Not on display
I do not own Tate Modern or the Death Star is a large white neon sign by the French artist Pierre Huyghe. The thirty-three characters that comprise the sign are all capital letters of roughly equal dimensions, each measuring approximately 650 mm by 450 mm. The work has been displayed only once, on the occasion of Huyghe’s 2006 exhibition at Tate Modern in London entitled Pierre Huyghe: Celebration Park, when the neon phrase was spread over five separate lines, with the words ‘I do not own’ on the first line, ‘Tate Modern’ on the second, ‘or’ on the third line, ‘the death’ on the fourth and ‘star’ on the fifth. The full articulation of the work measured approximately 3085 mm by 780 mm and occupied almost an entire gallery wall. The layout of the words accommodated for the position of a closed door set into the otherwise completely empty white gallery wall, such that the words ‘I do’ in the first line appeared over the doorway, with the words ‘not own’ appearing next to these and the remainder of the lines appearing in a column down the right side of the doorway.
This work was conceived by Huyghe specifically for the Pierre Huyghe: Celebration Park exhibition – the artist’s first solo show in the UK – as part of a series of white neon signs he made whose language similarly begins with the disclaiming phrase ‘I do not own’, other examples being I do not own Snow White 2005 and I do not own Modern Times 2005. Each of these signs allude to an earlier work by Huyghe: in the case of I do not own Tate Modern or the Death Star, the reference is to a screenprint that Huyghe made in 1997 called Death Star Interior. This consisted of a ground plan for the moon-sized Imperial military battlestation featured in the 1977 film Star Wars, into which the French artist integrated a detailed blueprint of his childhood bedroom. According to the curator of Pierre Huyghe: Celebration Park, Vincent Honoré, Huyghe equated ‘his imagined infiltration of a fictional evil empire with his temporary occupation of Tate Modern’ (Vincent Honoré, ‘Introduction’, in Pierre Huyghe: Celebration Park, online exhibition guide, Tate Modern, London 2006, http://www2.tate.org.uk/pierrehuughe/interactive.htm, accessed 7 May 2015).
Despite the declarative tone of the work’s title, the meaning of I do not own Tate Modern or the Death Star and the other works in the series remained elusive to art critics writing about the exhibition in 2006. Reviewing Pierre Huyghe: Celebration Park for the Guardian newspaper, the critic Adrian Searle argued that ‘His is an art of hidden depths. Sometimes they’re too well hidden’ (Searle 2006, p.18). Yet Searle also acknowledged that Huyghe’s neon signs address the pertinent yet nebulous notion of possession in the cultural arena:
The question of ownership, posed and denied by Huyghe’s luminous disclaimers, is one of the perennial themes of the French artist’s work. Who owns ideas anyway?
(Searle 2006, p.18.)
The critic Waldemar Januszczak, writing for the Sunday Times Culture Magazine, reached a similar conclusion about the difficulties involved in interpreting the work:
As it cannot arrive at a proper conclusion, the kind of thinking that goes into a Pierre Huyghe artwork must always leave you suspended irritatingly between meanings … When he tells us that he does not own Tate Modern, he is again being creatively disingenuous. For the duration of the show … half a floor of Tate Modern is his. And the Death Star that he also insists he does not own definitely belongs to all our imaginations.
(Waldemar Januszczak, ‘Pierre Huyghe explores the world through text, video, puppets’, Sunday Times Culture Magazine, 30 July 2006, p.8.)
In 2007 Huyghe said that he believes his ‘disclaimers’ are likely to be sentiments with which audiences ‘can relate’, stating that ‘you need to play with this culture in order to be part of it … You enter into the play of knowing or not knowing if you own the culture.’ (Huyghe in ‘Pierre Huyghe: “Celebration Park”’, Art21, 28 October 2007, http://www.art21.org/texts/pierre-huyghe/interview-pierre-huyghe-celebration-park, accessed 7 May 2015.) Discussing a related version of the neon sign that was exhibited in Paris in 2006 (I possess neither the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris nor the Death Star 2006), Huyghe commented that the matter-of-fact nature of the work’s assertion is due to the fact that it is ‘a legal formulation, which permits me to use what I do not own, to let it appear’ (quoted in Jennifer Allen, ‘Huyghe on Huyghe’, Artforum, March 2006, http://artforum.com/news/week=200610, accessed 7 May 2015).
Michael Glover, ‘Dancing Doors and Penguins’, Independent, 6 July 2006, p.20.
Adrian Searle, ‘Enigma Variations’, Guardian, 11 July 2006, p.18.
Pierre Huyghe: Celebration Park, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London, and Paris-Musées, Paris 2006, reproduced pp.10–13.
Supported by Christie’s.