Celender (1931– 2005) was a master of asking questions and his work often takes the form of mailed-out surveys to specific groups of people (from chefs, military officers, artists and art critics, to media personalities such as Hugh Hefner); asking them what they think about life, their jobs, art and often, ultimately, death.
Without an obvious purpose, the questions and surveys are interested in a conceptual collection of data and systems of order, though they retain a self-critical sense of humour and of the ridiculous. Celender called his interest in the process “almost scientific”, and likened it to “The fisherman’s joy of throwing out a line and having something bite”.
Celender, who began his career making painting and sculpture, was much influenced by the emerging conceptual art practices of the 1970s, when art was being talked and written about as becoming ‘dematerialised’. He would collect together the survey responses he received and display them, often in their raw format, calling this material “Conceptual Documentation”. The documentation was sometimes copied so many times that text and images would start to lose their clarity.
Celender completed over 50 survey projects in his lifetime, and only 15 of these were bound into published bookworks which have been circulated worldwide. The remainder have rarely, if ever, been shown outside New York and several remain missing or lost. He continued to make work right up to his death aged 73, and also worked on his autobiography with Jesse Karp, the son of his gallerist Ivan C. Karp. This remains unpublished, but excerpts will be on Arnolfini’s website throughout the exhibition.
Surveyed is the first European solo exhibition of the American conceptual artist Don Celender.