Critics’ Picks

Alighiero Boetti, Attirara l'attenzione/To attract attention, 1980s, 2007, mixed media, 27 1/2 x 34“. From the series ”Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe).

New York

Rainer Ganahl

Fruit and Flower Deli
53A Stanton Street New York
March 24–April 30

“The undersigned, Robert Morris, being the maker of the metal construction entitled Litanies . . . hereby withdraws from said construction all esthetic quality and content.” When confronting problems collecting on the purchase of his piece Litanies, 1963, Morris produced Document, 1963, a notarized statement voiding the earlier work’s status as a piece of art. The delinquent collector (actually the architect Philip Johnson) responded by purchasing Document as well, subsequently donating both pieces to MoMA. Currently, they share a wall on the museum’s fourth floor, where the legalese of the latter work calls into question the legitimacy of the former. It is a quirk of Conceptual art’s dependence on certificates of authenticity: Litanies becomes a readymade in reverse.

Document was both a Conceptual move and a market maneuver. Rainer Ganahl capitalizes on the fractious aspects of this pairing in his “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” series—an invocation of Magritte’s The Treachery of Images , 1929, to intimate the treachery of markets. In this exhibition, Ganahl presents in frames pieces purportedly signed by Alighiero Boetti and Franz West, along with accompanying statements explaining Ganahl’s unsuccessful attempts to authenticate the works through the artists’ respective archives. His lack of success, Ganahl argues, reflects a concerted effort to limit and concentrate the resale of these artists’ work. In an official communiqué, the Boetti foundation cagily states “there are not sufficient elements of attributability,” whereas West suggests collusion with “Polish counterfeiters” and claims not to remember making the works in Ganahl’s possession. (In former US attorney general Alberto Gonzales’s twisted formulation, “I don’t recall remembering,” we begin to recognize how a fickle memory lends itself to courtroom strategies.)

Ganahl’s parry, of course, is to declare these deauthenticated pieces his own artworks. This twist sets off a cycle of perpetual indeterminacy and uncertain authorship, with the dialogue that took place between Document and Litanies rehearsing itself within the frame of a single piece. The result is an avant-garde trope turned legal anomaly: a readymade in reverse, reversed.