New York

Douglas Huebler

Holly Solomon Gallery

This survey of 12 works offers a concise overview of Douglas Huebler’s oeuvre and suggests a revaluation of this generally underrated artist. Huebler is best known as a member of Seth Siegelaub’s core group of Conceptualists, and especially for his early statement that “the world is full of objects, I do not wish to add anymore”—a manifesto some considered hypocritical in light of his subsequent output. Interpreting that stance too literally, however, overlooks its status as an exemplary conceptual gesture, as well as its broader expression of a general ecological economy. At the very least this position went against the grain of Clement Greenberg’s positivist divide-and-conquer legacy then prevalent in American art.

Destabilization constitutes the inherent challenge of Huebler’s esthetic, the unpredictability with which the objects of empiricism and those of imagination might trade places. In Variable Piece #39, 1969, Huebler shot 21 random photos of a TV broadcast of the movie King Kong. He then asked six students at Bradford Community College to choose pictures from this group to match with the following adjectives: kooky, kittenish, kosher, kinky, killjoy, and kissable. As documentation, Huebler presented a typewritten paragraph describing the process, and a proof sheet of the 21 random shots and six enlargements from the series with no indication whatsoever as to which adjectives, if any, these enlargements corresponded with. Here, the stated connection between system and chance operation is left deliberately tenuous, a mere assertion. One finds traces of the method only if one is predisposed to do so. While the viewer negotiates this imagery, the extended alliteration between the movie’s title and the adjectives might well continue ad infinitum.

In Location Piece #13, 1969. the editor of the Massachusetts newspaper The Haverhill Gazette agreed to let Huebler work as a reporter. He covered a march on Washington, D.C., in opposition to the Vietnam War as part of the Haverhill contingent. The result was an article entitled “It Was a Frustrating Paradox,” where the artist observed that, because the demonstration was so large, few of the protestors could actually see or hear what was going on and some wound up rushing home in order to catch news reports of the event. The march permit, moreover, prevented many from ever taking part by limiting the protest to a short time period. Of course such obstacles are part of the establishment’s apparatus for minimizing dissent. Huebler’s report departed from the mainstream in that it took itself into account and, in so doing, questioned how “news” is defined and produced.

Huebler’s well-known Variable Piece #70 (in Process) Global, a proposal to photograph every living person in the world, initiated in 1971, announces itself as the most ambitious documentary project ever: “Throughout the artist’s lifetime he will photographically document, to the extent of his capacity, the existence of everyone alive in order to produce the most authentic and inclusive representation of the human species that may be assembled in that manner.” Variable Piece #70 has served as an umbrella for numerous sub-works, including half of those appearing here. In one of these works, Huebler photographed a column of soldiers marching to celebrate the visit of Gustav Heinemann, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, to the city of Rome in July, 1973. Uniforms and the regular arrangement of the military column made the soldiers look virtually anonymous. Huebler played the genre of portraiture off this effect by rendering full-face versions of the individual soldiers imagined and constructed from relatively scant photographic information. If Variable Piece #70 embraces sheer impossibility, it conversely raises the specter of total surveillance. Much then is left to the rhetoric of Huebler’s proposal. How authentically might a grainy visage represent one’s existence? What relationship obtains between inert imagery and the dynamism of the human species? Forgivingly, the threatening portents of Variable Piece #70 are confined to “the limit of the artist’s capacity,” a limit that is no doubt informed by the need for recreation as well as work, diversion as well as focus, and a life independent of ostensibly larger-than-life work—in short,a general economy of values. Against this personal system of checks and balances, however, the State’s seemingly limitless capacity remains daunting.

John Miller