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BOOK REVIEW Stone's Throw
by Liz Baudler
2016-06-01

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By David Deitcher. $28.99, Secretary Press; 158 pages

As an art critic in the 1980s, David Deitcher had firsthand experiences with gay artists confronting the AIDS crisis and the general mortality of their peers and themselves. Stone's Throw grew out of a lecture about the art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and eventually expanded into its current state. Now in lush book form, Deitcher dissects Gonzales-Torres's works, and their themes. Deitcher also recollects his friendship with the artist and curator Bill Olander, influential in promoting LGBTQ artists and also an AIDS victim.

Much of what gay artists created in this period memorialized the fallen, and common themes appear to be collapse and dispersal, though Deitcher points out that Gonzalez-Torres was unique in choosing everyday objects to bear the weight of his symbolic meanings. In "Untitled ( Perfect Lovers ) Torres paired two clocks supposed to run in synchronicity, but whose batteries were eventually destined to fail. His piece "Untitled ( Placebo )" where viewers were invited to take a piece of candy from a pile strewn all over the floor, seems especially mutable, and was a tribute to his lover, Ross Laycock, who died of AIDS.

Deitcher writes of finding a piece of candy from one of Gonzalez-Torres's works in a drawer years later, and how discarded wrappers would lay on gallery floors as if to further reinforce the carnage. Gonzalez-Torres's trope was the endless piece, whether it be stacks of paper or piles of candies, which further invokes a theme of regeneration, at weirdly joyful odds with the bleakness at hand. The artist left it up to the piece's curators about whether to replenish his work, leading to meditations on existence and authenticity. While this is absolutely the work's character, it's heady dialogue for Deitcher to begin with, and at times it feels discomfiting without more grounding in why he's choosing to address his subject.

There may have been some logistical reasons why Stone's Throw wasn't a more gripping read for me. For starters, my review copy was a PDF—not the best format for a book that is equal parts art and narrative. The layout, with footnotes on the left side of the page, seemed appropriate for the sheer amount of footnotes but interrupted the natural flow of reading. In addition, the artworks and articles Deitcher references were front-loaded, and one had to mentally recall the piece, or perhaps flip ( in my case, scroll ) back to it. When writing about art, it seems logical to keep the images close at hand. Adding works by artists other than Gonzalez-Torres also confused me: they are treated as a counterpoint to the book's subject but not embraced fully. Nothing wrong with that, but upon encountering image of works without any textual context, one might reasonably expect them to have more stage time rather than mere inclusion as antitheses.

Deitcher is easier to follow when he writes experientially rather than analytically. If Stone's Throw has a narrative, it is focused on Deitcher watching Gonzalez-Torres and Olander succumbing to AIDS. It's hard to pinpoint Deitcher's exact role at the time: He appears to been intimate friends with both Torres and Olander, present as both of them began wasting away. In 1987, he visited the AIDS quilt with a sick Olander, and ends Stone's Throw with the image of his friend's name on the quilt, taken on a return journey in 1996. Including these recollections earlier might have provided more justification for Deitcher viewing the artwork the way: As such, it's an uneasy marriage between two halves of related subject matter.

In its own way, the book is quietly moving, a testament to the bonds art can form and the power of the simple and subtle creation. However, it feels less accessible than it could be. Deitcher's thoughts are valuable, but this is a book for the collector, not the curious.


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