I never met Giovanni Intra, although he and I have dozens of mutual friends. We wrote for some of the same publications, moved in the same circles, perhaps saw some of the same shows. In a sense, however, by the time I arrived, he had departed, and then, in fact, he had really departed. We only corresponded once, after he had opened China Art Objects Galleries, when I tried to see if we could catch up in Los Angeles. It didn’t happen, and I didn’t make it to the gallery until he was gone. Literally. Gone.
I begin here because Artspace, in Auckland, New Zealand, currently has an exhibition on display entitled Beginning in the Archive: Giovanni Intra 1989 – 1996. What strikes me as so challenging and so revelatory are both the circumstances surrounding the arrival of Intra’s ephemera at the gallery, and the implications of trying to understand how an artist, as Intra was, as well as a critic, contextualizes the milieu in which they work.
Almost a decade ago, I was working on a project in Italy, trying to understand further the motivations of an almost impenetrable painter. As it transpired, his home apartment had remained in tact since his death, embroiled in a legal dispute. I was tracing a thread of his practice that I felt was unspoken, and I asked if it might be possible to view his study. Not, of course, to even touch anything, but merely to stand, and to look, and to see what this material might tell me. Perhaps, in part because of the proceedings, or, more possibly because of the silence that had always permeated his works, my request was denied.
In many ways, Beginning in the Archive, which I have not seen, just as I have not seen the study of the artist I mention above, stands as precisely the opposite of the situation I have outlined above. One might think here of Beatriz Colomina’s Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media, where she writes about the disparities of ephemera left behind by Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier. For the former, it is practically non-existent. For the latter, it is so exhaustive as to be impenetrable. She cites a comment by Jacques Lucan, director of the encyclopedia which commemorated Le Corbusier’s centenary, where he observed:
The books, the articles, the studies devoted to Le Corbusier are almost innumerable…this abundance finds a justification in the fact that perhaps no other artist has left to posterity, in a foundation created with that purpose, such an enormous number of documents concerning all his activity [public and private]. One would have thought that with the mass of documents available the task of historians and biographers would have been facilitated…that it would be possible to retrace his life…the itineraries of his architectural and urban reflections….Paradoxically, perhaps neither is possible.
On December 9th, 2008, just under two months before the Intra exhibition opened, Webb’s Auction House in Auckland, New Zealand, offered fifty-two works from the estate. I am unsure of the results of the auction, but I imagine one must think of the archive as opened, paradoxically speaking.