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Behind the 8-ball: Don Celender

One of the questions I asked Rirkrit Tiravanija in last month’s 8-ball Q&A was both a rip-off of and an homage to the late conceptual artist Don Celender. An art professor at Macalester College in St. Paul for four decades, Celender (like Rirkrit, only perhaps moreso) had a pronounced trickster streak: he created Artball trading […]

One of the questions I asked Rirkrit Tiravanija in last month’s 8-ball Q&A was both a rip-off of and an homage to the late conceptual artist Don Celender. An art professor at Macalester College in St. Paul for four decades, Celender (like Rirkrit, only perhaps moreso) had a pronounced trickster streak: he created Artball trading cards that featured pre-Photoshop photocollages of Picasso, Dubuffet, Jasper Johns, and others in baseball-star poses; surveyed artists, military officers, and soap opera actors on art-related issues; made snowglobes with tiny artwork replicas inside and art-shaped animal crackers; and proposed to General Motors that they make a line of cars using the dimensions of Ralph “Unsafe at Any Speed” Nader’s body.

Celender died in March at age 73, and as Macalester painting professor Christine Willcox later told me, at his memorial service colleagues read from the book he created with Ricardo Bloch, Mortal Remains (published by Intermedia Arts). He’d asked some 400 artists and writers what they wished to have done with their earthly remains when they died, what possessions should accompany them into the next world, and how they want their grave to be marked. John Coplans said he wanted his ashes reduced to powder and packed “somewhat like drug dealers do with grams of coke,” and Mike Kelley said he wanted his ashes either distributed in Bryce Canyon to the blaring of the MC5 or his body left somewhere “so the state is stuck with the cost of dealing with it.” Most memorable was New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, who said she wanted her body compacted into the shape and volume of a bouillion cube (if you have trouble with the how-to part, check with the military, she suggests) then buried in the ground beneath a small tombstone marked with a Minnesota-appropriate epitaph, “Don’t mind me.” Rirkrit’s reply is less overt, suggesting perhaps a spectacular death or a quiet fading away: “I hope there is nothing left behind.”

  • FRANK CELENDER says:

    THE COUSIN I KNEW OF BUT ONLY MET ONCE. BUT STILL PROUD THAT THE CELENDER NAME WAS ASSOCIATED WITH GREAT ART.