apexart :: Cancelled

The Fortuitous Consequences of an Unexpected Act...

On October 20, 1999 we found out that our next show would be postponed. So...
We asked Charles Long to loan us a work of his choice.
We asked the Paula Cooper Gallery to loan us a Donald Judd of their choice.
Then we asked four writers to deal with this juxtaposition/situation.

November 14 - December 18, 1999

291 Church St. New York, NY 10013

Artists: Charles Long and Donald Judd
Writers: Ingrid Schaffner, David Robbins, Carolee Thea and Dorothy Krasowska

Cancelled brochure

download pdf of exhibition brochure

download pdf of press release

Ingrid Schaffner

That Someone
I once invited him for cocktails in Paris. He rang my doorbell at 9 rue St. Romain, to say that "he had come to say that he could not come," and then he left. But a new idea will appear…and someone will always say, "Duchamp first suggested that," although where or when they will not remember.

- Julien Levy, "Duchampiana," View (Marcel Duchamp Issue), March 1945.

David Robbins
At the Center for Contemporary Acquisitions, panic! In its exhibition schedule a hole, no less unsightly for being small, had opened: A contemporary artist had up and cancelled on them. Cancelled! Word spread through the CCA's offices as fast as would news of some Biennial's invitees, and for the better part of an hour bedlam darkened those white halls. After the junior curatorial staff had managed to revive all the interns, a tough old bird of a chief curator emerged from her office to address the youngsters, most of whom still lay where they had fallen.
Lorgnette Danvers. During her forty-five years in the contemporary art game, what hadn't she seen? At the risk of overstatement, not much. And now, just as the junior staff had hoped she would, she stood before the troops unfazed, an Omar Bradley in Claire McCardell. In a voice steady as the MacArthur Foundation's income she reminded the still shaken neophytes that, indeed, ugly episodes such as this can be the price of working with good, living artists: inevitably, a few of the rascals will be secure enough to pull this sort of stunt. Granted, a most rare event it was--thankfully!--but from time to time it did happen, and when it did there wasn't very much a helpless art institution could draw upon in the way of retribution--that is, other than such tried-and-true gestures as, say, publicly deaccessioning every stick of the offending artist's work at the various stops of the Antiques Roadshow. Lorgnette Danvers chuckled darkly. There'd be plenty of time for fun later on. Oh yes.
The old curator lady now let her art-hardened eyes sweep the stricken faces before her. Her pitiless gaze induced a second fainting spell in one of the interns, and nearby samaritans moved to give assistance. Leave her be! barked the seasoned curator, the kid'll be alright, eventually--and if not, well, not everyone's meant to be in this business. The samaritans backed off. Lorgnette strode the floor like a senator with NRA backing. You pretty things best worry about yourselves, she commanded, 'cause you've got a decision to make--the most important decision some of you will ever make. Are you going to let this little bump in your career path--a cancellation! pfaw!--prevent you from putting on one humdinger of an art exhibition? Alright, sure-- we've got no theme, no roster, no design for the announcement card. But in the name of Picasso, people, consider what we do have. We've got this space--and a handsome space it is, too. Seventh best space east of the Catskills, according to Dawdle magazine. That's not all. We've got a mailing list that could choke a horse. We've got the phone number for Sunrise Liquors, and they deliver. What's more, we've got a charter that's firmly committed to mounting new exhibitions of contemporary art every two months. You think they have charters like that in China? Achh, why am I even wasting my time with...--you kids don't know how good you've got it! When I picture your ancestors, fleeing the hardships, the persecutions, the arrogant curators of the Old World.... Coming to these shores with nothing in their pockets but a few sticks of charcoal and some crumpled sheets of Strathmore. Fixative? They didn't have money for fixative! Forced to give up their hopes of becoming artists, were most of them, forced to sell rags and pickles and lightbulbs, forced to buy up the strip malls and multiplexes and cable-TV operations which, they could only pray, might pay for the kind of education that would enable you, their unborn grandchildren, to participate in offering the world a higher grade of icon. And now you're going to desecrate their memory, insult their efforts, spit on their hopes just because one little artist has pulled out of one little exhibition? Pausing, Lorgnette reached inside her blouse to draw out her favorite meerschaum pipe, the one with the bowl in the shape of the Whitney. Westermann himself had carved it for her. Feeling its smooth surface now induced recall of his chiselled abs, and she shuddered inside. Where was I? Oh yes, she said, that's what the CCA's got. Question is: what have you got? CCA's not going anywhere. CCA's going to be right here. Question is: are you? Don't bother looking in your fancy art history books, your livres d'artist, your catalogues raisonÈe for the answer to that one. Lorgnette tapped the bowl-end of the pipe gently against her breast. Here, she said. The answer's in here. She coughed the merest gossamer of a cough.
When she had finished, the room was quiet as a Sunday in Bruxelles, the only sound in it being the faint whine of helium escaping from the inflated sculpture of copulating PokÈmons left over from the previous exhibition. The staff looked at each other, their vision no longer blurred from tears. Timidly at first, then gradually gaining in conviction, one after another the members of the CCA staff rose to their feet and declared their solidarity. Brave little soldiers! A show there would be! Tossed berets momentarily clotted the air up by the ceiling ducts while, down below, one wise old lady curator touched a flame to her meerschaum. The staff hugged as Lorgnette drew deep and frowned with satisfaction. These kids were alright. Art looked to be in pretty good hands for a while yet.
But ma'am, what will we show? asked the littlest intern.
Who speaks? Identify yourself, child.
Patina, ma'am, if you please.
Well, Patina, we'll just have to work on that, won't we? CCA-A-A-A-A huddle!
The clash of perfumes inside the huddle was as nothing compared to the clash of ideas.
Millenium! squeaked one curator--how about a millenium theme? The staff, milleniumed out, groaned in unison.
Identity? floated another curator. Gender and race and all that sexy icky tribal stuff. And is tattooing still popular?
My vote is for some of that furniture art!
Hypnotic painting? Post-hypnotic painting? Pre-? Re-? De-?
Cyber! We simply must do cyber. Cyber's not only today and tomorrow, it's the day after that!
Round and round the proposals went, no one idea gaining a quorum. For the better part of two days the CCA staff remained in that huddle. Lorgnette relished making things as difficult as possible: Are we curators mere surrealists, blithely juxtaposing any two objects and resigning ourselves to whatever spark they generate? We are not! She insisted that, just as a good lawyer never asks a witness any question he doesn't already know the answer to, so too a good curator knows in advance the contours of the meaning-set a grouping of objects will establish. Meaning likes to be coaxed into view, she purred.
In the end, it turned out to be Patina, the littlest intern, who broke the deadlock. Hers was a modest idea, yet to the weary ring of CCA curators something about it seemed right and true, not to mention doable.
The show opened two weeks later. In the east gallery, a video projector showed the 1934 version of the film “Imitation of Life” (directed by John Stahl, starring Claudette Colbert). On a wall in the west gallery, another video projector showed the 1959 version of the film, directed by Douglas Sirk, starring Lana Turner. Copies of both films were offered for sale at the reception desk.

