Armory Week 2019

People Watching: Historic Robert Morris Film Installation Enchants at the Armory Show

Robert Morris, Finch College Project, 1969 in the Leo Castelli Booth.

KATHERINE MCMAHON

There’s maybe nothing better to do at an art fair than to observe as other visitors photograph and moon over the work on view. And it’s only fitting that one of the best works on view at the Armory Show this year takes people-watching—and, in another sense, people watching—as its subject.

New York’s Castelli Gallery has devoted its entire booth to a historic Robert Morris piece: a film installation titled Finch College Project from 1969. The booth acts as a memorial to Morris, who died last year at 87, and as a paean to the joy of voyeuristically observing others observe art. It’s one of the must-see works at the show.

Fifty years ago, in 1969, Morris put a film camera on a rotating mount and shot a crew installing a photograph of an audience watching a movie. On an opposite wall, a 28-piece mirror was installed, and it was left to reflect the photo across the room. Morris then took the resulting film and showed it in a darkened room via a rotating projector; on that room’s walls are two grids of 28 globs of mastic (a kind of resin) that once were fixed to the back of the photograph and the facing mirror. (A detail of interest: the piece figured in a 2001 Whitney Museum survey of projected artworks during the 1960s and ’70s.)

Does all that seem confusing? It’s even more so in person, but one can’t help but get swept up in Morris’s self-reflexivity. And what a sensuous piece it is, too—you can still smell the resin, and the whir of the projector fills the room, drowning out inquiries about the work from curious passersby.

About that projector: Castelli Gallery is showing the work using an old-school machine that loops the film on its own. Of course, such a projector is so outdated that there’s always a worry it’ll break down. But fear not—the gallery has brought a two-reel projector in case of emergency. The only problem is that gallery staffers will have to rewind the film manually after its 22-minute run, meaning that they’ll have to watch the film—and visitors to the booth—very carefully.

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