Artist: Douglas Huebler (American, 1924–1997)
Medium: Gelatin silver prints and text
Dimensions: Image: 18.8 x 21.3 cm (7 3/8 x 8 3/8 in.)
Mount: 67 x 99 cm (26 3/8 x 39 in.)
Sheet: 27.8 x 21.5 cm (10 15/16 x 8 7/16 in.)
Credit Line: Purchase, Anonymous Foundation, Marian and James H. Cohen, in memory of their son Michael Harrison Cohen, Saundra B. Lane and The Judith Rothschild Foundation Gifts, 2004
Accession Number: 2004.51a, b
Rights and Reproduction: © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Huebler began his career as a Minimalist sculptor whose works contained elements that could be moved or repositioned by the viewer. He would very quickly abandon the making of traditional art objects altogether, saying at the time: "The world is more or less full of objects, more or less interesting. I do not wish to add anymore. I prefer, simply, to state the existence of things in terms of time and place." The results-typewritten documents written in legalese accompanied by black-and-white snapshots-resembled forensic reports prepared by a Buddhist monk in collaboration with the Marx Brothers; in one famous piece set in Central Park (Duration Piece #5, New York), the artist shot a single photograph in the direction of a birdcall, then walked toward the source of the sound until he heard another, at which point he turned and made a picture facing the new birdcall, until twelve photographs had been created. With disarming simplicity, Huebler slyly redrew the parameters of the work of art, effacing both the subjective experience of the artist and the reified status of the art object in favor of an elegantly conceived and simply communicated idea which exists fully only in the viewer's mind-a participatory aesthetic that is quintessentially of the late 1960s.
This early work by Huebler is the eleventh in his Duration series, and was made in Bradford, Massachusetts, where the artist taught at a local liberal arts college for women. It forgoes the madcap (epitomized by his Variable series, in which he attempted to photograph everyone on the planet) in favor of a placid, Zen-like austerity. Focusing hypnotically on a snow-laden bush of spiky branches, Huebler's humdrum subject-photographed twelve times from a fixed position at fifteen minute intervals-is transformed into a readymade sculpture undergoing organic, material transformation, the various stages of a densely worked drawing, and a mirror in nature of the tonal reversal (from snow white to brush black) that underlies the negative-positive process of the medium in which he is working.