Peter Davies, Roger Hendricks and Martin Prekop

Various Venues

In December of last year three instructors at the Art Institute of Chicago School, Peter Davies, Roger Hendricks and Martin Prekop, approached the Museum of Contemporary Art with a request for a joint exhibition. “We are experimenting in different media,” read their letter in part,—“wall and floor pieces, documents, photographs and prints. There are a number of projects that we are working on, and we are interested in exhibiting together because of the dialogue and feedback from our work and ideas.”

In a meeting about the middle of January it had to be explained that Museum schedules do not allow for much improvisation and that the galleries were solidly committed well into the fall season. “Or would you be interested in those parts of the Museum,” I proposed, “ordinarily not used for exhibition?” Thinking about the outside walls and adjoining alleys at first, the roof came to mind as quite an extraordinary environment. Braving the cold we all climbed to the roof. The potential of that place for time-space experiments and works in process was apparent to the artists from the start. Peter Davies commented later that they became immediately aware of the beauty of the roof to the point of considering exhibiting it as it was.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, a stubby structure one and a half stories high, is located just north and a little east of the central business section, an area now being rapidly developed with high-rise structures, both residential and commercial. To the north and across Ontario Street, an apartment building less than a year old rises 24 stories; to the east and across an alley a clumsy commercial building, in which both the Chez Paree nightclub and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s first School of Design were located (simultaneously), now houses a post off-ice on its lower floors; to the west a town house rises one floor above the Museum and just beyond that the brick side of a 14-story apartment and office complex is presently under construction. When the artists first saw the roof, the construction had reached Museum height and the roof was still unlittered. By the time of the exhibition, refuse fell regularly, some of it deliberately and destructively propelled by the workers. To the south is another old brick commercial building behind which the recently finished copper-tone Time-Life building looms.

Two works of art were already grafted, by accident and by design, onto this unlikely rooftop environment. Claes Oldenburg had provided the Museum, in the wake of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, with the image of a frayed wire, clipped from an ad in an electronics magazine, to be painted on the wall that previously had held his Pop Tart. Beginning at the Museum roof level, it rises 24 feet. In addition, a relic of the 1969 Christo exhibition “Wrap in Wrap Out,” a tree wrapped in clear polyethylene, was kept stored on the roof for lack of a more suitable space. By their presence, the artists admitted, these works became an intimidating part of their own exhibition. Peter Davies thought of covering the Oldenburg but was afraid it might look too much like a Christo device. Roger Hendricks wanted to burn the tree, put the ashes in a box, photograph the disintegration and send the photos to Christo. The intention behind it, admittedly, was not destructive, but rather one of controlling and speeding up the process of disintegration. I had to dissuade the artist from executing this particular piece for I felt that as long as Christo has refrained from wrapping the work of other artists, he himself ought to be protected from the tampering with his work.

It was agreed upon that the artists enter into a contract with the Museum regarding the extent to which they could use the space allotted to them. The contract was not inhibitive but it may have precluded some of the more ambitious proposals. Moreover, the Museum demanded that visitors to “Roofworks,” now scheduled to take place from May 11-17, sign a release freeing the Museum from all responsibility to life and limb, and be guided onto the roof by somebody on the Museum’s staff. In simple “information processing” style, an ad would be placed in the May issue of Artforum and a report on the events might be published afterwards. The artists, and in particular Martin Prekop, took hundreds of photographs of the roof beginning in January in preparation for the works, as yet unspecified, to be executed during one week in May.

Two weeks before the exhibition Roger Hendricks set up a pigeon coop on the roof. He had ordered, by phone, 35 white squabbing pigeons, built the enclosure and, on Sunday, April 26, the pigeons arrived unannounced. The pigeon project first occurred to the artist when he visited an adjacent roof on which flocks of pigeons congregated. Struck by the Museum’s lack, he decided to provide pigeons for the Museum. Hendricks thought it important that they be white (in contrast to the gray ones in the neighborhood) to be more visible against the blackness. of the roof. The pigeons were left after the completion of “Roof-works,” they bred and hatched young ones on June 7, and it is Hendricks’ hope that in a short while the coop can be taken away while the pigeons are left to find various nesting sites throughout the rooftop. The purpose of the piece was to present a natural system that would eventually adapt to the Museum roof environment. The pigeons are to become a permanent piece on the roof. In addition, Hendricks, who with Martin Prekop collaborated on a number of time-motion activities on the same roof, admits to being interested in the dance aspects of the birds: their unique mating dances, interaction between them, the cooing and the flow of energy expressed by the birds in flight.

Roger Hendricks describes his second piece as a “roof transplant” or “roof steal.” For 28 days he removed 3 by 3-foot roof sections from locations throughout the greater Chicago area. These were stacked on the Museum roof in the order of their removal together with a map of the area indicating the original location of the sections. Thus the neat pile of shingle represented condensation of a time span of one month and a very large area. Hendricks was interested in the possibility that a visitor, knowing the areas of the transplant, might wonder whether his own roof had become part of the exhibition.

