Memorandum

Dear A.,

It’s been too long.

I’ve been watching with interest your work at the Institute through the various missives, pamphlets and publications and I really want to congratulate you on the excellent program of exhibitions and events you have produced thus far. I admire what you have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time and under the economic constraints the organization faces.

Because of our history together I thought it best to first respond to your request via my personal address. In order to do so I consulted with our Registrar, our Archivist and our Conservators and, of course, Curatorial, before sitting down to compose this reply – hence the delay.

I certainly do not want to discourage your desire to bring “Untitled” to the Institute and I can see how critical its inclusion will be to your curatorial ambitions for the show. From our perspective, we see the project as a great opportunity to expand the awareness of the artist’s work beyond our national boundaries, since it has had such a lasting impact on the development of the practice here and elsewhere. We are prepared to do whatever we can to assist you in the realization of your project, and agree that the difficulties that will undoubtedly arise are certainly balanced by the mutual benefits to our organizations and audiences.

I thought it best to address the technical and conceptual issues in order of priority of difficulty, so I’ve summarized key points:

— I’m sure the first thing on both our minds is the lard. Now, I empathize that the first logistical impulse is to simply purchase eighty-one cases of whatever shortening is readily available, but this has come up before. For the 2001 tour we ran this option by the estate and a number of art historians since we had already gone ahead and procured a sponsorship from an international rendering firm to provide us with product for each venue on the circuit. The family and the specialists were particularly adamant that the original material is integral to the work. In fact, they presented me with swathes of documentation from critical reviews and catalogue entries over the years that spoke directly to the added poignancy that the aging viscosity of the material lent to its interpretation. I did argue with Curatorial that I was not convinced that the artist intended the associations of loss and degradation, let alone sentimentality that came along with the sagging bricks, especially when one can see in the documentation of the first exhibition how the white, flawless, smooth and crisp lines of the structure relate to the architecture of the gallery. And the reference to the preciousness of the scarce material at the time of production is difficult for today’s audiences to grasp, its purity and refinement lost in our abundant era. The curatorial team wasn’t convinced, and as Director I must defer to the professional staff and the consulting scholars’ authority. I guess this is just symptomatic of the dueling discourses on authenticity, but it indicates nonetheless which is bound to come out on top. While I feel that the original exhibition documentation in black and white managed to lend the fat a cool elegance, I concede that the patina of the preserved material draws in a sombre nature mort sensibility. One note on the bright side, however, is that the rendering firm did provide advice regarding the temperature and humidity levels in transit (as they related to our vault conditions) and made a contribution towards the refrigerated trucking needs. There may be potential to get them involved once again, although I am not certain of their scope in terms of the air-freight requirements of an international venue.

— Number two in order of difficulty is the issue of the preservation of the stains. I will forward the accumulated condition reports on each stain so that you can have a look at what is required and put you in touch with the conservation team. We may have to factor in travel time and costs for one of my staff to attend to this, since it involves a complicated process with talc and blotting paper.

— The next issue has to do with the area taken up by the work. This is another sticky point for both the Estate and Curatorial. While planning the tour, the most important issues had to do with the proximity to any wall, and the relationship to the other work in the show. As the tour was a solo, I expect this last point to be especially scrutinized since your project combines a number of ‘proto-installation’ works across historical periods and aesthetic approaches. Have a look at the attached installation plans from the tour, and you can see the acceptable reconfigurations of the overall installation area. The work should occupy approximately 17 square meters, although it may need more visual space once the sightlines and the other works are taken into consideration.

