Fridericianum, 03.04 – 05.09.2021
“Can we imagine a book without a title?”
– Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine (2001)
Something of a consciously missed chance: the simple fact of Vincent Fecteau’s exhibition survey in Kassel not having a title except the artist’s own name, seemingly adhering to a choice routinely made by so many artists (and galleries and institutions) it seems to belie the multiplicity that his work unfolds. A double seam: Fecteau’s avoidance of titling any work since the numbered Chorusesand Shirley Temple Rooms in his show Ben of 1994, has as aftereffect an unexpected underdetermination of the 57 untitled works in an exhibition of 67, the ten others challenging the system he opted for early in his career.1 Dazzled with so many Untitleds it is the early, still nominated works that stand out and somewhat awkwardly set the tone.
The show’s decidedly double opening, beginning in the Fridericianum’s rotunda with five of Fecteau’s most recent Untitled wall sculptures, and restarting in the main exhibition hall with his earliest piece Bars I’ve Been In. Boys I’ve Been With from 1993 is the exciting testimony of an attempt to centralize a twofold bind, between difference and sameness, their “friendship” – if that is the word to cover it.
It is easy to get lost in this forest of sculpture and detail, stretching out in two directions around the titular boy-bar cube and cubicle of shoe boxes, cat collages and Garfield eyed eggs (all 1994): a zigzag of 21 Untitled pieces on pedestals made between 2000 and 2006 on the one side; and 22 others in three series separated by temporary walls: of 2016 (on pedestals), 2014-2015/2017 (mostly along the walls), 2010-2018 (wall and pedestal combined) on the other, ending in the same room with a table of smaller standing pieces from 1997-2000; while, back to the center, the wall opposite the early titled pieces holds three works from 1995-1996. Strangely, in order to speak about the pieces without titles, the years of production gain an importance. At the same time a distinction between phases of production is confusing – when the lines between are often soft and porous, a maybe. 2When what is constant seems to vibrate, the all blue-, red- and crying eyes of the Chorus cats resurfacing as friendly fremdkörper throughout nearly every work in the exhibition, a willow branch, piece of burlap or balsa wood, opened walnut or actual mollusk shell, a pushpin, inch of string, ribbon or gauze. Even, as in the show at Buchholz in Berlin last year, an entire wicker basket nested safely –but upside down, bottom up– into a blue sculpture’s burrow. And then that there are always, nearly always, the pieces of print that each of his papier-mâché works starts with: the layers of b/w newspaper in every standing and hanging piece (torn); of full color magazine (cut), notably in the 2014-2015 box/wall works, while the only 2017 work in the show stands out singularly for its combination of color fragments and one single, left-facing quotation mark ” on fading newsprint. This half, open-ended quote3, suddenly striking as a summary of Fecteau’s practice of collage, somewhere in between falling apart and coming together.
What makes it so hard to situate what Fecteau does is the interplay between the not naming on the one hand and these “referential vestiges” on the other,4 that have something both mythical and recognizable, between negation and a celebration. Content is displaced to names and relationships outside of the work. But can a sculpture be a place? Or a relationship? Especially when the exhibitions at the Fridericianum in Kassel and at the Wattis Institute in San Francisco in fact turn into duo exhibitions with Lutz Bacher and a trio with Nayland Blake, artists whose work he has assisted in making, who are friends and mentors, who do use titles5 and whose titles can title the exhibition, as is the case with Magic Ben Big Boy at Matthew Marks in Los Angeles in 2019, a compound of Blake’s Magic and Bacher’s Big Boy spreading their titles around Fecteau’s first solo show, into a new, shared, nickname. A title that is not just a community. It is a chosen family name, an expression of self-determination6, of the mourning for Bacher,7 of the fact that names themselves, are usually given to us, just as we do not choose who we love. 8
While titles in Fecteau’s works disappear after 1994, the practice of titling exhibitions isn’t altogether abandoned, resurfacing, most recently, through the restaging of works for the fictional identity of Magic Ben Big Boy mentioned here; for the group shows So I traveled a great deal… organized by Fecteau and Jordan Stein in New York in 2017; for Not New Work with work selected by Fecteau at SFMoMA in 2009. But only for one solo occasion,You Have Did the Right Thing When You Put That Skylight In at Kunsthalle Basel in 2015 – when the words that make up the title are actually someone else’s, unnamed, and the grammar of titling put to the test. There is some kind of kindness in making that anonymous mistake your own, bravely allowing it to speak uncensored, the same year, incidentally, that Fecteau’s book The good, the bad, and the ugly came out with Sternberg Press and the Grazer Kunstverein, a compilation and reproduction of the torn out magazine advertisements Fecteau collects and that will sometimes become a sculpture that does not distinguish between either of the three categories it quotes.
