Félix González-Torres is the poster boy for takeaway art, so the inclusion of five different samples from his unlimited-edition art works proved a curatorial asset rather than a redundancy in ‘Twice Removed: A Survey of Take Away Work’. The exhibition showcased a miscellany of posters, postcards, buttons, broadsides and small objects – components of other exhibitions elsewhere, previously offered for free and now coveted souvenirs. This ‘survey’ of just 37 items, which ranged from 1970–2010, attempted to represent the diversity of the subgenre, byproducts of conceptual, performance and public interventionist practices. The actual task of surveying such material was first, and excellently, conducted in 2001 for the exhibition ‘Extra Art: Surveying Artists’ Ephemera, 1960–1999’ at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco, which catalogued approximately 1,500 pieces of ‘artist-generated ephemera’, mostly printed matter. There were at least four instances of overlap between ‘Extra Art’ and ‘Twice Removed’, however what made the latter seem fresh was curator Karly Wildenhaus’s guideline that all objects loaned to the show must be owned by the gallery-goers who lifted them from their original presentations. This angle smartly incorporated issues of collecting and ownership within the discussion of free multiples where the CCA Wattis show did not. Wildenhaus asked lenders, none of whom included the artists themselves or institutions, to remark on the circumstances of their collection in the gallery binder. Not all answered the call; some responded with revealing candour.
Collector Matt Brennan reminisced about hoarding free González-Torres posters from the 1989 stack Untitled (Veteran’s Day Sale): ‘When I was in high school, I took so many of those, I was trying to build my own at home.’ Free posters certainly play to, and inspire, cultures of fandom, yet the desire to recreate the original stack at home begs the question, doesn’t the immaculate ream of posters or pile of shiny candies seem to glow with pure possibility – like the products in a well-stocked shop – more than the instantly dented, folded and scuffed singular objects, once removed?
While some takeaways are mass-produced, and bear the look and feel of such manufacture, others, even in small runs, aspire to the aura of endless availability. Off-set and commercial printing contribute to making Adrian Piper’s race card (My Calling [Card] #2, 1986) seem indiscriminately aimed at everyone, Gordon Matta-Clark’s Wallpaper (1972/2009) on newsprint could decoratively de-contextualize any room, and Sighn’s bandsaw-carved 5,000 sheets of office paper with the phrase ‘Over and Over’ (2010) produces a hall-of-mirrors effect of medium and message. These faux-readymade invitations to participate seldom rank alongside the thrilling disruption of stepping on a Carl Andre sculpture, but this is on purpose, for many takeaways parody the detritus of our lives: ticket stubs, business letters, concert posters, junk mail and advertisements.
Joseph Grigely, an artist included here, coined the phrase ‘exhibition prosthetics’ in order to describe the way that supplemental materials – captions, wall texts, press releases, artist statements, magazines and takeaways – lead a life in tandem (but also independently) of the main corpus of work. Indeed, the dispersal of ephemeral objects into personal collections extends the boundaries of a temporary exhibition like a far-reaching hand. As takeaways become incorporated into new lives and contexts, they invite personal touches, from crumples to caresses, which help transform an object into an artefact.
We’ve witnessed an important shift in an art world that once produced heavy manifestos and is now dependent on heavy marketing. The resultant accretion of paperwork, texts and instructions is reflected in this exhibition but also momentarily thwarted with the happily accidental inclusion of three different artworks that all contain straightforward images of large bodies of water, from Francis Alÿs, David Horvitz and González-Torres. If we think of takeaways as exhibition prosthetics, and the ocean as an extension of the self, then we have embarked onto a deep and wide field of possibility.