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In the interest of full disclosure, I am thinking about the benefits of full disclosure. More specifically, I spent a good portion of my day wandering through galleries at the Hirshhorn and the Smithsonian American Art Museum (holy shit! Nam June Paik!). I am a lover of art, a lover of the experience of art, but I am kidding myself if I tell you I am not a lover of museum labels. Sure, I like knowing the name of the artist and the name of the work, but I’m really talking about the curator’s comments, the carefully constructed narrative that directs your experience:

Installed as a series, these works do not appear uniform as one might expect; instead, their differences are highlighted and thus together they create a visual cadence. Importantly, Jones’s paintings also perform an active role in shaping the sound in the gallery, thereby introducing a new function for painting. The final precise spacing between the panels is ultimately guided by both their acoustic and visual effects, with neither taking precedence over the other. [from “Directions,” accompanying Jennie C. Jones’s installed works, “Higher Resonance,” at the Hirshhorn]

Am I getting it? There are directions, and there is the idea of following. The stubborn in me wants to follow no one, and refuses to lead. The stubborn in me wants to make a pure experience, and believes in this possibility, but the stubborn in me hangs out with the rest of my body, watching as I gravitate toward labels, allowing an outside voice into my experience. But I know, in a small part of myself, that that voice knows something I don’t, that that voice has lived with the experience of this art longer than I have, that that voice does not discount my own voice or my own experience. The frame does not intrude on the experience, but is a part of the experience itself.

Stubborn is letting go. Stubborn has been preventing me from moving forward with this Paul Thek project–which, I am realizing, has more to do with me, personally, than I thought. I fear the “I” in my writing, the overbearing Voice of Knowledge, but nowadays Stubborn seems more like the overbearing Voice of Knowledge than I, quietly thinking, do. If I am going to curate, I, too, can be the body in the tomb, speaking, pointing, looking directly into the eyes of the reader. I think, in fact, I have to be.

[“palimpsest,” Ann Hamilton, Hirschhorn]

Is there room in the room that you room in?

Upon his structured tomb:

Still they mean something. For the dance

And the architecture.

 

– Ted Berrigan, “Sonnet I”

 

When I tried to find out more about the artist four years ago, the internet was no help. He barely had a Wikipedia page. The giant neon book had not yet been published. Now he’s spinning out there across the internet on so many pages, image after image.

Two years ago, I bought a giant neon art book on Paul Thek. Almost four years ago, I walked into the Reina Sophia museum in Madrid on a whim, found myself lost in a giant retrospective on an artist I’d never heard of. A cavernous procession of installations and painted newspaper. Body parts everywhere under neon plexiglass and in every image an image of the artist himself. A year ago my parents wanted to see Edward Hopper at the Whitney, and I tagged along, and I found myself again in a cavernous space. A projection of the artist’s face on the wall, forty feet high, his body suspended from the ceiling and covered with fish. That familiar tar baby. The notebooks laid open across a table, frustratingly under glass. The same bodies reconstructed, this is not a linear narrative I have to tell. The book weighs a lot, and it cost a lot to ship it. The artist died the year that I was born. I have seen the neon in the corner of my room for two years, keeping watch in the corner, the relic in the reliquary I confuse myself if I am perhaps the relic if the artist’s body is the relic what can we say about replica.

Chris Dercon asks: How, today, can we install and exhibit fragile or temporary works originally produced in the 1960s and 1970s? How can we deal in a responsible and creative way with past oeuvres? Can we reconstruct lost or damaged works at our own will? Can we remake temporary installations? Can we re-install site-specific installations in new contexts? Can we construct projects that the artist only conceived on paper?

Referencing Guy Brett, he adds: It would seem that all exhibitions are mediated versions of something which can never be completely identified or fixed, and issues of death and renewal can never be escaped.

Again I find myself chasing the image of the artist. This is all a really dramatic way of saying, I think I’ve figured out what I want to write for a particular semester project. It’s been following me for years. A lot of what I’ve written and how I think about writing and art has been influenced by Thek, on a chance encounter in a museum in another country where I was briefly made a work in progress and set loose.