In this context, it will be interesting to see whether the upcoming catalogue for the show in Kassel will (again) be as untitled as the show itself, or –and what is the difference, again?– self-titled as with the hard-to-find 9artist book to his exhibition at Secession (2016), when again only the year of publication is what keeps them apart. 10
“I’ve often fantasized about making a form that would be so incomprehensible that it couldn’t actually be seen,” Vincent Fecteau has said in an interview.11 Could, as it turns out, his untitle(d)s be one part of this dreamed, irrecognizable, unnameable and therefore invisibly queer12thing? A book without a title, an unpaginated book? Derrida answers the question whether such a book is even conceivable in the affirmative: “Can we imagine a book without a title? We can, but only up to the point when we will have to name it and thus also to classify it, deposit it in an order, put it into a catalog, or a series, or a taxonomy.” 13
The question here, with these sculptures, with this continued choice or decision not to choose, is why? Why this deferral? Why go untitled, and is it impossible to go back once you do? Does untitling mean there was once a title that has been removed – and is it the premise of a procedure, an erasure, a withdrawal? It is also a question of the difference between too little and too much.
If untitling means letting go (if not of a name, a few letters, of what?), what is central to the overview of Fecteau’s works shown together as they are in Kassel is this loss, perhaps of a queer innocence through the past tense of been in/been with,14 but also the myth of the beginning, in favor of a second chance, an open end. If abstraction, or one way of thinking how abstraction works, is when you keep needing metaphors to talk about something, new words to describe what it is you are seeing, and none of them turns out final or even exhausted enough: this is what happens to me when I am alone in a room with Fecteau’s collaged and papier-mâchés pieces. They present themselves as oversized colorful replacement hearts, the arteries like engine tubes; monstrous helmets with a ribbon attached to them, only detectable from a specific angle; an orange-grey-pink-green dolphin’s back with a piece of grey felt glued onto it;15wrapping paper foregoing the gift inside it; fantastic chunks of coral with perfect hole drilled into them; 16little altars to interior design. 17 They stand up to me like shoes with heels on every side, the carrying case for a giant sewing machine; those artificially painted Christmas flowers you’ll spot maybe once a year;18 an awning that has sat in the sun too long, an air conditioning unit touched by too much dust. 19An aggressively speckled Fabergé egg, a helix-shaped kind of Medusa’s head. Paper machines,20 more of a not than a thing, unclear of hard labels or fixed designation, sometimes with the date stamped right onto them (Friday, April 28, 2006 in the New York Times’ Cheltenham font) or, like the brick-like wall piece in the main rotunda space, exposing a partial, all capital VID-19.
As it turns out, 57 works equanimously named or labeled Untitled is an overwhelmingly absurd and tremendously unmanageable experience, because there is no way to really keep them apart. In an exhibition that is constantly about what you cannot and do not see (or cannot name, or do not recognize), at least the first time over, it is also a statement that hits you in the face. What if we had no handles?
