Raphael Montañez Ortiz

Duncan Terrace Chair Destruction


Not on display

Raphael Montañez Ortiz born 1934
Wood, metal, straw, horse hair, cotton, canvas, varnish, nails
Object: 1500 × 1020 × 620 mm
Accepted by HM Government In lieu of inheritance tax from the Estate of Jay and Fran Landesman, 2012 and allocated to Tate 2014


Duncan Terrace Chair Destruction 1966 consists of a broken-up, dismembered and eviscerated upholstered armchair, the result of a happening by the American artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz. The chair appears to have been splayed, with its stuffing, springs, canvas and leather interior exposed and its joints weakened so that it can be presented hung against the wall more or less flat. The event took place at the London home of the writer Jay Landesman and his wife the composer Fran Landesman during the last week of September 1966. The event was part of the Destruction In Art Symposium (DIAS) that was organised by Gustav Metzger and John Sharkey and held in London from 31 August to 30 September 1966.

DIAS is now recognised as one of the key international gatherings of happenings artists in the mid-1960s. Ortiz was arguably one of the more prominent participants (alongside Yoko Ono and the Viennese Actionists), performing a number of destruction ritual events and taking part in discussions throughout the month-long symposium. These events included three piano destruction concerts (one filmed by the BBC and one by American network ABC, while Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction Concert was also recorded); two chair destruction rituals (one for the press conference opening of DIAS and Duncan Terrace Chair Destruction); one mattress destruction ritual (at Duncan Terrace); two paper bag destruction concerts; and one self-destruction realisation (this latter directly influenced American psychotherapist Arthur Janov’s formulation of Primal Therapy in his publication The Primal Scream 1970).

Ortiz would have first encountered Jay Landesman in his role as a journalist covering DIAS – Landesman wrote about it for the underground newspaper International Times (‘Two Views of DIAS; September is the Cruellest Month’, International Times, no.1, 14–27 October 1966, p.9) and sometime in mid-September Ortiz arranged with Landesman that he would carry out piano and chair destruction works at his home along with the now lost Duncan Terrace Mattress Destruction. Sometime during the last week of September, Ortiz carried out the chair and mattress destructions. The piano destruction concert had been planned to take place at the same time, but this was carried out in front of an invited audience on 10 October. The partially destroyed back frame and harp of an upright piano, produced during this happening is also in the Tate collection (see Duncan Terrace Piano Destruction Concert: The Landesmans’ Homage to “Spring can really hang you up the most” 1966, Tate T13937).

Ortiz envisages such destruction rituals as part of a ‘shamanic and biblical redemptive sacrificial process, a Kwakiutl-Potlatch Destruction ritual of release, a synesthetic multi-dimensional release’ (Ortiz in email correspondence with Tate curator Andrew Wilson, 24 May 2012). In this description he refers to the practice among Native American groups, specifically the Kwakiutl, of ‘potlatch’, a ceremonial festival at which gifts are bestowed on the guests and property is destroyed by its owner in a show of wealth that the guests later attempt to surpass. Emerging in the early 1960s in the context of the happenings movement, Ortiz had developed a practice out of montage filmmaking and abstract painting that involved the destruction of domestic objects, such as chairs, sofas and mattresses, which could be seen as surrogates for the body. The Duncan Terrace destruction works were a development of these earlier works to which he gave the generic title Archaeological Find in recognition of the degree to which ‘un-making’ takes place as a peeling back of layers of an object’s history and making it strange. The historian Rocío Aranda-Alvarado has suggested that ‘For Ortiz, excavating the object became a process through which he sought out the spirit’ (Rocío Aranda-Alvarado in Jersey City Museum 2007, p.7). Such a view is reflected in Ortiz’ manifesto of 1962, Destructivism, in which he identified his destruction work as reflective of:

the symbolic sacrifice that releases one from the weight of guilt, fear and anguish. It is the sacrificial action which releases and raises one to the heights … It is therefore not difficult to comprehend how as a mattress or other man-made object is released and transcends its logically determined form through destruction, an artist, led by associations and experiences resulting from his destruction of the man-made objects, is also released from and transcends his logical self.
(Ortiz in El Museo del Barrio 1988, p.52.)

Further reading
Rafael Montañez Ortiz (Ralph Ortiz), Years of the Warrior 1960, Years of the Psyche 1988, exhibition catalogue, El Museo del Barrio, New York 1988.
Unmaking: The Work of Raphael Montañez Ortiz, exhibition catalogue, Jersey City Museum, Jersey City 2007 http://www.jerseycitymuseum.org/documents/ORTIZ_VirtualCatalog_SP07.pdf, accessed April 2013.

Andrew Wilson
April 2013

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