Twenty years ago Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist started “do it.”
Supposedly he was having drinks with two artists, Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier, in Paris when the idea of the ultimate “work in progress” show was birthed.
The backbone of “do it,” which has been shown in 50 venues worldwide but is being shown for the first time in New York City at Socrates Sculpture Park through July 7, consists of directions that each artist must follow.
The original threesome invited 12 artists to create works based on written “scores,” or instructions, telling participants how to make their contributions. There are “rules of the game” that forbid one artist from always following one set of directions. Obrist didn’t want an artwork to have a “static character.”
Also, the person who wrote a set of directions cannot be involved in the realization of it and, for the most part, the artworks must be destroyed after the exhibit so they can’t become “standing exhibition pieces or fetishes.”
Although the creations are destroyed the directions live on and each interpretation of the instructions must be fully documented.
Hundreds of the scores have since been translated into nine different languages, dispersed, subsequently used by hundreds of artists and this year published, along with documentation of the many “do its,” in a book, “Do It: The Compendium.”
Some of these directives are penned by famous artists such as David Lynch, Ai Weiwei, Yoko Ono and Paul McCarthy.
And although different artists are interpreting the same set of words, the idea behind “do it” is that even reproductions are unique.
“‘Do it’ is less concerned with copies, images or reproductions of artworks, than with the human interpretation,” according to the exhibition introductory text. “No two iterations of an artist’s instructions are ever the same.”
More than 60 instructions were used for the all-outdoor showing (it’s the first time the show was exhibited in that way).
Ono in 1996 wrote “Wish Piece.”
“Make a wish,” she wrote. “Write it down on a piece of paper. Fold it and tie it around a branch of a Wish Tree. Ask your friends to do the same. Keep wishing, until the branches are covered with wishes.”
Artist Marie Lorenz interpreted the instructions. A tree in the park rustles with about 50 wishes from a “$” to “no poverty” and a little drawing of a pair of pants.
McCarthy instructed Daniel Roberts and James Haddrill to dig ditches and paint the dirt silver.
The second half of McCarthy’s directions are performative, such as “Use your head as a paintbrush” and “Paint all windows, doors and mirrors in your house black,” which Becky Sellinger brought to fruition at the park.
David Lynch wrote instructions on how to create a gridded board on which all the boxes are filled with identical objects. However, each of these things are made to seem different by giving them different names. The artist for this exhibit picked names from Bridget to Sean and Matt to name the bricks he glued in each of the squares.
Lynch didn’t specify height, so artist Jory Rabinvitz decided to make the piece about 12-feet tall.
Like many of the exhibitions at Socrates Sculpture Park, the works in “do it” become more fascinating the more you read.
Theses pieces are simple and not an ordinary type of beautiful, but the idea behind the show is intriguing and worth a stroll through the park.
When: through July 7, open all year 10 a.m. to sunset
Where: Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Blvd., LIC
Tickets: Free, (718) 956-1819