Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid, Spain): Hospice for Failed Utopias
- Luis Camnitzer born 1937
- 80 cardboard boxes, gauze and polyvinyl acetate
- Object: 2032 x 3226 x 200 mm
- Presented by the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2004
Leftovers 1970 consists of eighty cardboard boxes stacked in a rectangular grid formation over two metres high and three metres wide. Sourced from a supplier in Long Island, New York, each box is tightly wrapped in surgical bandages, with glue securing the gauze, and features red ink stains that resemble blood. Stencilled on the front of each box in black ink is the word ‘LEFTOVER’ and all but six of the boxes also display a Roman numeral. Two puddles of red pigmented resin lie on the gallery floor directly in front of the boxes. The boxes are not stacked in any particular order, other than the eight by ten formation, and their position within the gallery space is not prescribed.
Born in Lübeck in 1937, Luis Camnitzer escaped with his family from Nazi Germany to Uruguay in 1939. In 1964 he moved from Montevideo to New York, where he has lived and worked since. Leftovers can be viewed as part of Camnitzer’s engagement with Latin American politics, and especially the history of dictatorship, political repression and torture in the region. After a period of unrest a state of emergency was declared in Uruguay in 1968 and lasted until 1972, during which time political dissidents were often tortured. Made in the midst of this crisis, Camnitzer’s cardboard boxes, stained with fake blood, have been interpreted ‘as containers of dismembered bodies’, which may serve to explain the significance of the work’s title (see Mari Carmen Ramírez, ‘Moral Imperatives: Politics as Art in Luis Camnitzer’, in Lehman College Art Gallery 1990, p.8). Similarly, the organisation of the boxes into a grid formation, accentuated by the numerical figures stencilled onto them, has led the critic Jan Verwoert to describe Leftovers as ‘an utterly unambiguous monument to the cruel factuality of body count logistics’ (Verwoert 2004, p.83).
Camnitzer has argued that the year 1970 represented a political turning point for his generation of artists, as it marked the beginning of the end for many revolutionary movements in Latin America. The artist has claimed, ‘Until 1970 we were using art as a political instrument. Afterwards, we found ourselves making political art’ (Luis Camnitzer, ‘Chronology’, in Daros Museum 2010, p.20).
220 boxes were originally made for Leftovers, 200 of which were used for the first exhibition of the work at the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, in 1970 (reproduced in Daros Museum 2010, p.18). Sixty of the original 220 boxes were subsequently damaged or destroyed, with the remaining 160 being divided into two separate works, one of which is held by Tate and the other by the Yeshiva University Museum in New York. As a consequence the Roman numerals on the front of the boxes include various numbers up to 200. Initially the cardboard boxes displayed in Leftovers were stark white, but over time they have aged to become a yellow-brown colour. In an interview with Tate conservators in November 2004 Camnitzer stated, ‘In general I object to ahistorical newness’, and suggested that the current ‘blood plasma patina’ of the boxes ‘makes them stronger’.
After moving to New York Camnitzer initially made prints but in 1966 began to create text-based works such as Sentences 1966 (Tate T11882), which contains descriptions of visual situations inscribed on six chrome-plated cubes, and Leftovers 1968, which is made by pasting adhesive labels bearing the title of the work onto walls and everyday objects. Camnitzer has continued to explore the relationship between language and image, often with humour and irony, in works such as the Dictionary series (1969–70), in self-portraits consisting only of his printed name and the title and date of the work, and in his critical essays. In response to the dictatorship in Uruguay, which lasted from 1973 to 1985, Camnitzer made the Uruguayan Torture Series (1983–4) containing thirty-five prints of what seem to be harmless objects, but which are imbued with a sense of violence and repression by the title of the series. Camnitzer’s engagement with Latin American politics can be related to that of other conceptual and installation artists such as the Brazilian Cildo Meireles and the Argentine Victor Grippo, who have also addressed political subjects in their work.
Luis Camnitzer: Retrospective Exhibition 1966–1990, exhibition catalogue, Lehman College Art Gallery, New York 1990, pp.8, 52, reproduced p.9.
Jan Verwoert, ‘Luis Camnitzer’, Frieze, no.82, April 2004, reproduced p.83.
Luis Camnitzer, exhibition catalogue, Daros Museum, Zürich 2010, pp.18–20.
Supported by Christie’s.
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Technique and condition
The following entry is based on examination of the work and a questionnaire completed by the artist on 23 November, 2004, as well as documentation in the conservation record held in Sculpture Conservation.
Eighty identical cardboard boxes sourced by the artist from a supplier in Long Island, America and wrapped in bandages, from a local medical supplier, and consolidated with diluted PVA adhesive. Red pigmented resin ‘puddles’ form the other two elements of the installation.
The artist brush painted red ink across the bandaged boxes to resemble blood. Using black ink, Camnitzer also stencilled the front of each box with the inscription ‘Leftover’ and a Roman numeral or the letters AP (later additions selected by the artist). The original 1970 installation consisted of two hundred boxes but as eighty boxes make up this complete work, not all the numerals from I-LXXX are present. Each box is signed by the artist on the base using a black marker pen. The installation is not fixed. The boxes are displayed stacked on top of each other in no particular order and against a wall.
Many boxes appear slightly buckled. This is probably due to the fabrication process where drying out the tightly wrapped wet bandages on the boxes would have led to shrinkage and uneven tension. Also, if the dilute PVA soaked into the cardboard this would cause further distortion. Most boxes have a yellow-brown and black staining. This may be a result of ageing and the acidity of the cardboard. There is some tape residue with dirt adhering on the underside of some of the boxes. Dust and debris are caught in the weave of the bandages. The paint has bled into the PVA soaked bandages although this is intentional and occured during fabrication. The artist is happy with the artwork’s condition, ‘I am not concerned about the bleeding of the cardboard over time, I like the aged look and feel the piece has improved over the last 34 years’ (Camnitzer, artist questionnaire 23/11/04).
Jodie Glen-Martin and Bryony Bery
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