Archive: Issue No. 72, August 2003

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The NSA's Young Artist Project brings Felix Gonzalez-Torres to Durban

Report by Storm Janse van Rensburg from the NSA newsletter Artmail

The second instalment in the Young Artists' Project 2003, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund seen in NSA Gallery Multimedia Room presented 8741 pieces of candy courtesy of Georgia Kotretsos entitled 'Untitled [Untitled (Portrait of Ross) 1991]' 2003.

A graduate from the Technikon Natal Fine Arts Department in 2000, Kotretsos returned to Durban from the USA, where she received a scholarship towards a Masters in Fine Art at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Kotretsos concerns herself with the basic premise of conceptual practice - to investigate and challenge the public art display institutions and the autonomy of art objects. This is done through 'playful' interventions where the audience is seen as an integral part of the conceptualisation of the artwork, her aim thus to make audience specific work, rather than site-specific work.

Her exhibition in the multimedia room was deceptively simple - it consisted of a pile of brightly coloured candy, an invitation to visitors to help themselves to said candy, three letters (to an American museum, an art collector and a contemporary art gallery) and a chart documenting amounts of candy against individual's names.

Since November 2002 Georgia has, on her daily short-cut to the Institute walked through the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago art and taken sweets from a Felix Gonzalez-Torres artwork on exhibition. The original work consists of a pile of sweets titled: Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA) 1991. Visitors are invited to take sweets from this pile, which is topped up on a daily basis. Visitors are only allowed one piece of a candy per visit. Here the weight of the pile of sweets equals the ideal body weight of Ross, 175 pounds. Conceptually Ross's body is thus shared with visitors.

With the help of five classmates, Georgia managed to amass a pile of sweets, which she numbered individually as she got them. This process continued until the work was taken into storage, making way for a new exhibition. However, she literally managed to 'borrow' over 8000 pieces of candy from this artwork, shipped it from Chicago for exhibition in Durban, in the process challenging every possible copyright law in the US.

The work plays itself out in the realm of copyright lawyers and the public 'ownership' of this work. Georgia's actions deliberately subvert and challenge various conceptual properties of the original. She contests the limitations of its larger public ownership, by bringing it to a public whom might not be able to take a sweet from its limited circulation in the US - i.e. giving the Durban public an opportunity to participate in or access a famous work of art. She also questions the restrictions imposed by Gonzales-Torres on the circulation of the work - although the work 'belongs' to the public, Gonzales-Torres copyrighted the concept and the individual pieces of candy, so whilst a visitor can 'take' one and 'own' it - this ownership can only carry similar legal properties to owning a piece of candy.

In addition to bringing this work to Durban, Georgia also sent three letters to bring attention to her actions: to the executor of the Gonzales-Torres estate, the owner of the piece as well as the museum it was on loan to. To date no response has been received.

Opens: July 29
Closing: August 17

NSA Gallery, 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood
Tel: 031 202 3686
Fax: 031 202 3744
Hours: Tues - Fri 10am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 4pm, Sun 11am - 3pm