This month in Artforum, Irene V. Small writes on the ashes of Helio Oiticica’s estate, recalling the recent fire in Rio that burnt hundreds of the artist’s works. As conservators assiduously recuperate the remains, and as plans are made to recirculate Oiticica’s work—as work reworked—throughout the international art world, Small critiques the decency of doing so. Given the nature of Oiticica’s practice, and of his interest in co-participation over display, alongside decades of controversy over how art spaces construe his work, the writer points out in paraphrasing Brazilian press and bloggers, perhaps “the fire had ‘liberated’ the artist’s ideas from their material cage.” Though an unsurprisingly matter-of-fact reaction for many who know Oiticica’s work well, an ever-crucial concern persists here that reckons with both the economic and academic transpositions of contemporary art over the long term. In particular, what Small questions is how the reconstruction attempts (i.e. using the late artist’s digital archive to produce new iterations of his work) will work out, and whether these ethics of reincarnation bode well for the future of contemporary art archives. It is one thing for Oiticica’s work to be experienced, as his friend Haroldo de Campos wrote, “as something open, as something unstructured, as something susceptible to manipulation, to intervention,” but on behalf of the archivist as well as the spectator? The fate of contemporary artists’ archives is no entirely new topic, but it does remain an urgent one (while especially so considering the age of the 50s and 60s generation) that an increasing amount of cultural producers are deeply involved with.
At the Walker, as we get closer to the actual making of this Getty-funded collections project (OSCI), designing something along the lines of what ArtsJournal’s Tyler Green referred to as a “21st-century collection catalogues on steroids,” we’ve deliberately started looking at a few artist works in our permanent collection that complicate this endeavor, with a recent acquisition of Oiticica as just one example. The selected works bring a sort of institutional critique to the “scholarly” project that keeps its integrity in check. For it is easy enough to compile compelling material to include in the catalogue, but how to present the content appropriately (and considering our resources, how to present it practically), is another issue, whether it’s around the oeuvre of a deceased artist, or in Katharina Fritsch’s case, singularizing a multiple, or with Tino Sehgal’s work, figuring out how to be extensive—or not—over an artist so evasive. And then there’s that vexing question (that keeps popping up in my inbox) of what contemporary arts research really is…and what kind of a history of the field we are defining as our arguably premature historicization of it means its immediate (re)institutionalization.
But aside from obsessing on these anxieties too much, the Getty group (now including Joe King, Associate Registrar, and Lisa Middag, Director of Publications) has indeed made some good strides since the confab in LA last December. No OSCI meeting at the Walker is complete without the usual rumination around the purposefulness of this project, however, out of these conversations, we have alas arrived at some decisions. For those following the project, my last blog posting featured a bulleted list of synoptic inquiries that were brought up across the nine institutions, a few of which we now feel more composed to answer: it is a restaurant, not a grocery store; contributions to scholarship will supersede attempts at fullness, and likewise forego redundancies; the audience is firstly assumed as those studied in contemporary art; content will be commissioned from in and out of the institution; the move towards online publications is not foreseen as a total replacement for print catalogues. There are still several issues that are in discussion and at this point remain tbd, including the extent of interactivity, thematic structures, the scope of artist works to be ultimately profiled in October (and then beyond), design, and the maintenance involved in longevity.
In the next nine months of “planning phase,” all of these points continue to be addressed, but in accordance with a revised timeline: from now through April is essentially research and content analysis stage (which so far entails works by Helio Oiticica, Katharina Fritsch, and Tino Sehgal). May through July is when design-mockups will occur. During the subsequent three months, from August through October, we will consider the future of permanent collection research at the Walker by assessing the acquisitions work-flow. At long last, in November, the “realization phase” shall begin.
And that is the updated scoop from the Getty group.
More on Helio Oiticica’s CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress; Katharina Fritsch’s Rattenkoenig, Modell (Rat King, Model); Tino Sehgal’s This Objective of that Object next time.
 Irene V. Small, “Material Remains,” Artforum (February 2010), 95-96
 Haroldo de Campos, “Hangliders of Ecstasy,” in Helio Oiticica (exhibition catalogue). Paris: Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, 219
 For a full-fledged scrutiny of the term, “contemporary art history,” see the questionnaire in the Fall 2009 issue of October, including texts by Alexander Alberro, Okwui Enwezor, Grant Kester, Pamela Lee, and Anton Vidokle.