Tombstones
Details
Single-channel audio, conventional 100lb hooks, conventional 50lb hooks, conventional 30lb hook, steel 30lb utility hooks, Hang-Straight Hook (patent #5069412), security wall brackets, Hangman Softy Heavy Duty Frame Hanger, heavy-duty cleat hanger, pro brass hook nail, walnut, 26-gauge zinc-plated sheet metal, hygrometer
520 × 338 × 280 cm, 31'32"
2021

In cemeteries, tombstones mark the dead. In museums, they list an artwork's statistics: its title, author, year, medium, provenance, and, occasionally, a curator's note. By implication, the museological tombstone, like the slab laid atop a body six-feet under, memorializes a dead artwork—its aura (literally, “gentle breath”) expired (“breathed out”). As Baron Utz, from Bruce Chatwin's 1988 novel, declares, echoing Daniel Buren, “in any museum, the object dies—of suffocation or the public gaze.” Tombstones departs from this curious polysemy, with thirteen artworks born of ekphrastic catalog descriptions.

Presented from September 11 to November 1, 2021, at Room 482, Brooklyn, USA. Curated by Alice Gong. Text by Yongyu Chen.

Oil on canvas. Oily canvas. Canvas used to plug an oil spill. The rig is a lonely place; I paint the horizon at dusk most mornings. It keeps me company. Acne canvas. Prepubescent canvas. Dermatologists do not, under any circumstances but one, recommend popping pimples. Malevich had so many blackheads canvas. Oil is derived from petroleum, hence in Britain they call oil “petrol.” Petroleum on canvas. “Black gold” on canvas. Neoimperialism on canvas? At the very least, violence on canvas. Lubed canvas. Fucking atop canvas. Fuck canvas. Stab the canvas. Fontana canvas. Self-reflexive canvas or derivative canvas? Stretched canvas. Restretched canvas. Drooping canvas. Botox canvas. Essential oil on canvas. I am reminded that at certain, should we say...exclusive, property viewings the broker will offer complementary botox injections to all prospective clients. Reality television pollutes the mind, you should know. Canvas the canvas. As in, do you plan to vote for George H.W. Bush or Michael Dukakis? Okay, Gulf War canvas. Hanging chad canvas. Stop the Steal canvas. Stolen canvas. In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, several canvases, including Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, were cut out of their frames and taken from the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. Illegally stolen canvas. Legally stolen canvas. Repatriated canvas. Patriotic canvas. “Now, I don’t know much about art, but I know desecration when I see it.” State-sponsored canvas. The state of canvas. Isn’t painting dead? Long live canvas! Vigorous canvas. Nursing facility Thomas Kinkade on canvas. The Villages, Florida, is the world’s largest retirement community, with a population of 79,372. Youth is wasted on the young canvas. I’ve discovered the fountain of youth; it is located in Normal, Indiana. Aphoristic canvas. Idiom canvas. Idiot canvas. Etymology of canvas: the Vulgar Latin cannapaceus (or “made of hemp”), originating from the Greek kannavis.
		No wonder artists are useless. / He did not like the photo, which, en route from his mind’s eye to the camera’s retina and into a bath of paraphenylene diamine, acetic acid, and ammonium thiosulfate had suffered a serious degeneration. Nor did he want to throw it out. The yard was a compromise. He put it between the dandelion and foxtail, pinning one corner under a moss-bejeweled rock and another under a doorstop. He forgot about it until the dandelion and foxtail needed trimming, which was a while. In its decay, the image seemed to also undecay and resemble, if just approximately, but approximately is good enough, what his mind had seen. He framed it as it was, wearing its crust of earth, edges frilled like the brim of his go-to hat. Where the rock had held the photograph down was now a dark void. Everything that had been there left, squeezed out by the weight, revealing an absence so complete that it seemed to extend into space and possess, in its cosmic folds, every shade from rust to vanta black. In the other corner—the doorstop corner—were varicose veins of orange and yellow. Other parts bore the stains of raindrops. There was the shadow of an ant. The whole thing gave the impression of a galaxy or the small pool of primordial ooze where life first emerged, if it had been sponged up by a sheet of paper towel.
