Whitehot Magazine

June 2013: William Anastasi's Displacement and Drawings @ Half Gallery


Artist William Anastasi and his work 'Pocket Drawings'

Brandon Caro

The artist William Anastasi, most renowned for his conceptual art practice that came into vogue in the mid 1960's, is now on display at Half Gallery at 43 East 78th St, New York, NY. The installation, Displacement and Drawings, opened the 11th of May.

Owned and operated by art dealer/writer/television personality Bill Powers, Half Gallery has recently relocated from a smaller space on the Lower East Side. The gallery's new home in a converted prewar walk-up is a unique design: two show rooms separated by a single flight of stairs, making it possible to divide presentations into thematically driven elements.  In the case of Anastasi's new installation, the first floor of the gallery is dedicated to the concept of Displacement. This goal is achieved largely through the use of a black acrylic paint on white canvas piece called "One Gallon Thrown at Something," displayed prominently on one of the rooms three walls. Splatter marks from Anastasi's technique of paint-flinging stain the white wall that surrounds the canvas's left side, while the right side of the canvas remains its original white; untouched by the black paint.

In keeping with the spirit of Displacement, a Tandbergs tape machine that plays back a recording of the sound the machine itself makes while recording haunts the room from a space on the floor in a far corner. The original hum of the machine is layered with the very same machine's prerecorded hum played out through its speaker.  On a wall in the hallway landing between rooms on the gallery's first floor is a framed notarized document that feature's the artist's signature below a printed text that reads "This is not my signature." An interesting side note about this piece (revealed to me by his long time partner, artist Dove Bradshaw) is that William brought it to several different notaries- all of whom were male- that refused to take part in the project. It was not until he came upon a female notary who was willing to play along that he was able to complete the work.

On the second floor of the gallery are the Blind Drawings. Employing three closely related techniques, the artist has made a point here of communicating directly with each canvas without the use of his eyes. In these drawings, the technique is as much on display as the works themselves, because without the foreknowledge of exactly how these drawings were made, the greater significance of the work is lost on the casual observer. With the Walking Drawings, the artist would walk to a given destination from his apartment or from a house in the country holding a piece of paper (reinforced by a stiff surface like cardboard) in one hand, and a pencil or pen in the opposing hand. As he walked, he would hold the pen or pencil as though it was the needle of a seismograph machine, registering the natural movements of his body. During his return walk home, he would repeat the process switching hands. The two drawings are then juxtaposed, framed and presented as a single piece.

William told me of his Walking Drawings, "When I draw these, I do my best not to think about art. I think about my out-breath as much as possible." On the opposing wall are featured the artist's Subway Drawings which are similar in technique to the Walking Drawings, but for one small difference: The artist is riding the subway rather than walking. The markings created on the paper in the Subway Drawings tend to be more oblong in shape, due to the shifting and pitching of the subway car.  On a different wall is displayed a matrix of small Pocket Drawings which, taken together, resemble a checkerboard. These markings reflect a more determined pencil stroke on the part of the artist. The sheet of paper on which he is working remains in his pocket, out of sight, until it is finished.  Dove told me that William would often do these while watching old movies from the silent film era at the Museum of Modern Art, much to the dismay and shock of surrounding movie-goers who could not make sense of the incessant movement of his hand so close to his trousers in the dark theater.

Bill's work has been canonized into the fabric of modern art here at home and abroad, and has won him the acclaim of many recognized patrons, notably that of long time friend and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Albert Albee, who said of the exhibition, "the work is as good as it ever was, which is pretty fucking good. I see no decline."  Currently Anastasi has 16 Pocket Drawings that he made on two sheets of paper on display The Moma. He is also represented presently at The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Walker Arts Center, The Museum of Fine Arts. Boston, The Guggenheim, The Whitney, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, and the Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf.

Bill Anastasi's Displacement and Drawings will be on display at Half Gallery until the 21st of June.

One Gallon Thrown at Something

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Edward Albee and artist Alex Markwith at the exhibition


Brandon Caro


Brandon Caro is writer and reporter who reports on, among other things, the arts, fashion, and the War in Afghanistan. His work has been featured in The New York Times, and the Daily Beast. He resides in Brooklyn.

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