One of the most irritating things that entered my hands over recent weeks was the book /’catalogue’ for a ‘curated’ group exhibition at Hauser and Wirth, New York in 2017. The feeling of staleness that surrounds such arbitrary linkings of artists under the guise of formative art history is now so palpable.
This often emanates those imperial dealers* who are the dregs of what was once fresh, lively and open, and who want to claim the world in their own formulation. Not content with that, they take it as a life-style choice, the supreme hobby and plaything of the over-wealthy. Once it was golf and yachting, now it is contemporary art, and there are is no depth of obscurity that they will not undermine in the need to seem ‘cool’ and exciting.
What in fact they do is debase the mystery of difficult things, the gradations, layers and revelations of slow discovery, and make everything equal. Too much information, taken as ordinary and undifferentiated, too quickly pretended.
Then at the same time they invent artists work, as custodians of their estates, they cull notebooks and sketches, and produce work that would never have been made. They even invent artists, but that is a longer argument and one for another occasion.
The half-decent dealers retired early, like Anthony d’Offay and Yvon Lambert, knowing there was nothing left to do except empire building on the golf course, and selling all the bad pieces they had left in storage to too-late collections like the Vuitton Foundation and the Benesse Art Museum in Japan.
* I resist the list, but when you see the inducements to artists, art-historians and their oligarchical clients, you might be forgiven for compiling one! SC
I caught up with Souvenirs from Earth is an international cable TV station, currently broadcasting in France and Germany, which I’d forgotten from previous years. It presents a 24h art program, of Video Art, Film, Visual Art, Music, Installations and Performances.
They say in their information spiel that the digital revolution, in TV broadcast has freed bandwidth for special interest programs and at the same time new flat screens and sophisticated projection technologies opened a field of new possibilities, and that the public space TV belongs to, is now ready for a station that is a work of art as a whole. Video art pioneer Nam June Paik said that in the 60s, already having the concept for an Art TV station in mind: “….normal TV bores you and makes you nervous, this soothes you….”…well that’s the theory at least! Like most video-art, and stuff that seemingly-innocently demands your attention, it becomes wallpaper. As old David Brown used to say art is always 99% crap!
But at least it’s money-where-your-mouth-is territory, and it streams out 24 hours a day if you have the patience for it.
What I do like is the closing sentence of the website : as Captain Kirk might have put it: “We collect glimpses of every day life, ‘souvenirs from earth’, to be used in a darker future by a couple of people that escaped our planet before it collapsed. This hypothesis may allow us to get a better view on the very simple things of our life, generating a global awareness for the grace and fragility of our life on planet Earth.” If that 1% works it’s truly worth it! SC
There was a time when we thought that every niche film ever made was playing at some obscure art-house movie theatre on the edge of Paris. We would comb the-then Pariscope, or later L’Officiel des Spectacles which came out every Wednesday and still does. We would plot our journeys, as with the free music playing in churches, and walk between them in the most planned way possible. It might include something to eat before or after at a restaurant or cafe we also listed and had never visited.
But I have the feeling that it has changed significantly. There is no longer quite the eclectic choice of films, now more dominated by blockbuster distribution, and the free music has thinned-down quite a lot since our earliest stays. [We say it’s free, but we always end up putting ten euros into the collection plate.]
However, there are still some more obscure movies playing, maybe once a week at something like 10.00am on a Thursday morning, in some very small theatre with a door into a side alley that you probably missed first time round in counting down numbers on the street.
And such movies end up gathering completely specific followings. This sojourn in Paris, we have been to three films with highly selective audiences. In the stalls for The New York Public Library, a documentary which lasted the best part of three and a half hours, there were as many as twenty-five what I would have assumed to be librarians, making up the audience.
For Vienne avant la nuit, a film of one man’s search for his ancestors in Vienna after the diaspora, the audience was almost certainly people of a similar disposition. More recently we went to see a not-great film called We Blew It!, a diatribe of parts, interviews and clips. It had no really consistent agenda, but concerned the evaporation of the 1960’s culture of possible change to the impasse of the present demise and stagnation. The audience was full of old hippies, perhaps even including ourselves on the spectrum of that scenario. How specific an audience is that! SC
Our building is in chaos. There are new electrical meters being installed. The hallways are full of dust and men and the sound of drills and shouting. Walls have been opened up. On Monday all the power was off all day which meant no electricity no telephone no internet and no heat. This is the third day. Today the men are supposed to be here installing new meters in this apartment. Everyone has been given an appointment. Our appointment was for 9 am but they have not arrived. We cannot leave.
Schools and universities are on winter break. The restaurants are empty. The sales are over. People keep repeating that the entire city has gone skiing. That everyone has left the city for one place or another. I am not sure if this is simply a yearly myth. The city seems plenty full to me. Maybe the city has indeed emptied out and it is the suburbs and the countryside that have poured in. There are children everywhere. There are great clumps of teenagers everywhere. They are rushing up and down the steps of the metro and gathering on every corner. There are small children in prams and walking with their grandparents and there are great straggling family groups. There is chaos in all directions. It is not the orderly rush and scramble of many people doing their daily city activities. All is now a disorderly mess of people who do not seem to mind where they are going because they are now here and this is enough. Great lines stretch out at the entrance of every museum and historical site. It is a good time to avoid many places.
I was on a No. 76 bus yesterday and at one stop the bus filled up with 14 or 15 young black women each with a tiny baby. Some of the babies were in tummy slings and some were in prams. The women were all enormous. They were dressed in beautiful flowing clothes in bright colours with patterned head-dressings. They filled the entire front of the bus in a particular way. There was a stately calm about them. But also because of all the colours and patterns there was a busy buzz about them. The babies were all quiet. One skinny white blonde woman with sharp features and an angry face complained and sneered about the crowd of black women and their babies. She kept her tirade going loudly and without cease. No one joined in with her but no one could ignore her. I was glad when she descended from the bus. I got off before the group so I have no idea where they were going. I wondered if all the mothers and babies were on their way to a baby clinic. Or maybe they were on their way home from a clinic.
It is now 11 am and the men have not arrived yet. Their vehicles are not parked out front. The little white stool which they left in the hall on Monday is still in position.
Passing through a Raoul Hausmann exhibition of photographs, it was pleasing to see the period of his life when he escaped Berlin in 1933 and went to Ibiza. Here the photographs celebrate the vernacular forms of houses built and lived in by the people themselves, made with a purity and simplicity of form that evades and avoids the separable process of ‘design’ as an intermediary. Hausmann thought these Ibiza houses were the apex of the reduction of form of localised building, more so than in Greece, Italy and Portugal, and other Mediterraean places.
I have been banging on for years about the superfluousness of design to an intrinsic process, the way that letterpress printing contains its own structure of layout, the way, hopefully, a folded piece of paper or a pamphlet can be too simple to have been ‘designed’. It applies to all materials that begin to develop a history of usage, recognising function, but still leaving them in their purest state.
Hausmann’s photographs in Ibiza go much further into philosophical ideas of anthropology and habitat, vegetation and organics, but I take from it the phrase pasted up on one of the display boards in the exhibition : you alone should construct the limits of your universe. SC