This is a portrait of a man who is more average than average, not withstanding the slight leftward kink of the bridge of his nose. He wears a standard shirt and rather inconspicuous glasses, which, owing to the kink, are faintly askew. He looks straight ahead, as if inspecting a small object just before him, his expression neither serious nor unserious nor aloof nor much of anything. He doesn’t wear a hat. His hair: fairly neat, directly off the barber’s menu. Either a number 2 or 8. His right leg appears crossed over his left, though not so tightly as to arouse any suspicion. His eyebrows are somewhere between bushy and pencilish. The pockets under his eyes evince neither the debt of a banker nor the sense that he’s just returned from vacation. His arms: platonic. At the base of his humdrum neck, between the inner termini of his collarbones is a notch that you’d hardly think twice of. His nostrils: mediocre. His jaw: mediocre. As for the painting itself, it is fine art—fine meaning decent meaning acceptable. The size is just right: neither that for a man who imagines himself God nor who thinks too little of himself. The brushstrokes are okay: the texture of curdled milk a few months expired in some places and vanishingly thin in others. They are the strokes of a middling portraitist, trained at a run-of-the-mill academy, apprenticed under a not-quite-master. The background, a nondescript sitting room, is somehow both Mannerist and Surrealist. The circumstances under which the subject was made to sit are, at best, uncertain. It could have taken a very long time or been completed with the dispatch of a street cartoonist. Did he himself arrange for the portrait? Was it a burden? Did he take time out of his busy schedule or have no schedule at all? Probably.Scraps of clay are pinched and kneaded and rolled and pulled into coils like engorged shoelaces. They are laid one atop another so gently that they barely seem to touch, or if they do touch are held by some invisible resin. Each grey mass is slightly more bent than the next so that the top-most coil resembles the frown of a man on an average day and the last a frown so steep—the corners of its lips parallel—it is surely that of his worst, with every gradation of ennui in between. It appears cold—like frigid-cold, not inhospitable or hospital-cold, though, on second thought, it would not be out of place next to a scalpel on an operating table, recently excised and still pulsing. The surgeon, not having seen an organ like this before, turns to the nurse and says, “I haven’t seen an organ like this before. It looks like freshly shorn dreadlocks on a barbershop floor. Except dreadlocks are rough and this is impossibly smooth.” If you look close enough, though, this impossible smoothness reveals the whorls and arches of a tiny finger, as though its pincher, kneader, roller, puller couldn’t resist but leave the slightest trace of a marginal existence on freshly poured cement.
According to carbon dating, it was etched sometime between 2323 and 2150 BCE, in Saqqara, the vast necropolis of ancient Memphis, just one of the many scenes carved like comic book cells into the tomb of Niankhnesut. Passage into the afterlife was no minor feat, and she needed all the assistance—plus something pleasant to look at should the queue be long or her character checkered. She might even grow hungry. To ward off the eternal munchies, a nude servant, only his groin clothed in a modest skirt, parades a cow to the butcher. It seems to know its fate, eyes wide with worry as it looks back over its shoulder to say its own goodbyes. The cow might have tried to flee were its front left ankle not leashed to a rope, fastened securely and courteously with a bow, threaded through the servant’s right hand, and wrapped behind his shoulder for good measure. The paint that once lent the scene a certain morbid glamour has long since worn off, and a disease has taken hold of its surface, marking it all over with small craters. A large piece has fallen out of the cow’s cheek. A larger piece is missing from the back of the servant’s neck and his thighs are dotted with holes. The relief’s edges, which, we can imagine, once made a perfect square, are chipped everywhere but the top with the marks of a hammer eager to put it in a museum. / Title: Lisping Ship Classification: Sculpture. Work Type: Sculpture. Date: Blind. Culture: Uncultured. Medium: Chicken-wire, sliced almonds, lace, driftwood, rammed-earth Technique: Assemblage. Dimensions: 5’11”, 149lbs. Social Security Number: 042-92-9123. Credit Score: 510. Division: Subtraction. Religion: Prevarication. Provenance: Mrs. and Mr., Dallas, Texas; gift. Eyes: Dreamy. Feet: Arched. Conservator’s instructions: requires extra sleep, occasionally misanthropic. Creation Place: North America, United States. Market Value: Freeloader. Prospects: Diminishing. Subjects and Contexts: Collection Highlights. Keywords: Landscape–nautical–ship, Allegory–death, Abstract. This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete.
