“Post-Card” presents serial works that utilize mail and/or correspondence. The works, ranging in dates from 1971 to 2009, converse with each other in regards to time, work, travel and communication, all in ways that hopefully provide further insight, appreciation and questioning within and between the pieces.
Sherrie Levine created her 2009 work, “After Courbet 1-18” after the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2008 survey exhibition of Gustave Courbet’s work (Feb – May, 2008). Consisting of 18 of the same postcard, each an image of Courbet’s “L'Origine du monde [The Origin of the World]”, Levine’s work engages a number of interconnected issues. “L'Origine du monde [The Origin of the World]” was originally shown in very covert ways. Reproductions of it were used on books and repeatedly censored, the postcard, sold by Musée d’Orsay (where the painting is owned) is one of the most popular in the bookstore and, even at the Met, in a nod to this history, the curators presented Courbet’s painting behind its own wall. Levine takes all of these issues and creates more than a work, but a situation – eighteen of the same reproduction (d’Orsay’s postcard, presumably), mats and frames them individually, taking these small reproductions, framing them large and then assembling them en masse to create a large wall installation that begs the questions (in a 21st Century sort of way - 66 x 100 inches versus the original work’s 46 x 55 cm size) of comfort, veracity, mores, comfort and more.
In opposition to this is Carl Andre’s untitled 1974 work that he created by mailing 30 envelopes (numbered 1 – 30, each with commercially available images of catalogued young athletes) to the curator Jennifer Licht at Museum of Modern Art, New York. Licht, most famous for the 1970 “Spaces” exhibition brought a profound enthusiasm and keen eye to MoMA with a focus on artists engaged in the Minimalism/Conceptualism/Installation/Process realms. Licht, a proper lady, had interacted with Andre numerous times. Andre, well known as a strong-willed communicator, struck Licht as such and so this piece, with its daily appearance of a clipping of a nude young athlete and his “statistics”, with only a geometric triangle selectively censoring the most private of each athlete’s anatomy, serves to illustrate several aspects of Andre’s work. A strong-willed man sending a proper lady images of semi-nude men can be construed as an aggressive act. A strong-willed man sending images of fit men can be seen as self-mocking. A by-then famous artist sending images of men, covered by a white triangle certainly references the geometry that was at the center of Andre’s practice. The formulated seriality (each envelope numbered, the same-ness of each figure, even though they have individual statistics) goes a long way towards questioning the significance of the individual versus the collective and the preferential versus the so-called objective. One can also not forget the relationships of artist to curator – giver/receiver, aggressive/defensive, maker/chooser – and how this work serves to engage all of these issues in seemingly simple but incredibly dynamic ways.
Serving as the central connector/divider between Levine’s and Andre’s works is Eleanor Antin’s “100 Boots”. Consisting of 51 cards, mailed over a three year period (1971-1973), “100 Boots” documents 50 pairs of military surplus boots that Antin took out of her studio and set up in various scenarios. Commenting on the status of war, women in the arts, post-studio practices, humor, scale and collective mentality, “100 Boots” takes a viewer from the coast of California to MoMA, NY and finally “on vacation” (the final image has all the boots stacked up in a truck, no longer “working”). At a time in the ‘art world’ when Conceptualism was arguably at its peak, Antin utilized its vocabularies (the serial nature of the work, the immaterial nature of the actions, etc) yet also loosened Conceptualism’s reins by engaging humor, politics and a non-systematic approach. Documenting performance as a work in of itself, steering clear of the idea of the unique singular work and working with such a large quantity of the same thing, Antin provides an open-ended, non-hierarchical approach to rethinking how and what narrative can be and does.
In a similar vein, in 1975 the “Living Sculpture” of Gilbert & George created “Red Boxers”, a suite of eight pieces in the form of greeting cards and envelopes. Using traditional means of engraving, each card’s cover depicts Gilbert & George standing in different places within the same room. This is not boxing (per the title) in a traditional way, but much how boxing can be viewed as a type of dance. Added to this is the language on the inside of each card. Poetic and open-ended, each card describes the scenario in somewhere between flowery and mysterious language. In addition, one word from each card’s text is non-systematically chosen to caption that card’s front image. With the entirely specific format of the work (alternating between black and red ink for the illustrations, return addresses on the envelopes and the signatures), yet the forcefully open descriptions, Gilbert & George, much like the other artists in the show, create a work where movement, correspondence and control are poetically questioned.
Hanne Darboven’s 1988 work, “Harburg Sand”, consists of an image of a vintage (ca. 1910) postcard from Harburg Sand (a square in Harburg, on the outskirts of Hamburg, all near where Darboven lived) showing the daily movement of people – bicycles, cars, trolleys and people walking. This image of magnified over 2x and then ‘tiled’ six times to create a grid of the same image, oversized. Each of the six images has the artist’s iconic red writing on it. The writing on the top left card reads, in German, “Work, Harburg … I do not lose touch with reality once in a while … I watch TV and my mother gets the Otto (a mail-order fashion) catalogue.” The subsequent cards each read, “Work, Harburg” and then proceed to use the date (the first being June 13, 1988 [13.6.88] as the basis of a calculation - 13+6+8+8= 35, with subsequent cards being dated subsequent days, with 14, 15, 16, 17 making the calculation increase to 39 in the end. Each card also has Darboven’s iconic looping scrawl, and an intersection of math and musical notations, among other writings. Subtle alterations to each card (in the form of the date change) on top of the same, repeated image of people in their daily life, along with Darboven’s reference to work and reality provide a potent example of Darboven using communication as both subject of the work and the material with which to present the subject. In larger terms, the work serves as an illustration, representation, actuality and questioning of daily life and work.