woman in 18th-century costume seated in a kitchen at Colonial Williamsburg. Sheeler made the picture in 1935-36, while visiting at the invitation the Rockefellers. They donated this print to The Modern for a 1941 exhibition. This is the only Williamsburg photo Sheeler made public; the rest he used as reference for his paintings.

But that’s not important now. While ostensibly depicting the past, Sheeler’s photo of “Aunt Mary” captured a complicated aspect of its present, when a Black woman was hired to perform as an enslaved woman in a vast, celebratory fabrication of US colonial history, built by the richest man in the country, in the still foundationally racist Virginia of the 1930s. I’ve wanted to figure out who this woman was, and what her experience was like.

Because public versions of the photo and postcards over several decades referred to different interpreters as “Aunt Mary,” I assumed it was a Mammy-like role, trying to recast slavery as a benevolent family relationship. Some historic mentions even say the woman playing “Aunt Mary” was born into slavery, a real possibility for an elderly Black woman in 1933, but less plausible in the 1950s.

During pandemic-related shutdowns in the Summer of 2020, I emailed folks at the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to see if their archives might shed any clues on this woman’s identity, and on the experience of her and other Black historic interpreters at the time. I was grateful and fascinated to receive from archivist Sarah Nerney who, with limited library access, managed to answer some of my questions, and inspire a whole bunch more.

Continue reading “Who Is Aunt Mary?”

Taking A Knee

Jéan-Marc Togodgue posing with Jasper Johns’ Slice (2020) while visiting the (older) artist’s studio, as photographed by the retired basketball coach at the (younger) artist’s local boarding school, Jeff Ruskin

In her tweet about Geoff Edger’s Washington Post story of how a high school athlete from Cameroon’s drawing of a knee ended up in a new Jasper Johns painting, the Times’ editor said the story had originally been reported by Deborah Solomon two weeks ago. Which it both had, and very much had not.

And what who knew when and what happened when and who was involved is central to the issue at hand, which is ultimately that Jasper Johns draws on images from the world around him to make his art, and what does that mean? Another issue at hand: who are all these people, and does anyone in Litchfield County have anything to do besides be all up in Jasper Johns’ business?

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The Whitney House

Bring your conservator! image: GSV last month, slightly altered

I have never been able to understand* why the Whitney hates the Whitney so much that they moved out, but they do, and they did. And now, as Katya Kazakina reports at artnet , there’s talk of selling it when the Met’s lease runs out in 2023.

If you lived here, you’d be home now. image: GSV, 2018

Of course, there was talk of selling the building in 2008, too, when the plan to build in the Meatpacking District was a thing. Those rumors were floated and batted down immediately, but also repeatedly, in the Times. Now, with the Met a mess and not exercising the purchase option Kazakina reports was in their original 8-year lease, and the Frick just subletting while its own building is renovated, the question is no longer, “Is it for sale?” but “How much could they get, and who would buy it?” [Or as Kazakina actually put it, “Now, the multi-million-dollar question is: If the building is sold, can it be developed?”]

my 2008 shoutout to Elmgreen & Dragset the first/last time the Whitney went on the whisper market

Kazakina’s list of hypothetical buyers includes a random country, Sotheby’s new owner Patrick Drahi, a future Larry Gagosian foundation, or a condo tower developer** who’d want to turn Marcel Breuer’s museum into “a really ritzy gym.” Which is all well and good–or spiraling levels of cringe, depending, obv–but which also misses the most obvious solution: turn Breuer’s Whitney into a house.

Continue reading “The Whitney House”

This Neo-Federal Stack Bond Facade

This house at 12 East 82nd Street has excellent and uncommon brickwork.

I made a quick trip to see Cady Noland’s exhibition at Galerie Buchholz on Saturday, but let’s talk about this brick facade across the street?

I’d feel worse about never in my life noticing the extraordinary brickwork if it had been discussed by literally anyone else outside of the 126-page building inventory for the creation of the Metropolitan Museum Historic District, published in 1977.

