A 'Chain Letter' exhibition. What were they thinking?!

Phaidon.com spoke to curators Doug Harvey and Christian Cummings who "wanted an exhibition that would include every 'admired' artist on the planet"
The Los Angeles fraction of 'Chain Letter' is on display at Shoshana Wayne Gallery
The Los Angeles fraction of 'Chain Letter' is on display at Shoshana Wayne Gallery



Various galleries around the world

From: 23 July 2011
Until: 24 August 2011

Chain Letter

Opening hours:


Los Angeles
(until 24 August)

San Francisco
(until 10 September)

(online only)

(only 16 July)



"What were ya thinking!?" Los Angeles art writer Shana Nys Dambot asked Doug Harvey at a panel discussion about Chain Letter - the annual exhibition he has curated with fellow artist Christian Cummings with the ambitious aim of showcasing every 'admired' artist in the world at Shoshana Wayne in Los Angeles (until 25 August).

In 2006, Cummings and Harvey each invited ten artists they admire to contribute to their planned show, with the only stipulation being that the work had to be floor based.  Those ten artists then each invited ten more artists and so the chain continued. "I was conscious of lobbing single invites into separate densely interconnected populations to spread the admiration as wide as possible," Harvey told Phaidon.com.

Within days of the initial invitations being emailed out, it seemed like every artist in Los Angeles had received on average seven invites to be part of the show.

So what did the curators expect the exhibition to look like when they were so removed from deciding the final works? "Chaos tipping over into a new unity," answers Harvey. "I know and can guess at who most of the artists my invitees would include, but at some point there will be a bunch of work I have no preconceptions about, and that dynamic is most exciting to me."

But how do you curate an exhibition when you don't know what shape the art work will take or even how many pieces of artwork there will be? "The curatorial principle is anarchy," says Cummings, "logistically it could hardly be otherwise."

Rooted in the idea of inclusion, Chain Letter allows limitless definitions of what art is. But is it possible to draw the line? "It's too late for that," Cummings says. " We are all surrounded by art and there is nothing we can do about it."

As the way people share information and socialise online continues to change, Chain Letter is a continually interesting concept and one that will morph and evolve each year. "What may emerge is an internet-like undermining of the fiction and connoisseurship that powers the market place," Harvey muses. "And we therefore expect the assassination attempts to begin shortly. But it is a good day to die."


Follow the link to LA Weekly Blogs to see photos from the artist install day at the flagship gallery for Chain Letter, Shoshana Wayne in Los Angeles


Sally Ashley-Cound


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