Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Watts: Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Watts: Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects

Article excerpt

Of all the artists associated with the loose Fluxus movement, Robert Watts was perhaps the most "object oriented," the one who took the most visible pleasure in using his considerable skills at traditional craft (wood carving, finish carpentry, chroming). This is also why his works are so often conceived as comments about art (much more so than those of his peers, even though they all shared the same meta-artistic impulse). The selection of thirty-four Watts works presented in the mini-retrospective "Robert Watts: Art on Art" at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects clearly emphasized this point. The earliest object was Eleven Pencils, 1961; the last three all dated from 1987, a year before the artist's death. These included the very kitsch Still Life after Redon, 1987, made of colored glitter glued to a piece of silver-painted wood; 45 Caliber Bullet Entering Light Bulb, 1987, an assemblage--consisting of a hand-carved wooden gun, a lit glass bulb on which cracks have been drawn, and a bullet--based on a famous photograph by Harold Edgerton; and a rainbow spectrum made of colored pencil leads (or fabrications thereof), entitled Dedicated to the Memory of Roy G. Biv, 1987.

Several major works were featured in the show. The most poignant perhaps were the eight sculptures from the series "New Light on West Africa," 1976, which consists of mass-produced, touristy African "art" objects that Watts electroplated in chrome and silver. I do not know of a more efficient artistic assault against the erosion of art's meaning by the culture industry or against colonialism (becoming mirrors, these once "original" souvenir objects are now doubly fetishized). Another major piece, Addendum to Pop, 1964, consists of a grid of sixty documents that Watts received from the US Patent Office when, distressed by the media's and the art market's growing use of the term "Pop art," he attempted to copyright it. …

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