Continue reading “This Neo-Federal Stack Bond Facade”

Jeff Koons In Ludwig’s Playroom

Todd Eberle, Jeff Koons in Ludwig’s Playroom, c-print, 34×40.5 in., via Stair Galleries

Seeing this Todd Eberle photo of Jeff Koons coming up for auction at Stair Galleries next week, I was reminded of huge blog post deep dive I’d worked on after the Whitney show and then bailed on, about the timeline for the Celebration series.

But if you look around enough, you can find that someone else has already laid a lot of the stuff out, even if they haven’t necessarily connected all the dots.

Continue reading “Jeff Koons In Ludwig’s Playroom”

Naomi Savage Statement Necklaces

Naomi Savage, There Are More Duchamp Scholars Than There Are Duchamp Collectors, beads on chain, 1997, via Swann

This is a bead necklace made in 1997 by the artist Naomi Savage for the dealer Virginia Zabriskie. It reads, “There are more Duchamp scholars than there are Duchamp collectors.”

Savage was Man Ray’s niece. Zabriskie showed Man Ray’s and Savage’s work over the many years at her eponymous galleries, which she closed in 2010. Zabriskie passed away in 2019, and her collection will be sold at Swann this month.

The Duchamp necklace is 61 inches long, which strikes me as pretty damn long for a necklace, a double loop all the way down into your cleavage. So those 77 beads are big, almost like blocks. This is a statement AND a necklace.

This necklace is accompanied by a small (3×7 inch) signed print, dated 2002, a color image of the necklace itself arranged on a flatbed scanner. It feels like a certificate of authenticity to me. Another image, 10×14 inches, and laminated (!), is a filtered and rasterized depiction of another beaded statement necklace, not included in the sale, which reads, “I’ll sell when you catch up to my prices.”

Not gonna lie, until I started typing this, I wanted this necklace, or to make it, or to make the other one. But I thought they were tiny, like baby bracelet-size. And then I was also, respectively, like, “Well, good for Duchamp!” and “Sorry you don’t have any collectors!” So unless or until I give a talk at CAA and need some ironic bling, I’m going to just sit this one out.

Sept. 21, 2021, Lot 134: Naomi Savage necklace, est. $800–1,200 [swanngalleries]

KJM FO (M1)

Self portrait with Kerry James Marshall Facsimile Object (M1), 2021, 8×6.5 in., dye sublimation print on aluminum

While working on the Scipio Moorhead Facsimile Object a couple of months ago, I started trying to figure out the challenge of a Kerry James Marshall Facsimile Object, too. Marshall’s portrait of Moorhead fills the gap in the historical record–there is no known depiction of or signature work by the painter considered to be the first Black artist in America. Meanwhile, the deep, multihued blacks of Marshall’s signature figurative style counter the uniform whiteness of American/European history painting, while also exposing how under-optimized the prevailing systems of image reproduction and circulation are for accurately depicting Black skin. Reproductions of Marshall’s paintings regularly fail in this specific way to mirror the experience of seeing them in person. So they are an excellent challenge for the Facsimile Object construct.

Kerry James Marshall, A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self (1980), egg tempera on paper, installation view at MCA Chicago via CADaily

The calculation for making a Facsimile Object of a Kerry James Marshall work is pretty elegant in one respect, though. The epic scale immediately excludes most of his paintings. And the breakthrough work that marked a turning point in his practice–and that anchored his Met Breuer-filling retrospective a couple of years ago–is a headshot, a perfectly sized egg tempera on a sheet of sketchbook paper.

It took several attempts to find a good reproduction of A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self (1980) that would reproduce on aluminum. This multistep filtration process, going from work to image to jpg to print, really gets a workout here, or at least, the apparatus gets seen operating in ways that might otherwise go unnoticed. Sometimes the work’s saturation is pumped up to bring out the red of the figure’s gums, for example, or the brightness is increased to emphasize the painting’s striated facture. Sometimes it’s printed in duotone, flattened into a pair of floating white eyes and an exaggerated grin. It extends the reach of Marshall’s own practice, “forcing the issue of perception by rendering an image that is just at the edge of perception.”

That Marshall knew his carefully calibrated painting was still at risk of being reduced to an undifferentiated black field, a shadow, is perhaps indicated by the title itself. That this was interesting to him is perhaps indicated by his subsequent decades-long practice of depicting Blackness in a world that is still catching up with him.