Roger Hendricks also collaborated with Martin Prekop in creating a time-motion sequence. This was somewhat of a departure from the rest of the works undertaken since it survived in photographs only. Human action seemed a refresh ing change since all other works in the exhibition were static. The two artists spent an afternoon on the roof experimenting with time and motion and recording their actions with a motorized sequence camera. The actions were simple and, as photographed, echo the equally simple exercises recorded by Muybridge in his pioneering photographs. Technically, the difference is in the use of equipment; a motorized camera in Prekop’s case, and multiple cameras lined up and shot in sequence by Muybridge. Prekop’s photographs were placed on the wall of the town house abutting the roof.

To extend the comparison: a number of prominent “conceptual” artists were invited last summer to execute works of their choice at the Edmonton Art Gallery in Edmonton, Alberta. Robert Morris rode a quarter horse along a white chalk line until he had dug a clear path in the grass. The work was called Pace and Process. (See Artforum, November, 1969.) Dennis Oppenheim ran a 220 Yard Dash, had his footsteps cast in plaster and exhibited the moulds. Oppenheim is interested in condensation—not unlike Hendricks and Prekop who look in the direction of colleagues like Oppenheim, Morris, Les Levine, Robert Barry and Hans Haacke—that is forcing out space between a series of steps. For Oppenheim this is like eradicating time intervals between notes, the result is a single sound unbroken by silence.

It is clear there is no direct relationship. However, one cannot underestimate the informational power of art magazines and the influence of lectures given by these artists in art schools around the country, including the Art Institute of Chicago School.

Martin Prekop made other photographic investigations of the roof. From 100 photographs of the roof and areas visible from it, he selected 25. These included near and far views, some taken from a distance of 3 inches and others from 400 yards. The photographs were enlarged to 16 by 20 inches, laminated in plastic for protection from the elements and then placed on exhibition at the spot from which they were taken. This enabled the viewer to make comparisons between the photograph and the subject. This double information, at first glance redundant, actually permitted some interesting comparisons. Prekop contends that the photograph is the more real. While the photograph remains constant, the environment changes constantly and the juxtaposition makes us aware of this. Prekop’s photographic investigations of the roof are strangely related not only to an esthetic which is confined to the last few years but can also be tied to René Magritte.

In the last two years William Anastasi has made photographic investigations of bland sights—the empty walls of his gallery—and then put the photographs in the actual place of the sight he had recorded. In the ICA version of “When Attitudes Become Form” in London in the fall of 1969, Victo Burgin laid a “photo-path” across the floor. It quite accurately recorded the very planks over which the path was laid.

René Magritte, in his hallucinatory Surrealist paintings, and particularly in some paintings dating back to the mid-1930s, has represented canvases positioned on easels in front of the very sight which the painter had painted. The painted version became a rectangular cutout of the subject represented, and only the indication of the picture’s edges gave the viewer a clue that this was a “second” reality. The scale in Magritte’s work is 1:1, while in Prekop’s photographs the scale between the subject and the photographic double is very different.

Martin Prekop also documented the progress of Hendricks’ and Davies’ work. These photographs and the photographs of his own photographs in place on the roof become part of his investigations.

Peter Davies is the most conceptual of the three artists and his work the most elusive. He is interested in ideas, not necessarily related to, or culminating in, objects. In a letter, he proposed “to rip a hole, possibly by means of dynamite, in the roof of the Museum. This would expose the work in the Museum to the open air. If the hole is to be repaired then this should take place within the time span of the exhibition.“ In reply I stated, “For almost three years the staff has labored under the strain of not having fresh air and direct contact with the outside world. There is almost not a thing more prominently on our minds than that window permitting us to see the sky, clouds, birds et al. If you blow a square hole through the Museum’s roof and floor . . .” Shortly after Peter Davies’ initial letter, a hole was created by scaffolding falling from the neighboring construction site. Davies appropriated the event as his work and the subsequent act of roof repairs: the dynamiting which did not exist in reality could occur through the reality of mass media, if he so wished.

Davies planned “a shadow system on the Museum roof.” However, hearing that two of his students were working on a shadow piece, he subcontracted his work to them. Following Davies’ instructions “the shadows were marked with string and chalk lines at half hourly intervals between eight in the morning and five in the afternoon.” However, because of severe weather conditions (rain every day of the exhibition) the piece was difficult to execute with precision. On cloudy days the shadows were indistinct, while the rain did not help the chalk lines which would have been ephemeral under any conditions. In addition, workmen repairing the damage to the roof confused a number of lines. For the artists, weather was simply one of many working conditions which were part of the exhibition. Peter Davies has stated, “Once the system had been set up anything that altered it became part of that system,” and it was up to visitors to draw their own conclusions about the purpose of the shadow piece.

Davies also executed a roof transplant. He reported, “The physical dimensions and the complex superstructure were measured and accurately marked out on a site near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. A Crazy Golf Course was constructed within these boundaries. A fifty-six seat school bus took invited guests on a picnic excursion to the golf course,” and a game was played in the midst of hills, trees and ravines.

The shadow system and the neighboring construction work suggested to Davies a further piece, entitled “DOUBLE HEADER.” Davies reports, “A LINE OF BLUE CANVAS CHAIRS WERE PLACED ON THE ROOF FROM WHICH TO OBSERVE THE CONSTRUCTION WORK, AND TO WATCH THE SHADOWS ADVANCE ACROSS THE ROOF. The viewers signed a release of insurance to reach the exhibition. The functional activity of the construction work, its noise, and the debris, including scaffolding and bricks which fell down to the roof surface, dominated the roof. Art and life are in the same ball game.”

Jan van der Marck