NY Times critic Holland Cotter made the trip up the Hudson this week to visit Dia: Beacon and reports that he has no problem with the 2008 recreation of the 1977 Imi Knoebel installation. “’24 Colors—For Blinky’ was in storage for some 30 years, and when it was finally retrieved, Mr. Knoebel decided that it was in such bad shape that it was beyond salvaging. So he made a new version from scratch, which is what we see at Dia. This means, of course, that the thin line between restoration and re-creation has been breached, and you can almost hear the sound of voices raised in protest. Shouldn’t the original piece have been shown, whatever its condition? Isn’t a re-creation, even by the artist, historically inauthentic, an expensive fake? I have no problem with the remake. The original was always meant as a conceptual gesture, a complicated act of self-assertion and self-abnegation, an exercise in loudness and dumbness, volubility and silence-seeking. The new version seems faithful to that. It will look old and ‘authentic’ soon enough, and may then acquire a kind of authoritative voice it was never really meant to have.”
If you read my article in the July issue of The Brooklyn Rail, you know I completely disagree with Cotter’s acceptance of the remake. A painting project of this scale, due to the meditative, repetitive process of “making” that we rarely see in conceptual work today, becomes much more than a “conceptual gesture.” The wholesale recreation of Knoebel’s paintings has purged them of a not insubstantial measure of their authenticity. Remaking Donald Judd’s plywood boxes, say, or Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light installations does not detract from their real or intended artistic import because the visible subtlety of the artist’s hand is not germane to the aesthetic experience of viewing the work. But a painting itself perceptibly reflects the artist’s creative process, and cannot be reconstructed without effacing the artist’s original experience of making the piece. Look for my article in the September issue of The Brooklyn Rail that explores how meaning is enriched through the physical process of making.
Two restoration tales: Ad Reinhardt and Imi Knoebel