Some artists work for decades only to die (and remain) obscure. Others are active a mere few years yet manage to secure a place in posterity. Two recent exhibitions brought Christopher D’Arcangelo (1955–1979) out of art history’s blind spot. For roughly three decades after his death, his brief career was known mostly by word of mouth.
“Anarchism Without Adjectives: On the Work of Christopher D’Arcangelo (1975–1979),” at Artists Space, featured six video interviews conducted by curators Dean Inkster and Sébastien Pluot between 2005 and ’10, mainly with artist friends who knew D’Arcangelo. They constitute a kind of oral history of his actions and interventions, which challenged the art establishment and exposed its hierarchies-a type of work that would come to be known as “institutional critique.” As interviewee Benjamin Buchloh notes, D’Arcangelo—a self-proclaimed anarchist who chained himself to the front door of the Whitney Museum in 1975—was among the most radical artists in a nascent field. In addition to a handful of unauthorized museum actions, his output consists of a proposal published by the now defunct Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, a series of construction jobs and Four Texts for Artists Space (1978), a collaborative installation.
While each interview is informative, together they are truly fascinating, as contradictions arise that make it impossible to pin down D’Arcangelo’s significance. Take his “labor pieces.” These were construction jobs in downtown Manhattan lofts, which he executed with his friend, the British artist Peter Nadin (one of the interviewees). Once a job was complete, the artists posted the contract, listing their client, how much they were paid, hours worked, materials used, date and time the work could be seen by the public and where they could be reached for future jobs. For Buchloh, the focus in these works on labor, and the breakdown of public and private space, resonate with concerns of Daniel Buren (also interviewed) and Michael Asher. But Nadin says he and his friend were simply attempting to subsist in a capitalist economy. Both perspectives are valid.
Also on view was Christopher Williams’s installation Bouquet, for Bas Jan Ader and Christopher D’Arcangelo (1991), a freestanding wall that reconstructs a portion of the last labor piece, 30 Days Work (1978). On the wall is a sumptuous color photograph of exotic flowers lying on a table. It was hard not to see the bouquet as funerary (D’Arcangelo took his own life; Ader died mysteriously, also young).
“Homage,” at Algus Greenspon, was conceptually in keeping with D’Arcangelo’s stance against “curatorial control.” At its heart was documentation-photographs, films, texts-only made publicly available in 2009, when the artist’s papers were donated to NYU’s Fales Library and Special Collections. Those who visited the Fales archive were asked to respond, and a half dozen artists did so, in works that very obliquely refer to D’Arcangelo’s. These appeared in the show. The offer was then extended to visitors to the exhibition, which grew over the course of its run.
In 1975 D’Arcangelo proposed that the Metropolitan Museum “open its doors to anyone wishing to place an object or perform any activity in the museum, [and] that the museum vanquish its power to control the nature of the above objects and activities.” This never happened, but Algus Greenspon gave the concept an interesting spin.
Photo: Video of Daniel Buren discussing Christopher D’Arcangelo’s work, in the exhibition “Anarchism Without Adjectives,” 2011; at Artists Space.