THE SWIMMING LESSONS (1981), TRANSLATING DUCHAMP'S GREN BOX
The current exhibition of work by artist, writer, curator, art historian, poet, and critic, Robert C. Morgan focuses on an important corpus of work, completed between 1974-1988. Working from the perspective of conceptual art – on which he wrote the first doctoral dissertation (after completiung his MFA in 1975) – Morgan became interested in swimming as a structural, psychological and social paradigm for making art.
Coincidentally, he became involved in studying the work of Duchamp and was taken by the following passage excerpted from an interview with Pierre Cabanne: “…I didn't just float along! I had eight years of swimming lessons.” Morgan decided to use a phrase from this quote for his conceptually based work. The project involved working in many mediums, ranging from drawing to artists’ books, from painting to performance (many of which occurred in swimming pools), from super-8 film to video. One of his most important works was a series of ten drawings completed in 1981, involving photographs taken systemically from a videotape of two young women translating Duchamp’s Green Box notes. Although the original tape of this translation apparently disappeared, the still photographs, taken by the artist, were used to create a conceptual work, titled The Swimming Lessons.
Rooster Gallery is proud to present the first New York showing of this complete work, which has remained in storage since its first venue at the Ulrich Museum of Art in Wichita, Kansas (1981).
In addition, the exhibition includes examples of Morgan’s artist’s books, with images appropriated from swimming manuals published in the 1930s, recontextualized in systemic progression, accompanied by texts directly taken from the manuals. In the downstairs gallery, a videotape, never screened before, will be shown along with an original drawing describing the movements of four swimmers in a swim choreography, of which Morgan had been deeply involved since 1972 (Rose Art Museum, Waltham, Massachusetts). In 1976, Marcia Tucker, Chief Curator at the Whitney Museum, invited Morgan to participate in Four Days, Four Evenings, one of the first museum exhibitions of performance art. In 1977, Helene Winer, then Director of Artists Space, gave Morgan a full-scale exhibition of his appropriated photographs from early swim manuals.
The current selection of works at Rooster represents a rare and unusual exhibition by an artist who has always considered himself a painter and critic. In 1972, he took a 16-year hiatus to produce an extraordinary body of work, much of which became some of the first appropriation art of the 1970s, following in the wake of conceptual art.