Unlike the nameless cats in Chorus nos. #1 and #2, blending into a kind of über-cat the way their heads sit together, all these sculptures combined become versions of Untitled – which is why in the one case counting them (34 for #1 and 49 for #2) makes little sense, while in the other it is an exercise worth the repetition: the exhibition as a gathering. I have often thought of bookshelves as places where very different books can sit together, and while what you want to avoid with a book is titling it in a way that it cannot be found. A bar is where you do the opposite, where you go to be anonymous. And that is what these sculptures do. So of course ‘they’ hesitate at accepting a name, as sculptures without referents, or too many of them altogether. It is what they have in common, what they share. They hesitate, at being with you, almost to exist. But they are particularly good at it.
Robin Waart, November 2019 – September 2021
After Bars I’ve Been In, Boys I’ve Been With (1993), Fecteau’s only known titled works are Chorus #1-4 (1994), Eggs (1994), Shirley Temple Room #1-5 (1994), Dramatization and Re-Enactment (1994). ↩
The earlier works clearly being about looking, but, maybe, by moving further into modes of display, and showing; from more architectural and foam core based around the turn of the millenium, from somewhat more massive colors, when wood and rope intervene in the papier-mâché, when the painted top layers seem more about camouflage and coming close to the texture of real, less so imagined surfaces in the latest works – but at the same time, Fecteau always cuts through chronology, makes time jumps away from, but just as much back to already acquired ways. ↩
A quote of a quotation, or second degree quote, as they are summoned by Derrida in The politics of friendship? But also, here, the inclusion of Lutz Bacher’s Elvis Moan into his solo show (played in the basement and locker room of the Fridericianum and featured on the brown cardboard invite for Fecteau’s show) is the inclusion of missing someone (Bacher) who misses (Elvis). Cf. Jacques Derrida (trans. George Collins), The politics of friendship. Verso, London/New York 2005 (1994): “orphaned quotation”, p. ix, “cited quotation”, p. 2, “quoted quotation(s)”, p. 27, 78 ↩
As David Getsy has called them in the context of John Chamberlain’s crushed and sculpture, David Getsy, Abstract Bodies. Sixties Sculpture in the expanded field of gender, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2015, p. 111 ↩
“Titles are important”, page one of Lutz Bacher’s novel Shit for Brains (2015) begins. And, one might add, names are too: after all, Lutz Bacher itself is a pseudonym, a decision, marking the start of her public career as an artist with a typically male moniker. ↩
“Names function as markers of self-determined identity and personhood. One of the most epochal choices for any trans person is the choice of their proper name, for it becomes the sign expressed to others of who they know themselves to be.”, David Getsy, Abstract Bodies, p. 258 ↩
The making present of the absent Lutz Bacher (September, 21, 1943 - May, 14, 2019) reminds me of Montaigne’s address “O my friends, there is no friend.” that Derrida takes and retakes in The politics of friendship (1994) as the paramount structure of a negation that negates itself. ↩
“Most real relationships are involuntary.”, Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea. Penguin, Harmondsworth 1979 (1978 1st ed**.), p. 287 ↩
Conceived as a leporello, with 22 identical, but mirrored images on the inside and the outside of the folds uaetceF Vincent / tnecniV Fecteau, the catalogue to Fecteau’s show at Secession is a bibliographically unfindable book, that has no inside or out-, identical with itself. Open and uncovered it is also, in fact, a sculpture. ↩
It is striking, and beautiful, that to avoid the repeated Vincent Fecteau Vincent Fecteau Vincent Fecteau in the artist’s cv, for instance Galerie Bucholz does not list the titles of shows if they are identical to the artist’s name, turning them into unnamed gaps: openings. This text ends on a full list of Fecteau’s show titles to date. ↩
