Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

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Do It (1997-)

Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist

do it began in 1993 with a discussion among Christian Boltanski, Bertrand Lavier, and myself in the Café Select, Paris. Both artists have been interested in various forms of instructional procedures since the early 1970s, and that evening they spoke of the instructions contained within their own work. Since the 1970s, Lavier has made many works that contain written instructions in order to observe the effects of translation on an artwork as it moves in and out of various permutations of language. Boltanski, like Lavier, is also interested in the notion of interpretation as an artistic principle. He thinks of his instructions for installations as analogous to musical scores which, like an opera or symphony, go through countless realizations as they are carried out and interpreted by others. From this encounter arose he idea of an exhibition of do-it-yourself descriptions or procedural instructions which, until a venue is found, exist in a static condition. Like a musical score, everything is there but the sound.

do it stems from an open exhibition model, an exhibition in progress. Individual instructions can open empty spaces for occupation and invoke possibilities for the interpretation and rephrasing of artworks in a totally free manner. do it effects interpretations based on location, and calls for a dovetailing of local structures with the artworks themselves. The diverse cities in which do it takes place actively construct the artwork context and endow it with their individual marks or distinctions.

For example, some of the artists’ instructions specify the participation of community members. Most instructions are relational in that they construct bridges between various communities and performance sites. The everyday, profane context of the exhibition site flows into the exhibition space according to the individual artists’ instructions. The boundaries between interior and exterior become porous.

It is important to bear in mind that do it is less concerned with copies, images, or reproductions of artwork, than which human interpretation. No artworks are shipped to the venues, instead everyday actions and materials serve as the starting point for the artworks to be recreated at each “performance site” according to the artists’ written instructions. Each realization of do it occurs as an activity in time and space. The essential nature of this activity is imprecise and can be located somewhere between permutation and negotiation within a field of tension described by repetition and difference. Meaning is multiplied as the various interpretations of the texts accumulate in venue after venue. No two interpretations of the same instructions are ever identical.

Shouldn’t scores be simply published in the newspaper, or available as printed cards or sheets of paper to be sent to anyone?

George Brecht, Notebooks I, II, III (1958-1959)

- Excerpt from Hans Ulrich Obrist's introduction in the ICI do it catalogue (1997)

In 2013, ICI relaunched do it and published do it: the compendium.

Learn more about how do it has continued to evolve in the related column. 


Touring locations
Palo Alto Cultural Center
Jun 15 – 27, 1997
Cranbrook Art Museum
Aug 30, 1997 – Oct 26, 1997
Freedman Gallery, Albright College Center for the Arts
Jan 23, 1998 – Mar 1, 1998
Galerija Skuc
Feb 4, 1998 – Mar 14, 1998
Surrey Art Gallery
Mar 8, 1998 – May 24, 1998
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery
Mar 18, 1998 – Apr 19, 1998
Edmonton Art Gallery
Apr 11, 1998 – Jun 14, 1998
Lamont Gallery, Phillips Exeter Academy
Apr 17, 1998 – May 9, 1998
Dunlop Art Gallery
May 9, 1998 – Jun 14, 1998
Salina Art Center
May 16, 1998 – Aug 2, 1998
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
Sep 4, 1998 – Nov 1, 1998
Visual Arts Center, Boise State University
Sep 15, 1998 – Oct 25, 1998
The Nickle Arts Museum
Sep 25, 1998 – Dec 23, 1998
Institute of Contemporary Art, Maine College of Art
Nov 12, 1998 – Dec 18, 1998
Stedman Art Gallery, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Jan 12, 1999 – Mar 6, 1999
Hunterdon Museum of Art
Jan 10, 1999 – Apr 4, 1999
Monmouth Museum
Jan 10, 1999 – Apr 4, 1999
Morris Museum
Jan 10, 1999 – Apr 4, 1999
Noyes Museum of Art
Jan 10, 1999 – Apr 4, 1999
University Galleries at the Ben Shahn Center for Visual Arts, William Paterson University
Jan 10, 1999 – Apr 4, 1999
Zimmerli Art Museum
Jan 10, 1999 – Apr 4, 1999
NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale
Jan 14, 2000 – Apr 2, 2000
Colorado State University Art Gallery
Mar 24, 2000 – Apr 28, 2000
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Apr 23, 2000 – Jul 2, 2000
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Jun 3, 2000 – Aug 26, 2000
Wriston Gallery, Lawrence University
Sep 29, 2000 – Nov 5, 2000
Atlanta College of Art
Oct 12, 2000
Maryland Institute College of Art
Nov 17, 2000 – Dec 16, 2000
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, University of Western Australia
Feb 9, 2001 – Apr 29, 2001
Addison Art Gallery
Sep 28, 2001 – Jan 6, 2002
Soo Visual Arts Center
Jun 3, 2001 – Jul 29, 2001
York Arts Center
Oct 4, 2001 – Dec 1, 2001
University of Toronto
Nov 7, 2001 – Dec 14, 2001