Alexander Gray Associates
Since the late 1960s, Luis Camnitzer has created works in a variety of media—including installation, printmaking, drawing, and photography—that expose our collective indifference to the violence governments inflict on individuals. A pioneer of conceptual art, Camnitzer critiques current political realities with a perspective informed by his first-hand experience of dictatorships in Latin America. This exhibition is particularly timely because it comes on the heels of New Jersey’s historic decision to abolish the death penalty, and as the Supreme Court continues to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections.
Death row prisoners’ final statements are the texts that constitute Last Words. Forgiveness, apologies, declarations of love to mothers, sisters, daughters, and others are interspersed with phrases alluding to death; the refrains like “I love you” is followed by “I am ready” or “It’s my hour.” Camnitzer collected these phrases from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s website, and reprinted those that include the word “love.” Printed in reddish brown toned ink on six sheets of paper measuring approximately five and a half by four feet each, these works’ human scale mirrors viewers’ bodies. Their formal rigor alludes to minimalism, but the emotion of the texts undercuts this elegance.
In Sifter (The Mechanism for Killing a Spectator), Camnitzer compares the violent dictator with the artistic genius by forcing the viewer into an uncomfortable position. The installation consists of a brass plaque on the wall, a brown welcome mat, and electrical tubing connecting the two. The plaque is inscribed with text describing a system for measuring the viewer’s response to a work of art and killing the viewer if that response is not satisfactory. To read this text, one must step onto the mat, which resembles a low-budget execution apparatus.