Carolee Thea

The German Canteen (from the Sheila stories)

World War II bunkers here make excellent art galleries and an insignificant memorial for the Holocaust stands near the square where vendors assemble to market produce on weekends.

One rainy Saturday morning in late October, after covering the Firenze Biennale, I caught the day’s last train out of the Florence station before a railworkers strike. The exquisite journey through the Italian and Austrian alps was tainted by an uneasiness I felt, brought on by my fixation on Hollywood World War II films, and Claude Raines, George Raft, Debra Kerr et al. The train broke down three minutes from the Austrian border and for two hours we sat abandoned by the strikers. Eventually we eased into the Austrian station where border guards got on, one of them had a limp and wore an eyepatch. I was told that this was a routine check for the illegal migrants now emerging from the Baltics and Turkey.

Two hours later in Munich, I was met by my young German friends who whisked me off to a friend’s studio. Later we all dined at a restaurant at the top of the park where the infamous 1972 Olympics were held.

The next day, Wolfram, Sabina and I toured galleries, museums and eighteenth century architecture. One cluster of historic buildings was the site where Hitler made his first speech and Nazi troops rallied and marched. Then we went to the open air market to buy food for the dinner. Trying to communicate with a fruit vendor, I asked in English, “Perhaps you have a variety of apples called Fuji or Braeburn, they are crisp, not too sweet, and are grown in New Zealand?” His effort to so attentively decode my description was a success, and he packed half dozen in a sack for me. Later, I chopped them into a dessert for our dinner party.

The German Canteen was always convened by Rochelle, the bestial matron of our camp. In a teutonic recitatif she screamed orders to Duji and me. Rochelle had had tuberculosis of the hip leaving one leg shorter than the other for which she wore a special shoe with an elevated sole. Rochelle and her mother always argued with each other in her upstairs bedroom. They lived next door so when I heard them, I’d run to a rear window of my house to eavesdrop. I imagined her mother was stretching the stunted leg on some contraption to correct the asymmetry.