The title as an ‘invisible color’ as Marcel Duchamp put it in his talk Apropos of Myself, given on numerous occasions in the early 1960s, for instance at the City Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, on November 24, 1964 (quoted by María Emilia Fernández in the exhibition booklet to the 2020 exhibition A Title is an Invisible Color at Museo Jumex, Mexico). A version of this talk given on November 9, 1962 is now available online on the website of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the quote appearing at 11:35 when Duchamp discusses a painting showing two female nudes, but titled Le Buisson (The Bush) he made in 1910-11: "(...) the presence of a title completely non-descriptive is shown here for the first time. In fact, from then on, I always gave an important role to the title, which I treated like an invisible color." ↩
Jacques Derrida (trans. Rachel Bowlby), Paper Machine. Stanford University, Stanford 2005 (2001), p. 7 ↩
A a queer innocence, in the aftermath of the aids pandemic’s hardest blows, even if by the mid nineties the first antivirals cures had become available. ↩
Enlargements of Yuji Agemetsu’s tiny junk pieces, ↩
but smaller than Carol Bove’s most recent ‘collage’ sculptures, ↩
almost in memory of Joseph Cornell, ↩
distorted and with the colors of a Francis Bacon Study ↩
as if a rusty take on Rita McBride’s pristine White Elephants? ↩
Although not quite in the legalistic tradition Derrida explained and used the term to speak of archival and bureaucratic apparatuses, those who do and do not have the right ‘papers’ and rights – although this too is related to naming, as with the paperwork involved in adopting a new name or gender. ↩
Untitled/Eponymous exhibitions by Vincent Fecteau:
Vincent Fecteau, Fridericianum, Kassel, April 3 - September 5, 2021
Vincent Fecteau, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin, September 11 - October 31, 2020
Vincent Fecteau, Wattis Institute, San Francisco, September 5 - November 9, 2019
Vincent Fecteau, Misako & Rosen, Tokyo, April 7 - 12 May, 2019
Vincent Fecteau, Matthew Marks Gallery, Los Angeles, July 14 - September 29, 2018
Vincent Fecteau, Greengrassi, London, April 12 - June 16, 2018
Vincent Fecteau, Secession, Vienna, July 1 - August 28, 2016
Vincent Fecteau, Galerie Buchholz, Cologne, 3 June - 20 August, 2016
Vincent Fecteau, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, May 9 - June 28, 2014
Vincent Fecteau, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin, September 14 - November 24, 2012
Vincent Fecteau, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, May 15 - July 4, 2010
Vincent Fecteau, greengrassi, London, March 11 - April 17, 2010
Vincent Fecteau, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, September 10 - October 24, 2009
Vincent Fecteau, Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne, October 6 - November 18, 2006
Vincent Fecteau, greengrassi, London, 26 February - April 9, 2005
Vincent Fecteau, Feature Inc., New York, 2003
Vincent Fecteau, greengrassi, London, September 23 - October 4, 2000
Vincent Fecteau, Marc Foxx, Los Angeles, 1999
Vincent Fecteau, Ynglingagatan 1, Stockholm, 1997
Titled exhibitions by Vincent Fecteau:
So I traveled a great deal… organized by Vincent Fecteau and Jordan Stein, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, July 6, August 18, 2017
You Have Did the Right Thing When You Put That Skylight In, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, 18 June - 23 August, 2015
Night (1947-2015) (also announced as Untitled), The Glass House, New Canaan, May 1 - August 25, 2014
Not New Work – Vincent Fecteau Selects from the Collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, July 25 - November 8, 2009
Focus: Vincent Fecteau (also announced as New Work in the show’s exhibition booklet), Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, September 11 - November 30, 2008
Journal #7 (with Tomma Abts), Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2004
Recent Sculpture, MATRIX 199, BAMPFA: University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, August 11 - October 6, 2002 & Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, December 4, 2002 - March 2, 2003
Vincent Fecteau (also announced as Sculpture), Feature Inc., New York, April 1 - April 30, 1998
New Work, Feature Inc., New York, April 4 - May 11, 1996
Introductions, Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco 1995
Ben, Kiki, San Francisco, 1994