A large format photograph of a hoarder’s living room, every surface buried under things, with a television at its center, on which is public broadcasting with a tour of the newly renovated local library, where in the back of the walnut circulation desk hangs exactly what you’d expect to hang behind the circulation desk of a local library of a midsized town (technically hamlet) in the midwest, on which, pinned to the refrigerator with a magnet is a smaller format photograph of the most realistic watercolor known to man or woman, which portrays a curmudgeonly Victorian dame stitching a quilt, each panel embroidered with a patch of a different bronze sculpture from the oeuvre of a renowned bronze sculptor whose hands would smell so bitter at the end of the day that he could hardly eat, including the statue of some great man (a general on horseback), whose saddle is emblazoned with the facade of some midtown capital-M Modernist monstrosity in the 78th floor northwest corner-office of which is being negotiated a deal for a medieval tapestry of a quail hunting scene that the seller shows to the buyer on a sheet of paper on which, overleaf, is printed an image of a collage of postcards, one from each capital city in the Middle East, such as Beirut, which depicts, on glossy yellow cardstock, a windswept newspaper with the headline, “Seventeen syllables is a haiku. Eighteen syllables is an unauthorized withdrawal of company resources and will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”Quadrant 1: The barren canopy of a tree in winter. Its bark is brown and rough and freckled with lichen. Snow gathers in the places where the branches and trunk meet. Behind it stands a crowded forest of evergreens, each member only distinguished by its highest point, which, one next to the other, trace the line of an unsteady hand. Behind and above that is a mud-grey sky, slightly ominous but also unbothered. Quadrant 2: The line of forest continues, albeit more unevenly, as if the already unsteady hand slipped. At its midpoint, the line slumps where the trees have conspired to grow shorter or are in less of a rush. Underneath the forest is a plane of snow, its white only interrupted by three patches of shrubs that are bowing deeply to accommodate the wind. They look like kelp. Quadrant 4: Two buffalo, their jackets the same brown as the forest in the distance and, for that matter, the lone tree, stand hoof-deep in the snow. They have been here for a while, plodding over the same meter or two. Where they stepped last, coins of grass poke through. Where they haven’t wandered lately, the grass has been covered again with a sheer muslin. The buffalo are expressionless, even featureless. They have no discernible heads, shoulders, or hips. In fact, they contain just the bare minimum buffaloness to know they aren’t shadows. Quadrant 3: The tree’s roots grip stone like fingers afraid to let go: taught, muscular, aching. They are big enough to rise above the snow, which has only spared the rocks where too steep to accumulate. To a small creature, the rocks might appear a great mountain range. Behind its highest peak, shielded from the wind, the whipping snow, and the eyes which must be somewhere on the buffalo, is a shadow with enough menace to know it is a hunter.
