William Anastasi:
A Retrospective

7. January 2001 to 11. March 2001

William Anastasi : A Retrospective

As a result of a collaboration between Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, the Museum of Modern Art in Roskilde and Stalke Gallery in Copenhagen, three simultaneously exhibitions in Denmark presented the works of William Anastasi, Dove Bradshaw and John Cage.

With William Anastasi’s retrospective exhibition at Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center, a larger presentation of the works of this American artist was shown for the first time in Scandinavia. The exhibition contained some 50 works from all periods of William Anastasi’s career, some of which was created especially for the exhibition at Nikolaj, Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center.

From 1965 to 1970 William Anastasi made his mark with great artistic weight through fourepoch-making exhibitions at the Dwan Gallery in New York - but to little acclaim outside a narrow circle. It was during this period that the fundamental experiences of conceptual art were made; but William Anastasi’s effort, predating conceptual works by many other artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Serra, has been virtually invisible to the art historical treatment of conceptual art. The most recent years, however, have witnessed a markedly increasing interest, in the US as well as in Europe, in rediscovering the radical, yet surprisingly simple and beautiful works of this relatively overlooked artist.

William Anastasi employs a variety of techniques: painting, scuplture, collage, photography, drawing and the pouring of paint. Inspired by, among others, John Cage, he inserts elements of reality in the artistic context and includes chance as a contributing element. Common to these apparently varied works is the way they open our eyes by revolving around the concept of art and the elements that constitute the language of art – the wall, the image, space, the spectator, time, chance, the relationship between image and sound – so that they clearly and with a certain humour demonstrate the rules of the game as well as the basic elements involved when dealing with art.

From the 1960’s to this day the artist has, for instance, based his work on the principles of chance. The "unsighted" work – Blind Drawings and Subway Drawings – has come to a common ground with meditation practice over the years, often totally separated from conscious action. In the Subway series the artist with eyes closed and with a pencil held more like a dart than a drawing instrument, allows the train’s movement to govern the movement of his hand.

Many of William Anastasi’s early works are explorations of the conditions for works of art to exist in a room. Six Sites are photo-silkscreened paintings of the walls on which the work is hanging. Attention is drawn to no other universes than that of the here and the now. At the same time it adresses the role played by the art institution (the gallery) – the room that the audience becomes aware of.

Issue: - the work’s instruction, or as Anastasi likes to refer to it, recipe: Draw two vertical lines, 4 1/2 inches apart, from floor to celing on a plaster wall. With a chisel and hammer, chip the surface away within the lines to a one-quarter inch depth. Pile the debris at the base of the removal in a mound as wide as the strip, extending onto the floor at a right angle from the removal.

William Anastasi also uses language as a vehicle for his explorations. His later work is increasingly concerned with presentations in which the conceptual elements are to be found in his vision and the actual carrying out of the work, rather than in the appearance of the work itself. Another side of his works concerns a visual presentation of the word "Jew" which has provided the point of departure for a series of paintings and drawings from the 80’s. "Jew" is a culturally loaded word that leads naturally to a consideration of identity – personally, historically and universally.

A catalogue was published in connection with the exhibition; and the contributors were: Bent Fausing (senior lecturer in visual communication and aesthetics, University of Copenhagen) and Thomas McEvilley (art historian, New York).

At the same time the Museum of Contemporary Art in Roskilde illuminated the artistic connection between the American artists William Anastasi, Dove Bradshaw and John Cage, who were also personally closely connected until the death of John Cage. 

Also at the same time, the gallery 'Stalke'' presented an exhibition especially focusing on the works of Dove Bradshaw.