— One of trickiest elements is The Mauve. I capitalize not to parody, but rather more sincerely, as a smitten enthusiast. You probably know all this, but the Archivist drew my attention to the artist’s papers that indicate a particular interest in the history of dye technology and the transition of organically-sourced to chemically-produced hues. Reaching its true zenith in Garfield’s excellent book, but elaborated with a mordant precision in Shelley Jackson’s Cabinet essay, the significance of a colour previously un-fabricated is a milestone in our perception, and the soul of the art work at hand. I’ll make sure you have access to the fonds for your research. The Mauve has the capacity to summon up so many moments of the artist’s life – the cast shadows of the Jeanne D’Arc monument up-lit in the evening, the taffeta dress ripped at the notorious after party, the spilled gasoline in the canal and the bruised flesh, from the paintings done the final summer. It is no Pinot Noir on picnic linens. It inflects upon the drug and sex experiments and the eccentric evening habits that caused so much trouble later on. Yet, The Mauve is so much more than biographical index. “Under-pink and bloodier than blue, hovering in the twilight of shrouded gaslights before the incandescent flickers and powers up” as Major put it in his review. But Major does not go far enough. It’s qualities – reflective and luminescent yet also so softly absorbent — convey both the haphazard decadence and the calculated precision of technology in its innocent awakening. The powdery and metallic texture still discomforts with its ambivalence. Androgynous, The Mauve made its way into the bloodstream of western culture at this moment and tinges all subsequent vision. Glimpse its minute rivulets in the tender eyelids of a pale youth, sprawled asleep on a carpet at dawn. Tainting the earlobes of strawberry blonds. Clinging dustily to the fingerprints of Oscar Wilde. Coursing with determination against the back of Dorothy Parker’s knees, say, to pool in her ankles. Coating the tongue of Morrison, as he hums through its aftertaste. Smearing Elizabeth Taylors’ irises, the morning after. Watch, as it’s secreted in the slick silk of polyester, rises in the petroleum exhaust, smudges our plastic membranes. Our experience is this musky gentian fog.  We lounge on its soft soil and snore huskily its miasma. We work in its engorged throb: it fuels our jets, floats our boats, propels our ambitions and our passions. It’s light is neither dusk nor dawn, but the held and repeated present. We see through this tertiary tinge and can see no light without its shadow. Given the right conditions, the receptive viewer glows with its skeptical transcendence – wry yet mesmerized – and beams with fascination at the starting point of a new understanding of the world, and its past future. The Mauve is the means to enter this most ‘felt’ part of the installation, to occupy the fragile moment when one could tell the difference between organic and synthetic, when phlorescent was starlight and halogen the glow of fallen angels. I bring this all up because it’s all in the lighting. Good luck with that.

— Marketing. I know, I know. But I wanted to give you a heads-up, since the bequest had a number of clauses regarding the reproduction of the work – quite a long thinker, was our artist. It makes me wonder what would have resulted had Warhol come before. Anyway, it’s critical that the marketing materials avoid any kind of overall installation shot since in the artist’s words “that would give it all away” and “make it look too small, like a set for a puppet theatre”. In past campaigns the design team came up with careful details of the materials – the fabric textures are particularly nice, and have a fine historical resonance since the weaves and patterns are no longer produced in the same way. The seductive, tactile nature of the fabrics is what draws most viewers past the fat and into the work, so that tendency is encouraged by the enlarged details. Or, of course, details of the lard, if you are going for that abject angle, except you should probably use our images of that element rather than shooting your own. The heat from the lights will prove problematic. You’d better forward your templates and palettes to me and I will do my best to finesse the sign-off. Oh, and don’t let marketing even attempt the mauve. They will immediately want to, since we are seeing a lot of it in home décor these days, and on the neckties of newsreaders, but it will turn out flat and flaccid on the surface, believe me. Alternately they will knee jerk to a Goth treatment with a lot of swoopy silhouette graphics to appeal to the ever-elusive youth audience, and argue that they look great on bus wraps and posters – maybe stickers(?!) Maybe temporary tattoos(?!)

Public Programs is another longer story and I’m just too tired to get into that having worked through most of a bottle. It will have to wait til our next communication. I must say I’m delighted at the prospect of working with you on this project over the next few years. I know we were both left smarting from the complications of the Tasmanian convention.

Delighted. ‘Smarting’. Complications. Trite.

I was ready to rent the U-Haul, as they say. And pack up the orchids (Cattleya labiata!) I panicked. What an idiot. Scurrying to the HBA flight lounge at five in the morning. Mouth like coal tar. Tossing back vodka no rocks. Two doubles. Jet fuel ether. My petulant phone call. Suspicious of our ‘chemistry’. Our attraction ‘over-refined’. Most embarrassing of all – ‘boundary issues’. Passing out on the plane. Queasy taxi. Can’t find the keyhole to my pathetic apartment. It takes three tries. It is gray with white walls. The floor is level. The view is flat. There are books. Most are rectangular, a few square.

There’s an over-full tumbler. It’s poised on the edge of the table. It quivers with the pulse of the furnace and the plumbing. Documents are lined up for review, white with black characters. They pertain to an overdue project. My focus is pulled to the space between the glowing monitor and I.

I should go. You will hear from me (the museum address). We’ll go over the details and I’ll cc. the others. Let me know when the launch date is final.

Believe me when I say to travel down for the opening will be my highest priority, if only to gaze upon you, bathed in Mauve.

B.