Begun in Paris in 1993, “do it,” at Verge Center for the Arts, is the longest-running art exhibition ever. Curated by Swiss curator, critic and historian of art Hans-Ulrich Obrist, “do it” is a conceptual exhibition based on written or drawn instructions from various artists that are interpreted every time they are presented. The result is a new version of the exhibit in each location in which it is shown, more than 60 globally so far.
Verge has chosen 20 instructions from a compendium of 250 (the originating artists published instructions in nine languages) and presents those 20 in the form of objects, performances and instructions prompting audience participation. Among the artists included are Yoko Ono, Stephen Kaltenbach, Bruce Nauman, Louise Bourgeois and Sol LeWitt.
The interpretive performances, done at the opening, include “Dinner for Two” by Berlin art duo Elmgreen and Dragset, for which Sacramento chef Patrick Mulvaney pulled the tablecloth out from under a dinner setting, scattering flatware on the floor and breaking wineglasses in the process.
Other performances were Jérôme Bel’s “Shirtology,” a T-shirt striptease done by Connor Mickiewicz; Robert Ashley’s piece involving the duct-taping of a Verge intern several feet up a wall, where she hung for 45 minutes; and Diller and Scofidio’s “Bad Press: Dissident House Work Series,” in which vintage cinema maven Matias Bombal ironed a shirt, something, he confessed, he had never done.
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What’s left of these actions – broken glass, a pile of T-shirts, tape on the wall and a professionally folded shirt on an ironing board – is on view now, the remnants of happenings which are not all that interesting in retrospect.
Other pieces involve audience participation: Erwin Wurm’s request that you put on a sweatshirt over your legs instead of your arms; Ono’s “Wish Piece,” which invites you to write a wish on a piece of paper and attach it to a tree; Kaltenbach’s instruction to start a rumor; Bourgeois’ instruction to pass out a card urging people to smile at strangers; and Nauman’s instructions to press parts of your body against a wall with the possible goal of achieving an erotic sensation.
Most of the pieces in the show are lighthearted, though there is a dark edge to Kaltenbach’s and Nauman’s works. A few are thought-proving: Shilpa Gupta asks you to answer “Where do you live? Virtually, Mentally, Philosophically, Physically,” and Julius Kollar asks you to cut out question marks from various print media and stick them onto public posters with texts wherever you consider it important.
Jimmie Durham’s “Do-It-Yourself Museum Project,” which asks you to write on a piece of wood those things that are not meant to be looked at in a museum, poses an interesting question that gets some serious responses – pedestals, clear push pins, exit signs – but quickly devolves into puerile responses – poop, boobs and so on. Guess that means no nudes and no works by Chris Ofili.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ untitled pile of hard candy in a corner on the floor with a sign saying, “Please feel free to take one,” is heart-breaking if you know the story behind it, which involves the artist’s partner who was dying of AIDS. But there is no back story provided, so it seems mysterious.
Lygia Pape’s “Good Blood,” a pair of plastic chairs facing each other, also seems inscrutable until you read the instructions on the exhibition’s checklist, which prompt two people to sit down facing each other, holding a cube of red ice, made with red ink, and seeing whose melts first, thus demonstrating that person’s “good blood.”
Dan Graham’s “Do-It-Yourself Two-Way Mirror Mylar Window,” installed on the gallery’s glass front door, is easy to overlook, but I’m told that it has an amazing optical effect in certain light conditions.
Only two pieces on view resemble conventional painting and sculpture, though they are conceptual in spirit. Mel Bochner’s “Territorial Reserve #4” is a box-like drawing of a cube made of PVC pipe and hung from the ceiling. LeWitt’s large wall painting made by four Verge artists following his instructions is a gorgeous piece of abstract art that glows and undulates.
While the maximum effect of the show would have taken place at the opening, which had a carnival atmosphere, for me, the LeWitt makes a visit to the show eminently worthwhile.