New York

Mario Garcia Torres, In a new work, Cover Letter, 2011, 35-mm slide installation, dimensions variable.

Mario Garcia Torres, In a new work, Cover Letter, 2011, 35-mm slide installation, dimensions variable.

Mario Garcia Torres

Orchard

Mario Garcia Torres, In a new work, Cover Letter, 2011, 35-mm slide installation, dimensions variable.

In May at 45 Orchard Street—a vacant storefront on the Lower East Side serving as a temporary exhibition space for “Itinerant,” a series of curatorial ventures orchestrated by Marian Goodman Gallery’s Rose Lord and 303 Gallery’s Mari Spirito—Mario Garcia Torres presented two slide shows. The first, titled In a new work, Cover Letter, 2011, takes the form of a job application précis: In a sequence of subtitles, which accompany images of flowers being arranged in a vase, Garcia Torres politely addresses a Findungskommission (finding commission), and puts forth his candidacy for a position as director of the Kunsthalle Bern, in Switzerland. He suggests that his artistic career would make him “a valuable asset to the organization,” given that his experiences have sensitized him to “the range of meanings and political implications” behind art’s production and display. Indeed, Garcia Torres’s work has in various ways grappled with, as he calls it “the structures that make art possible,” often by using documentary and narrative techniques to represent minor episodes in the history of conceptual art—for instance, early representational murals by Daniel Buren at the Grapetree Bay Hotel in Saint Croix, and a piece by Robert Barry, executed in 1969 by students of David Askevold—demonstrating, in concrete yet lyrical terms, the ways in which a work’s meaning transforms over time.

In one such work, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, 2007, the other slide show on view, Garcia Torres revisits Martin Kippenberger’s short-lived, barely documented Museum of Modern Art Syros, relating how, in the 1990s, Kippenberger would invite his artist friends to exhibit in a decrepit, half-built structure on the coast of that Greek island. Accompanied by photos of coastlines, city streets, shipping cranes, and birds in flight, subtitles explain that most of the artists (among them Christopher Wool, Christopher Williams, and Cosima von Bonin) presented not painting and sculpture but what Kippenberger called “non-art”: “statements and actions,” such as posing as a museum guard, cooking food, or painting a floor.

In Garcia Torres’s slide show, the works are nowhere depicted. He implies, it seems, that without art’s institutions—the structures by which “non-art” actions might be consecrated as actual art, preserved in documents and circulated and historicized—an action might just be an action, a moment lost to time. But he also expresses yearning for another mode by which a work may be transmitted. Early in the slide show, Garcia Torres talks a little about the island itself, saying, “The large amount of myths and stories that live here sets life into perspective.” But, as he later tells us, MoMAS, “couldn’t become part of the city’s narrative, nor of the municipality who owns the building.” He mentions asking visitors to a nearby beach whether they remember the museum, but finds that it is entirely forgotten. Finally, Garcia Torres describes his attempt to revive the site, expressing hope that people will once again gather and “tell mythical stories.”

The idea that art might be preserved in the public consciousness, perpetuated via oral communication outside of the art system, is, of course, not new; most obviously, it’s something like what’s aimed for in the radically dematerialized practice of Tino Sehgal, who prohibits documentation of his “staged situations” and arranges for their purchase via verbal contract. But whereas Sehgal tries to ensure an art action’s viral replication through culture by meticulously excising its material traces, Garcia Torres adds an object (slides and a projector) in order to give art narrative shape—the vector for transmission. A work like What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger presents, foremost, a story to be retold. But whether it will be is another matter; after all, as Garcia Torres’s work reminds us, “stories and their characters come and go.”

Lloyd Wise