afterworks and afterthoughts

Essay by Ihor Holubizky

One of the truths of art is that nothing is done in isolation or is as simple and self-evident as it may appear. Artists draw inspiration from the world of experiences and things, and from each other. This is often termed influence, and can be delivered with a pejorative tone: influence as copying; derivation as the derivative. The more assertive term, appropriation, entered the art lexicon in the 1980s, and was backdated to position the ironic coolness of Pop Art of the 1960s, and indeed further back to a formative period of modern art, Dada and Surrealism, as a reflection of the rapid developments and complexities of the modern world. 1 In one of the first books on Pop Art, published in 1965 (a year before Lucy Lippard’s Pop Art), Mario Amaya coined the term New Super-Realism to describe the Pop Art appropriation of the everyday. But as Amaya proposed, “[I]t has sliced our culture with razor sharpness and left the segments for us to examine.” 2 He cited Duchamp as a foundational source (how could he not—Duchamp was at the apogee of rediscovery at the time), but could not have foreseen the late twentieth century slicing into an “interrogative discourse” to problematize, and with it the notion that authorship, authenticity, and originality are redundant and outmoded ways of thinking about culture and cultural production, even though it still remains a constant in the authoritative voice of art history.3

The promotion of the inauthentic is a prevailing attitude in the age of the Internet. Almost thirty years ago, in a pre-Internet world, Edward Colless wrote, “[T]he artistry of the hypermannerist [his term for a caffeinated appropriation] lies in getting the sophistication of one’s attribution across to those in your audience who will nod in self-congratulatory pleasure at being clever enough to spot the references [and] perhaps a corollary. . . is that the reputation of the artist in this situation...depends on the ability of an audience to demonstrate their fluency with . . . cultural material.”4

We look around
And change our pose
We are showroom dummies
—Kraftwerk, “Schaufensterpuppen” (“Showroom Dummies”) from Trans-Europe Express, 1976, released 1977

It would be easy enough and self-congratulatory to position Lois Andison’s afterworks within the strategy of slicing artistry as she re-imagines and re-engineers the work of key modern artists Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, and Man Ray, and the fourth, Georgia O’Keeffe, as a “stowaway.” Andison, however, is not engaged in an art-history exercise or a critical dissection. The afterworks can be seen in an anthropological context of cultural adaptations, and in art practices where homage and parody can be transcended and transfigured. We can experience a new creation (as is said) through the lens of the other . . . thing. Her grouping title came after, “itself a play on afterwards,” and noted her “attempt to address the legacy of their presence from a female artist’s perspective.”5

Curator and art historian Kirk Varnedoe offers us an entry point into the challenge of understanding modernity and its creative impulses that can be related to Andison’s practice and the afterworks. He proposed that the story of modern art should be retold to elicit “a truer sense of the secular miracle.”6 The motor force he proposed is “the willingness to explore [the] powerful demonstration of the creative force of contingency.”7 If the reasons for the creative act are forever unknowable as such, we are witness to outcomes, which Varnedoe described as the “artists’ prerogatives to create what a biologist might call ‘hopeful monsters’—variations, hybrids, and mutations that altered inherited definitions of what could be,”8 and then, a self-evident (or simple?) truth:

Precisely because this act was so simple, human, and wilfully contrary, it illuminates
the creative power that lay around it [and where] individual acts of conviction . . . thereby empower whole new systems of unpredictable complexity.9

Thoughtful orchestration and the unexpected are ever-present in Andison’s process, to keep the questions open. She shifts the rules of the game as the making of work unfolds, to make a better game for herself—the how becomes the what and reveals the why—and not merely to “win the game.” As a result, the afterworks expose modern cultural myths, attitudes, and attendant creation mythologies.

There is considerable writing on Duchamp and Man Ray—their “bromance” through Dada and Surrealism, and pointing to a now-identified proto-conceptualism—but the “paths” of Andison’s group seem to cross only in the pages of art history. Reconciling Duchamp and Man Ray with Picasso seems impossible: the latter as the personification of artist-genius, and the “duo” as the heretics.10 O’Keeffe sits in yet another region of difficult spanning, as a modern regionalist and proto-feminist. Yet they all belong to roughly the same generation. Only nine years separate the oldest—Picasso, born in 1881—and the youngest—Man Ray, born in 1890. Duchamp and O’Keeffe were both born in 1887. Perhaps the differences in their respective works—even between Duchamp and Man Ray—is another truth of art in the modern age. There is a fierce independence and pluralism.

nudging marcel (2014), the most recent of the three Andison afterworks, makes reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, which is considered the first of his celebrated readymades, and is now one of Duchamp’s most reproduced and emblematic works. Made in Paris in 1913, abandoned and remade in New York in 1916 and several times after, it presents a binary absurdity of two useful things made useless, yet not without purpose (in other words, a Duchampian purpose and re-purposing).11 Although, initially, Duchamp himself may have regarded it as a studio “companion” or muse:

