From (Starry Eyed) Vision to Nail
Christian L. Frock
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are…
A star is a massive, luminous ball of plasma. Stars group together to form galaxies, and they dominate the visible universe. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth, including daylight. Other stars are visible in the night sky, when they are not outshone by the Sun.
The HUO Drawings is a series of ink drawings on bristol board created by Brooklyn-based artist Charles Gute in 2003.1 The first drawing one might see includes a simple sans serif font, black text centered on white paper, spelling out “HANS ULRICH O’BRIST.” Next perhaps, might be a drawing of “HANSUM OOLRICH OBRIST” with the letters evenly spaced and heavily outlined. After that “HAN-SOLO RICHOBRIST” and so on leading to a total of twenty-five drawings of careless misspellings and humourous phonetic interpretations of the name Hans Ulrich Obrist, contemporary curator and art star.
I first showed The HUO Drawings on invisiblevenue.com — a nonprofit “venue” online that I produce independently—and I have also shown other works by Gute in a one-off solo exhibition at Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco where I am the associate director. I am interested in the ways that Gute’s work generates a dialogue-driven critique of contemporary art, the discourse surrounding it, and the art market bazaar that encircles it. Fair disclosure: the very nature of the Gute’s recent work is a conflict of interests, as is my background as a curator who works in a gallery.
By day, Charles Gute is a freelance professional proofreader for hire. He has worked as an editor on numerous contemporary art books for such art world notables as Vito Acconci, Marina Abramovic, Gregor Schneider, Pat Steir, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, among others. Informed by this experience, his largely conceptual artistic practice increasingly explores his supporting role in the wider contemporary art scene and examines his sense of place as an artist and a “cultural worker,” to use his preferred term, within the hierarchy of the art world. Though Gute takes a certain pride in having contributed to the polishing of a project—for example, as proofreader of Obrist’s thousand page Hans Ulrich Obrist: Interviews—he insists that his role is small in the scheme of things. While the projects may be massive, Gute’s contributions offer him little social currency. Supporting professions are rarely credited for construction in a way that allows for some modicum of authorship. To offer a parallel example: it is rarely divulged that many of Anish Kapoor’s recent architecturally scaled public sculptures are fabricated in the San Francisco Bay Area, some five thousand miles removed from the artist’s studio in London. Execution by remote instruction, in and of itself, is a new model of collaboration—just as editorial intervention evolves into a kind of shared authorship.
Yet, in much the same way that a sculptor’s vision can now be shaped by fabricator colleagues from afar, an author’s voice can assume a different tone when other voices chime in. Though there is no disputing that the original vision is conceived by an extraordinary mind, more intriguing are the ways in which a concept shape shifts through the birthing process. The final product is attributed to the original author without dispute—the premium placed on creativity over the process of production is historically reiterated—it still goes to follow that it must retain imprints from the various hands that touched it along the way, literally and metaphorically. With regards to artistic creation this is nothing new—early modern painters famously had teams of assistants who executed the detail of their works. Of particular interest in contemporary art right now is how the model of a collaborative relationship between principal and production figures has been appropriated to create a powerful brand of curators or, rather, curators with powerful brands.
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About the Author
Christian L. Frock is an independent curator and writer. Her independent curatorial endeavor, Invisible Venue, collaborates with artists to present art in unexpected settings in and around a 101-year-old flat in West Oakland.