Rochelle limped into the German canteen (located under the porch) screaming unknowable German/Yiddish words like Schweinehund, Dum-kopf, Shtom a bebel, and fur dompft Juden aross. We came running. She was our commandant, and made us to submit to and perform water tortures and other benign interpretations of the heinous crimes that had been inflicted on our European relatives. I always played the victim, Rochelle the commandant, and Duji the blind facilitator.

Duji was crosseyed and wore thick glasses with a corrective metal patch surrounding one lens. She also had trouble seeing out of the unoccluded eye and clumsily bumped into things. Only three years old, she took orders better then me. I was, as usual, the perfect victim.

The dinner guests arrived. Hacky, an architect, was the son of a Munich city planner. He came alone. His girlfriend, a curator for the Inge Goetz collection, was off on a job in Milan. Suzanna and Jorge, a dress designer and gallerist, were fashionable and funny. Martin, an audio expert, designed huge exhibitions. After the tenth bottle of wine, our conversation became incoherent and I drifted dreamily into a self composed Beethoven chorale laced with Brechtian venom. Slipping away from Sabina’s party, I went to bed eavsdropping the talk and then lulled to sleep by its din. More than once I was wakened by Sabina and Wolfram screaming at each other in German about their relationship. At 5 A.M., bleary and confused by the rancor, I blindly limped into the kitchen, bumped into a stool, and with hands on my uneven hips, I screamed "Shweig! schweinehund."

Dorothy Krasowska

We could assume that this juxtaposition before us performs a similar task. Both sculptures are abstract and very much about materials. But despite their similarities, they contrast sharply. The Charles Long piece is very visceral. Even the name, The Sweat Smell of Success is reminiscent of a body and all of its excess.

It hangs from the wall like a leather sack filled with hardened fat. The Donald Judd construction, however, denies the body. Its solid, straight surface is controlled and calculated as though manufactured in an industrial warehouse, not an artist's studio. The juxtaposition of these works also poses questions of gender. When Eva Hesse produced work similar to this Long piece in the 1960's, critics automatically labeled it as “feminine,” because it evoked the body. Meanwhile, those same critics associated Judd’s work with masculinity because it alluded to the machine. Would the Long piece still be considered "feminine" even though it was produced a man, and thirty years have passed since the initial Hesse critique?

After examining the pieces, it seems rather apparent why the curator selected these two particular sculptures for this exhibit. However, this juxtaposition was not planned. Chance placed these two works that brilliantly oppose and complement one another in the same gallery space. Originally, Apex Art had scheduled a completely different show, but that fell through. Luckily, there was enough time to arrange an alternative, but that also fell through. Finally, Apex was left with no time and an empty room. Quick thinking and the help of a few friends created this solution. The pieces by Judd and Long happen to work well together; they happen to create a dialogue with each other. This juxtaposition is a fluke.

But if you ask me those are the best kinds of juxtapositions - unplanned ones. And perhaps I am not alone in this belief...

Artist Christian Boltanski would remove the staples from German World War II magazines in order to separate the pages. He would find that pulling contiguous pages apart gave their images new meanings. No longer were advertisements for food with beautiful, smiling women situated next to articles about the home, but sometimes things like tanks accompanied the pictures of buildings.

In the introduction of his book The Return of the Real, Hal Foster and a conceptual artist stand around contemplating a Minimalist sculpture “made of four wood beams laid in a long rectangle, witha mirror set behind each corner so as to reflect the others” when they notice a little girl skipping around the room.1 This juxtaposition of the girl and the sculpture forced Foster to realize that despite (or in spite of) his many years of examining art, these Minimalist spaces intimidated him, and he hid behind theory because he was afraid to participate.

I use the last example not just because of the Donald Judd before you, but also because Minimal art in general forces us to look around for other things to insert into its space. It demands accidental juxtapositions instead of calculated ones. It proves that an experience with a work of art does not always have to be intersected with a point made by an astute art person. That is not to say that sometimes a clever interpretation is not enlightening. But lately, it seems that the opinion of the curator is valued over the works themselves. The public immediately blames the curator rather than the art when the latest Whitney show does not fulfill expectations. Curators mold our interpretations of pieces they display. They decide what is placed beside what, and therefore, how the viewers should respond. It is more productive when the audience can relate the art to the world around them. This allows the art to pertain to life - to life outside the gallery space.

1. Foster, Hal. The Return of the Real. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996.