Jonathan Borofsky

Man with Briefcase at 2,756,805


Not on display

Jonathan Borofsky born 1942
Ink on paper
Support: 298 × 210 mm
Purchased 1984

Catalogue entry

Jonathan Borofsky born 1942

T03910 Man with Briefcase at 2,756,805 1980

Felt pen on photocopying paper 298 x 210 (11 1/2 x 8 1/2)
Inscribed ‘Borofsky 1980' b.r., ‘2756805' on briefcase, ‘B' on back t.l. and ‘JB 375/Dug' on back b.l.
Purchased from Paula Cooper Inc., New York (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Exh: Jonathan Borofsky Zeichnungen 1960-1983, Kunstmuseum, Basel, June-July 1983, Städtisches Kunstmuseum Bonn, Sept.-Oct.1983, Kunstverein, Hamburg, Jan.-Feb. 1984, Kunsthalle, Bielefeld, April-May 1984, Kunstverein, Mannheim, May-July 1984, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sept.-Oct. 1984 (not in cat.); State of the Art; Ideas and Images in the 1980's, ICA, Jan.-March 1987 (no number)
Lit: Joan Simon, ‘An Interview with Jonathan Borofsky', Art in America, vol.69, Nov. 1981, p.164; Lynn Zelevansky, ‘Jonathan Borofsky's Dream Machine', Art News, vol.83, May 1984, p.111; Mark Rosenthal, ‘Jonathan Borofsky's Modes of Working', Jonathan Borofsky, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1984, pp.12-14, repr. fig.4; Artist's statement in ibid., p.176; Richard Marshall, ‘Jonathan Borofsky's Installations: All is One' in ibid., pp.102-3; Sandy Nairne, ‘History, the Modern and Postmodern' in State of the Art, Ideas and Images in the 1980's, 1987, pp.52-4

The image of a man carrying a suitcase, often in silhouette, has recurred in Borofsky's work, executed in different materials and on different scales. The artist has commented (see entry for T03908):

‘Man with a briefcase' was originally taken from a newspaper advertisement for a guy who was advertising suits. It seemed like Everyman, in a sense, and I traced it in black ink to be one solid silhouette. The briefcase has often been for me the symbol of the carrier of thoughts, the brain, the carrier of my own papers, my own numbers at one time. Even now, today, I carry with me ... a briefcase full of my images and my thoughts. In this case, I've put a number on the briefcase, to symbolise that conceptual aspect of the briefcase for myself. The hat can sometimes be thought of as a halo, rather than a hat, a halo around the head.

Borofsky gave another possible clue to the wider origins of the image in an interview with Joan Simon when he described an encounter with ‘a black man in an overcoat carrying a briefcase' in 1974 (p.164).

According to Richard Marshall, the original traced drawing to which Borofsky refers was made in 1979 and numbered 2,630,059. A large version of the image first appeared as part of an installation in the exhibition Westkunst in Cologne in 1981 (repr. Philadelphia exh. cat. 1980, fig.64). ‘Like the "Hammering Man" it represents an archetypal worker and, like the majority of [Borofsky's] images, it is also a self portrait - a metaphor for the artist as worker, with Borofsky carrying his own drawing-filled briefcase' (Marshall 1980, p.102). The image was projected in shadow form then painted for Borofsky's exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1981 (repr. Philadelphia exh. cat. 1980, fig.65). At the Centre Pompidou in Paris a large figure was painted across exposed pipes, gratings and ductwork (repr. ibid., pls 188-90). In 1982 Borofsky installed a huge painted version (transferred by projecting the image) into the skylight of the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam, (repr. ibid., pls 191-192). In the catalogue for his Philadelphia exhibition, the artist's comments are reproduced beside the next large version he installed on the glass roof of the Martin-Gropius-Bau in West Berlin during Zeitgeist, (October 1982 - January 1983):

I see myself as partly every person and vice versa. Therefore, no matter how personal I get about myself, my work is going to have meaning for somebody else. It has archetypal relevance. So, this figure is me too - the travelling salesman who goes around the world with his briefcase full of images and thoughts. The briefcase has always been a metaphor for my brain.

The Berlin version was made from cardboard sections. Discussing these large installations with Sandy Nairne in 1984, Borofsky said:

It was in Rotterdam on the ceiling and then I improved upon it, because in Rotterdam it was so close down on you that you couldn't get the whole picture of it as a hundred foot ceiling without lying on your back on the floor. I came to Zeitgeist next, where I had a much grander scale building and a distance to work with and I made the image thirty feet long approximately, but seen from a much further distance it kind of floated up there. That for me was one of my best pieces that I've ever done .... It's about to be used for a poster in Philadelphia, I was just told it keeps cropping up. It's a very graphic image and therefore easy to reproduce and catch people's attention.

Asked why he made this figure a major feature of European exhibitions rather than American ones, Borofsky replied:

I used it in [Westkunst] first, I think, on the wall. And Beuys was doing a show there as well. When I used it directly over Beuys at Zeitgeist I was particularly conscious that the connection could be made and I thought that was kind of fun, but not necessarily the point of the piece.
Again I like to use images that have multiple implications or multiple translations, as to what they could be, especially when I can play with those in different circumstances ...
And it's about to be used as a giant poster, about seven feet high in Philadelphia.

Asked why the briefcase appears on the left rather than on the right, as is more generally the case in the ‘Man with Briefcase' works, Borofsky replied that this was ‘By chance. I flip it around. It depends how I project it or paint it.'

Apart from a large early aluminium cut-out version of 1979 (2267 x 902 x 6, 89 1/4 x 35 1/2 x 1/4 edition of 15, repr. Philadelphia exh. cat. 1980, fig.5) other versions reproduced are: no.59, (ink on paper 2489 x 1118, 98 x 44 repr. ibid., p.82) 1983; nos 109 and 110, in the Basel exhibition catalogue 1983 and the figure reproduced on the back cover of the Moderna Museet exhibition catalogue 1984. Borofsky has also made a number of prints of the same subject (see P07817-07829, Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982-4, 1986, pp.366-8 repr.).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.102-4

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