Previously, related: Moorhead-Wheatley Facsimile Object (MW1)
Marshall talked with Antwuan Sargent about “this very calibrated image” in 2016 [interview magazine]

How Many Cady Nolands Do You See?

Lucien Terras in Cady Noland’s Gibbet, 1993/94 at Paula Cooper Gallery, 1994, image: James Dee via @_installator_’s IG

There are classic pictures of young art dealer Lucien Terras modeling stockades at Cady Noland’s 1994 exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery. Gibbet, above, is named after the lamppost-like cages used to starve people to death in public. It has an American flag draped over it, with carefully placed holes to allow the stockade to function as it was designed. Your Fucking Face is named after your fucking face, I guess, and is identical except for the flag.

Lucien Terras posing in Cady Noland’s Your Fucking Face, 1993/94 at Paula Cooper Gallery, 1994, image: James Dee via @_installator_’s IG

What I’d never realized until I saw both photos side by side on @_installator_‘s instagram, was that they were of the same object. Or one played the other on film. Bruce Hainley’s Artforum review of the Frankfurt show is very clear that these two works are installed next to each other.

Installation view of Gibbet (L) and Your Fucking Face or actually Beltway Terror? (R), 1993/94 at MMK Frankfurt, via Bob Nickas’ review for Spike Art

Like in the photo above, which accompanied Bob Nickas’ Spike Art review. Except the checklist for the show did not include Your Fucking Face, and the stockade listed after Gibbet was called Beltway Terror. The Brants own “both,” so I guess we could ask if there is one stockade or two–or two stockades or three.

Installation view of Your Fucking Face and Gibbet, tho it really should be flipped, from Cady Noland’s 1994 exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery. image via Bomb Magazine

Oh here is a photo of the 1994 show in Bob Nickas’ installation photo roundup in Bomb Magazine, with Your Fucking Face and Gibbet side by side, but on a plinth. And it looks like the transparency was flipped, or the flag was. When even her collaborators get confounded, I can see why the artist issues disclaimers about reproductions of her work.

The Stairchitecture Is Always Greener

Marble Arch Mound, 2021 by MVRDV for Westminster council, via @danbarker’s epic thread

I have absolutely loved MVRDV’s Marble Arch Mound from the minute I saw it in Dan Barker’s epic tweet thread of visiting it on opening day in July. It hits every rendering vs. reality, experience economy, placemaking spectacle fail button, without costing me a farthing and without having to be my problem in any way. It is an upfront and honest disaster. And unlike some embarrassing and pointless destination stairchitecture closer to home, at least the Mound hasn’t killed anyone. Yet.

The interior of the Marble Arch Mound is finished to a very high level, but is also totally empty. image: @danbarker

A mountain of criticism has been thrown up on the Mound since, but Barker’s take still feels the clearest. He identifies the obvious things, like the cruft of fencing, garbage cans, and signage that delineate paid-access public space; and the nakedness of a new garden draped–it must be made clear–over a scaffold, and looking like a Minecraft skin–to me, a good thing!–but inevitably doomed by comparison to the lush renderings. He points to the complete absence of the promised interior program of a cafe and light installation: was it unfinished, abandoned, or still waiting for an intern to be blamed for not pulling it together?

architect’s rendering of Marble Mound Arch, via @danbarker
Reality: What should freshly draped sod look like, and would we not have called BS if MVRDV put a ping pong table in their rendering? image: @danbarker

And he’s the first to point out what’s probably the Mound’s most significant failing: it’s too short to provide a view of anything except the buildings and construction sites surrounding it. Like so many failures in the UK these days, this one feels entirely predictable and avoidable. And yet here it is.

Stairs to Kriterion, MVRDV, Summer 2016, in front of Rotterdam Centraal Station, image: Ossip van Duivenbode via MVDRV

What’s wild is how right it can also seem on paper. Lure people back to a troubled central commercial district during the pandemic by building a dramatic, temporary Insta-attraction. Get those Dutch architects who built that giant scaffold staircase to the abandoned rooftop in central Rotterdam that one time. No, not that time; the second time. That one slapped.

