Critics’ Picks

Brian O’Doherty, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp: Lead 1, 1966, wood, glass, Liquitex, motor, 17 x 17 x 8’.

Berlin

Brian O’Doherty

Galerie Thomas Fischer
Potsdamer Straße 77-87 Haus H
April 14–June 9, 2012

Brian O’Doherty’s overdue solo debut in Germany centers around Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, a series of objects that begin with a cardiogram O’Doherty made of the famed French artist in 1966. On entering the show, viewers encounter Duchamp Boxed, 1968, the original electrocardiographic tracing, rolled up like a scroll in a small blue-gray cardboard box. The thin red lining and blue sheath inside the box evoke the delicate tissues and arteries inside the absent body that haunts O’Doherty’s “portrait.”

From the cardiograph, O’Doherty (a trained doctor) also made Portrait of Marcel Duchamp: Lead 1, 1966, which mimics the function of an oscilloscope. Inside a wooden box, a light flickers across a circular screen, tracing Duchamp’s heartbeat in real time. The traditional notion of portraiture as a visual representation of the sitter’s personality is here transformed into a semiotically coded trace of the body. Its effect, however, is all the more powerful: O’Doherty recorded Duchamp’s heartbeat and simultaneously had his finger on the pulse of the time, in which questions of authorship, identity, and the role of the viewer were the focus of a discursive shift that still resonates today.

O’Doherty’s ongoing series of “Rope Drawings” are an intriguing effort to intertwine the spatial and visual experience of the viewer with the object of art. Bird (for Charlie Parker), 2012, which was commissioned for this show, consists of geometric shapes painted on a wall, their lines traced and extended into space by ropes that are stretched between the gallery walls and floor. Activated by the viewer’s movement, the ropes form a temporary array of lines that are as fleeting as a memory or a sudden thought. “You draw to see what you think,” O’Doherty wrote in a notebook from the 1970s. His drawings, one might add, are indeed compelling thoughts.