In a matter-of-fact description of the labor-intensive process and range of techniques that went into this work, Wolfe has said, “What you’re looking at is an object that has a paper jacket, as a real book would have, which is laminated onto canvasboard and wood and that has been jointed with modeling paste. The brown background is hand painted. The red band at the bottom was originally printed lithographically and then overpainted with oil paint. The diagram itself was done completely lithographically. The pages were created by painting the edges with oil paint and then dragging a very stiff brush across the wet paint, and then stained later to give them an aged and discolored feel.” Wolfe is one of a number of contemporary artists who have directed their practice toward exacting, literal works that replicate an existing object. With varying degrees of similitude, these works pose as duplicates of the real.
Carefully placed in the perceptual gap between the illusory and the real, Untitled (Cubism and Abstract Art) is a precise lookalike of a worn and dog-eared copy of the exhibition catalogue by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., published in 1936, that became a cornerstone in the early history of modernism. Painstakingly handcrafted, it plays with absolute notions of true and false, reality and illusion. Installed frontally and upright on the wall, it presents itself simultaneously as a work of art and a book whose subject matter is art, reversing expectations of both. Despite its affinity with Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, Untitled (Cubism and Abstract Art) is far from a found object. Like readymades, it raises questions about where life ends and art begins, yet its handcrafted quality and use of artistic materials generate the paradox of appropriating something from the world while engaging the traditional language of art.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 354.