Two years before Beyoncé played Coachella, Ossip took this other photo of MVRDV’s (other) Staircase

Setting aside the obvious differences in site and program, MVRDV’s two temporary scaffold stair projects, can help see where we are, and where we came from since the Summer of 2016. The Stair to Kriterion was built to the rooftop of a building in front of Rotterdam’s central station. It evoked the city’s commemoration of post-war reconstruction and nostalgia for the long-closed movie theater at the top of the stairs. There was a cafe and an exhibit, but because it had an actual view, it was free, and packed. Though MVRDV principal Winy Maas suggested it should be permanent, it came and went as planned, in two months.

Marble Arch Mound sounds so dissatisfying it will be lucky to make it to January. At least when the leaves fall on the surrounding trees in a few months, they’ll stop blocking the view of the park. Instead of the Dutch throngs, access to the Marble Arch Mound is capped at 1,000 people/day, 25 at a time. This is the trickle of a crowd that was not only supposed to revitalize the shipping street next door, but to buy enough tickets to generate profits for Mound.

All of which was also clear on paper. The Marble Arch Mound is the transparent architectural embodiment of the cultural, corporate, and governmental institutions that brought it into being, of the strategic assumptions, values, and decision-making processes they used, and of the vision, constraints, and compromises they imposed.

Delia Gebrial’s tweet summed up the situation so succinctly, it became part of the headline for the Financial Times’ report on the Mound’s managerial failures: “I saw the marble arch mound today and honestly, i’m besotted and obsessed with how rubbish it is. it truly is a monument to 2021.”

I cannot believe I have a picture of this piece of garbage on my internet website. via bloomberg/citylab

Just as the Vessel embodies Bloomberg-era New York real estate oligarchs’ compulsion for trophy spectacle, whereby an Eiffel Tower to yourself that turns out to be an ill-conceived suicide machine, the Marble Arch Mound captures this privatized, austerity-riddled, authoritarian, kakistocratic, pandemic moment in London with a truly terrible clarity. This Potemkin Village Green of a public building induces amazement and awe, at least from afar. If only it could outlive the political calamity that built it.

Meanwhile, In Sodom,

Old English Hexateuch Facsimile Object (H1), the Destruction of Sodom, 8.5 x 7.5 in., with wonky cropping

There was something beautiful and haunting and unexpected about the depiction of the destruction of Sodom from a medieval manuscript that got tweeted across my timeline the other day. Medievalist Dr. Erik Wade’s thread highlighted the blissed out, same-sex residents comforting each other, even as the city burned around them. I was also taken by the delicate line drawings, more refined than marginalia, but clearly less than fully filled in. I hesitate to say it is unfinished, though. The tangle of figures look so similar to each other, for a minute I wondered if the illuminator was tracing them.

closeup view of FO (H1)

It’s from a late 11th-century manuscript known as The Old English Hexateuch, the earliest known English translation of six books of the Old Testament (basically, the Torah plus Joshua). Cotton MS Claudius B.iv, a name derived from one of the founding collections of the British Library, includes almost 400 illuminations in various states of detail. They depict the stories of the Bible set in the contemporary Anglo-Saxon milieu the manuscript’s lay audiences would recognize immediately.

Detail from Dürer Facsimile Object (D2.38), 2021

I did not plan on making a Facsimile Object of Dürer’s verso painting of the Destruction of Sodom, but the brushy allure of the flames raining down on the cities proved irresistible. Now again, I find that the delicate lines depicting the victims, and especially the sketchy flicks of flame everywhere, made me want to hold the manuscript in my hand. As this was impossible, I made another Facsimile Object. Now I have an unlikely diptych, from centuries and countries apart, of an unlikely and terrible scene.

Depressing but beautiful: Facsimile Objects of the Destruction of Sodom

Not gonna lie, they hit a little differently now, when wildfires are raging across three continents, than in May, when I made the first one. So far Facsimile Objects have engaged with the present only temporally, by marking a (lost) moment in time: a missed auction preview, a pandemic-closed museum, the sale of a painting, a surprise Summer show. But with some religionists repeating the medieval model of blaming a conflagration on the existence of gay people, this pair of Facsimile Objects connects on a content level as well.

Cotton MS Claudius B.iv [bl.uk]
The Old English Hexateuch [wikipedia]

Untitled (Additional Material), 2021

a rendering of Untitled (Additional Material) based on a photo by Peter Muscato of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' Untitled (Veterans Day Sale), 1989
Untitled (Additional Material), 2021, study, 0ffset print on paper (endless copies)
20″ (ideal height) x 23″ x 29″, base image: FG-T Fndn

I’m as surprised as anyone that it was only when I finished posting about the orphaned appendices in the Felix Gonzalez-Torres catalogue raisonée that I figured out what to do with them.

I do still think that the Foundation should republish the information about the dozens of works Gonzalez-Torres made, and showed, and sent out into the world, which were later declared to be non-works.

Untitled (Additional Material), 2021, (detail) 0ffset print on paper (endless copies)
20″ (ideal height) x 23″ x 29″

By laying out the eight pages of the CR’s two appendices, Untitled (Additional Material) appropriates the strategy of the iconic stack, “Untitled” (Death by Gun), which reproduces entire pages from a special issue of Time magazine showing the people killed in the US by guns during one week.

The dimensions, meanwhile are a nod to one of two pieces that ended up classified as Non-Works: a 1990 collaboration with Donald Moffett called, “Untitled” (I Spoke With Your God). The stack of printed text by Moffett on red paper (“I SPOKE WITH YOUR GOD/ HE COMMANDED ME TO CUT OUT YOUR MOUTH”) appeared just once, in a two-person show at the University of British Columbia Arts Center in Vancouver. [The print size, 29×23 inches, is one Gonzalez-Torres used in other stacks, too, including “Untitled” (Veterans Day Sale), 1989, the image of which was used above for a rendering of the piece. I did not print 20 inches worth of giant bootleg posters today.]

The stack by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Donald Moffett formerly known as “Untitled” (I Spoke To Your God), 1990, image: Scott Watson via Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation

As it turns out, this Non-Work does have a Foundation webpage, complete with installation shots. It does not appear to be linked from anywhere, and the URL now ends in “-hidden.” I am in awe all over again.

Previously, related: finally, the stack as medium

Soft-Core: On Additional Material and Non-Work

Untitled photo by Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, listed as not art in the catalogue raisonée.

[THERE’S AN UPDATE: READ ON, THINGS ARE BETTER THAN I WOUND MYSELF UP TO THINKING.]

The earliest work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection is also the smallest. It is untitled, an instant black & white photo of the sea through a Cuban fence. It’s about 2.75 inches square. It is signed and dated 1985, and has a fragment of a magazine collaged on the back that reads, “THE BO–/ ANYMORE.” By the time it was acquired at the end of 1996, the year of the artist’s death, the Met had already acquired two similar sets of photos by Gonzalez-Torres: photogravures of sand, and cloudscapes. Similar, but different: this one is not an artwork. “Although made, signed, and dated by the photographer,” the catalogue entry reads, “Gonzalez-Torres thought of works such as this [photo] as lying outside his core oeuvre.”

Published in 1997, just in time to record the Met’s acquisition, the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Catalogue Raisonée has three categories: Works, Additional Material, and Registered Non-Works. The photo above is in the second category. When the CR was released, Gonzalez-Torres was the most important artist in the world to me, and I wanted more of his works, not fewer. I was upset for these somehow downgraded works, and for the sleights they faced in the discourse, the gallery, the market. I couldn’t accept that the same artist who’d shown me that the most remarkable things could be art–a pile of candy, a stack of paper, a jigsaw puzzle, a pair of clocks–also said they couldn’t be.

My incredulity over Felix’s work fueled a years-long contest with the declarative process, what artists called objects, what they kept, what they destroyed. It helped me keep an eye out for these marginalized–and invisible, since there weren’t even any pictures–works. But even as I developed more nuanced appreciations of [other] artists’ agency, these non-art designations still gnawed at me. Until the other night, when I started writing this. It’s been almost 25 years: what’s going on?

Continue reading “Soft-Core: On Additional Material and Non-Work”