It had more to do with the idea of chance [and] having a sort of created atmosphere in the studio. To set the wheel turning was very soothing . . . I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace.12

Bicycle Wheel had no public presence until 1951, the third replica made for an exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York.13 This may explain how it was included in the 1941-launched Boîte-en-valise. Bicycle Wheel only appears in a photo of Duchamp’s New York studio. It is identified in the photo—as is Trébuchet, another readymade seen in the foreground—but the overall title of this Boîte element is his studio address; the studio is the work.14 If such a late start, why is it so chiselled into the text and myth of modern art?15Duchamp accepted “the happy idea” decades later, and in the forging of avant-garde art history in the post-WWII era, Bicycle Wheel could be a likely candidate in the search for beginnings.16

Andison takes the playful improbability of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel and reinvents and restages it through her own needs and devices (a de facto series of “solutions”), as “the original” lends itself to the absurd and subversive kineticisms that are an Andison hallmark. First, she has restored Duchamp’s single wheel “to the bicycle”; her work has two wheels.17 This in turn echoes her 2010 video what’s in a name: the camera follows a woman as she bicycles through a residential neighbourhood. Andison recounted that the Duchamp afterwork was a natural migration, which again speaks to her process of thinking-through.18 She purchased the stools second-hand at a vintage shop on Queen Street West in Toronto—and as much as she could determine, they were originally from a high school chemistry lab—initially as a prototype until she could find “a more accurate ‘copy’ or ‘replica’ version.”19 Andison decided that the proportion of this pair of stools was what she wanted. She also felt it was necessary to bring the wheels into her time rather than sourcing vintage wheels to conform to images of Duchamp’s work. Andison’s wheels have tires, unlike Duchamp’s, but this too was necessary for the kinetic element. And when considering the potential public liability of the motor-drive component, to prevent anyone from sticking their hand into the moving spokes, she designed a platform that in turn creates further distance between the viewer and the work—the stage—and elevates the wheels to eye level.20

The activation mechanism takes it away from the “casual hand” of Duchamp, and the motorized motion generates a theatrical moment, onstage:21

When the viewer approaches the sculpture, the right bicycle wheel and fork leans forward from a vertical position (made possible by a slot on the top of the stool). At the same time as it is moving forward this same wheel starts to turn in a counterclockwise direction.

The distance that the moving right wheel moves forward is only far enough to touch (nudge) the wheel on the left stool. This action sets the left wheel in motion.

After the right wheel nudges the left wheel it moves back into the vertical position and the motor that turns the wheel shuts off. Both wheels continue to move on their own until they stop.22

What else has changed? I would propose that Andison has amplified Duchamp’s frequent and scurrilous eroticisms. There is a flesh-and-feeling fecundity in the nudging wheels, a gentle kiss at the cusp of embrace (rather than the Brancusi-celebrated sculptural “grasp” The Kiss, 1907–08). The stools were sprayed with “virginal” white lacquer, which is echoed in the white metal rim of the wheels. Perhaps unexpected, but there to be experienced, is the subtle olfactory element as tire rubbers move across each other.23

solving man ray’s obstruction (2012) offers an equally complex reading, but unlike the Duchamp, the authorship is not so quickly or readily identifiable, unless one is a Man Ray aficionado. Andison’s source work is Man Ray’s Obstruction, done in New York in 1920, the year Duchamp co-founded the Société Anonyme with Katherine Dreier. Man Ray biographer Arturo Schwarz (also the author of the Duchamp catalogue raisonné) wrote:

When [Man Ray] moved into his Eighth Street ground floor studio he discovered that his landlady, a dressmaker, had left behind coathangers, stands, magnets, etc., all of which he made use of in due course. The coathangers . . . in arithmetical progression were used to make Obstruction . . . a graceful aerial sculpture. To each end of the first coathanger Man Ray hooked another [and] to each of these . . . two more coathangers, and so on, so that the third row of coathangers comprised eight . . . the fourth sixteen, the fifth thirty-two, the sixth sixty-four, and by [then] a total of 117 coathangers had been used. At this point Man Ray reluctantly stopped. Not only had he run out of coathangers but the . . . sculpture had “obstructed” the whole of his studio.24

As with Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, the first public showing was likely much later, and possibly not until a Man Ray solo exhibition at Copley Galleries in Los Angeles in late 1948. The site of this short-lived undertaking was a bungalow in Beverly Hills rented by collector, entrepreneur, and artist William Copley. A Parisian-style café was set up in the front of the gallery and “Obstruction . . . hung like a floating pyramid.”25 Obstruction was finally issued in an edition of fifteen by the Museum of Modern Art, Stockholm, in 1961. A subsequent litho, editioned in 1964, is a diagram with instructions that end with “Of course if enough hangers are available, this mathematical progression may be carried on to infinity. The increasing confusion is apparent only to the eye and is to be desired.”