Title: Untitled. Classification: Painting. Work Type: Painting. Date: 1994. Culture: American. Medium: Paper collage and gouache on masonite. Technique: Collage. Dimensions: Image: 74.9 × 60cm (29 1⁄2 × 23 5⁄8 in), Framed: 79.7 × 64.5 × 4.5cm (31 3⁄8 × 25 3⁄8 × 1 3⁄4 in). Provenance: Mrs. and Mr., Dallas, Texas; gift. Accession Year: 2021. Object Number: 2021.25. Division: Modern and Contemporary and Mediocre Art. Physical description: Black background on which are arranged eight headlines from various international newspapers, all reporting a ceasefire. Some words are obscured by amoebas of teal, beige, and cadmium red paint. This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. / It looks like it is going to fall or crack—one or the other. A matter of time. For now, though, the slab leans from the floor half-way up the wall, leaving a triangular cavern on both sides. The absence has that humid, claustrophobic sound of a conch. Concrete does not want to be poured this thin, and that’s its genius. The way that, you imagine, the sidewalk could also be no thicker than a wafer—could hardly register a measurement between the two fangs of a caliper. And because it does not want to be poured this thin, a few cracks, little rivers on its martian surface, have formed horizontally where gravity is doing its thing. The square’s edges wear the flakes of having been snapped off. Of course, this was done very gently since the wrong touch would have done it in. You recognize yourself in the slab somehow because you know what it feels like to hold together despite.
This is what it would look like if On Kawara were drunk. If he didn’t bother to prepare his canvas and slather, evenly and meticulously, every last fiber with paint, opting instead for a roller. If, rather, than record the month, day, and year, he looked down at his wristwatch and said, “That will do.” And if, instead of rendering the time in a Futura so precise that it could have been printed, he wrote in a longhand he expected nobody else—maybe not even himself—to read. If, not obeying a most strict spacing around his lettering, he wanted the characters to touch as many edges of the canvas as possible and could not give a shit—excuse me—if some were touching and others were repelled like a divorced couple living in the same apartment. One, in black on green, reads 11:50, its semi-colon two eyes on the verge of sleep. The other, white on the grey of a pigeon’s coat: 14:24.Every morning for six-and-a-quarter years—that is, 2,281 days—she wrote the same few sentences and then removed their every last trace. At first, the erasure was total—the paper’s virginity restored. With time the eraser began to chew at the fibers, leaving them mangled and strewn about, like just awakened hair. By year three—1,095 days—she had to adjust her technique. Eraser: too brute. Finger: better. She would run her index over each word as soon as she set it down, leaving behind a smoke that, once no more than a haze, billowed into a dense fog and then the tephra of a long dormant hole in the earth. By the time she disappeared the sentences to her liking, her finger would be covered over with soot. It took some diligence to get it out. Come year five, the paper was dark all over—not evenly but in variations of the haze, the fog, and the volcanic plume—and she could only distinguish the words she wrote by the millimeter’s impression they left in the paper. She continued like this for some 456 days until the paper could really take no more—its strands so wily and sullen that they reminded her of an overgrown pasture under a midnight sky missing its moon. She signed her name in the only place left that would have it, a small pocket of white in the upper right corner. / The work was left unfinished. Perhaps its painter determined it unworthy of her time. Or she had finally worked out the detail over which she had been laboring —the way his black trousers creased around his bent knees and the edge of the chair. Either way, most of the canvas was left nude, its brown and worn surface bearing the marks of a long hibernation. The man at right—the one with the knees—is missing both of his feet because the artist didn’t bother. She stopped where his pants would have hit his shins, leaving the bottoms tattered with a few cursory strokes as if a dog had gnawed at them while he was asleep. His left arm is missing a chunk too—a triangle—where his elbow would have been. The other side, though, is intact, delicately marked with the creases of his matching black jacket. He hunches over his knees, his hands resting inward on his thighs in support. His head is tilted upward just slightly, not in reverence but in exhaustion or boredom—maybe a combination thereof. His mouth is ajar to let in more air. In the space between his arms and his abdomen are slanted, quick flecks of grey. At his left, across a river of barren canvas, is an audience of two with their hands aloft in applause. It is a woman and a man. They seem to know each other. She wears a very red top and an ivory skirt so long that it turns where the floor would be and becomes a small carpet. He is markedly less resolved, which is to say that he consists only of a few lines made in haste, deliniating his legs and torso and head and the semblance of a fu manchu.