“Do it”: the World’s Longest Running and Farthest Reaching Exhibition

“Art is a game between all people of all periods,” Marcel Duchamp once famously said, and in 1993 in Paris—at the legendary literary café Le Select—Hans Ulrich Obrist sat down with artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier to discuss a similar concept at length. In their meeting, the three arrived upon the idea for “Do it”, an exhibition now celebrating its 20th year, wherein artists are invited to compose instructions that can be realized by other artists—think Yoko Ono’s do-it-yourself book Grapefruit meets the original artist-authored DIY, Marcel Duchamp’s 1919 instructions sent to his sister to produce his gift for her own wedding.

Acknowledging the predecessors, like Sol LeWitt’s famous instructions for wall drawings or Lawrence Weiner’s seminal book Statements, e.g. “two minutes of spray paint directly upon the floor from a standard aerosol spray can,” the project was born. After prompting 12 artists to produce written instructions, the responses—poetic, performative, satirical, and bizarre—were translated into nine different languages and printed in a book that was then circulated internationally (the exhibition has now spanned at least 50 locations worldwide and includes 300+ contributions from artists).

This year, the site-specific exhibition will honor both past and present artists-as-instructors, including the “Homage” room where Tracey Emin will follow instructions by Louise Bourgeois or Olafur Eliasson will engage with the notes by Francesca Verala. Other highlights include a set of 10 commandments by the eccentric British duo Gilbert & George, Theaster Gates’ tips on how to catch the Holy Ghost in a Shopping Mall, Ai Weiwei’s manual on creating a spray device to block a surveillance camera, and last, Paul McCarthy’s not-to-be-missed Snow White Cookbook.

On view at Manchester Art Gallery as part of Manchester International Festival, July 4–21, 2013.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Sculpture for Strolling, do it at Centro Civico per l’Arte Contemporanea “La Grancia,” Serre di Rapolano, Italy, 1996. Photo: Bruno Bruchi; Eszter Salamon – A Duet (2012) Courtesy the artist; David Lynch, Do it: How to make a Ricky Board (2012) Courtesy the artist.

Explore the exhibition and browse available editions on Artsy.