Andison describes her “solving” as “a playful response.”26 Like nudging marcel, there is a mischievous aspect in the radical remaking, but at the same time she expressed a bonding:

I do love his piece(s) and I felt (I think that he encouraged) us with his instruction to make our own—which I did. I bought wooden hangers over eBay, sanded them all and made a version in my studio.27

Historically [Obstruction] is called a mobile28 [yet] it is impossible for his mobile to “freely” move so I equated this with an “impasse”—it has the potential but can’t move on. He was interested in blockage and I was interested in movement.29

Andison then set out to recalculate the measurements and “adjust” Man Ray’s instructions, “to allow for the notion that if all the wooden hangers were horizontally aligned, they would never hit each other when set in motion”30:

[This] frees the impasse . . . and allows for movement and transformation to occur. The scale is vastly increased from the original Man Ray work [and] in order for movement to occur, each layer of hangers is approx. half the size of the layer before.

Although the mobile is motorized and therefore more predictable, all of the hangers with the exception of the top and bottom layers have bearings and can move freely on their own. If there were a breeze in the gallery or wherever the sculpture is positioned, you would see the different levels freely spinning.31

Andison generates another after-and-beyond Man Ray. In her remaking, the perspective is reversed—the smallest coat hangers are closest to you and the largest appears all the more monumental at a distance.

trophy, after picasso II (2013) is based on Pablo Picasso’s Bull’s Head (Tête de taureau, 1942), a found-object assemblage made from the seat and handlebars of a bicycle. Picasso made a bronze version in mid-1942 and submitted it to the so-called Liberation Salon in Paris, October 1944.32 He described the origins of the work to photographer George Brassaï in 1943: One day, in a pile of objects all jumbled together, I found [the elements and] in a flash they joined together in my head. The idea of a bull’s head came to me before I had a chance to think [my italics]. All I did was weld them together.33

This piece differs from the other Andison afterworks on two counts. Picasso’s work does not suggest a kinetic dimension, nor does it necessarily suggest the unexpected that Andison introduced, or, as we may imagine, her invitation to a fourth artist. A Georgia O’Keeffe– inspired porcelain flower element, a Morning Glory, obscures the machismo of Picasso’s bull head, placed in the mind’s eye of “her Picasso.” She wrote, “I also feel like it sexualizes the object—it is in the genital spot on the seat.”34 Far from “pure invention,” it invokes paintings done by Georgia O’Keeffe in the 1930s and her epiphanic experiences in the American southwest.35One of the earliest of these paintings is Horse’s Skull with White Rose, 1931; a white rose sits on the top of the skull.36 O’Keeffe’s oft-reproduced 1935 painting Ram’s Head with Hollyhock depicts a ram’s skull floating above a New Mexico horizon with the flower to its side.37 When it was first exhibited, Lewis Mumford wrote that it “possesses that mysterious force, that hold upon the hidden soul, which distinguished important communication from the casual reports of the eye.”38 O’Keeffe stated that the composition “just sort of grew together.”39Yet another and direct flower connection to Andison’s work is Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory, 1938.40

A proximity device, as in nudging marcel, triggers the motor mechanism; the “bull’s head” and flower move back and forth, up and down. Curator Ivan Jurakic proposed that it “gesticulates much as the enraged animal would. Suggesting a decapitated rodeo bull, the mirrored glass horns fruitlessly attempt to gore the viewer or dispatch the O’Keeffe from plain sight.”41 There is another potential and gentler reading—the “bull” is attempting to acknowledge our presence but is blinded by the O’Keeffe; another nudge on the way to an embrace, or a double obstruction? It can also be a challenge to our habit of mind, as Picasso spoke of the caveat for Bull’s Head: “[Bronze] can give the most heterogeneous objects such unity that it’s sometimes difficult to identify the elements that complete it [and] that’s the danger: if you were to see only the bull’s head and not the bicycle seat and handlebars that form it, the sculpture would lose some of its impact.”42 trophy, after picasso was first shown with what’s in a name; the seat and handles of the bicycle relate directly to that video.

As noted at the outset, Andison does not lay claim to a tip-over of art in history, an artful regicide. Her afterworks return the miracle of art to a rightful place. In her own way and practices, she follows the contingencies and opportunisms of the works by Duchamp, Man Ray, Picasso, and O’Keeffe, and adds to the conversation at this table of her making. In the absence of a problem for which a solution is offered and for which the outcome is neither to sway nor disrupt, we are left to our own devices. Or, as Duchamp stated, followed by a Schwarz postscript: