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October 20 2008 2 20 /10 /October /2008 18:07

In 2002, the Icelandic band Sigur Rós released an album titled (). Empty brackets, which locked nothing up, not even a subtitle. An "untitled" album.

Not really a revolution, there are plenty of eponymous albums in contemporary musical history, but a new thing. An open space filled up with silence, white spreading all over the cover and nothing, not even song titles came to spoil the whiteness. The entire album was sung in "volenska", a language the lead singer invented (and let's just say it's not that easy for an inexperienced ear to distinguish the traditional Icelandic language from its "volenskian" doggerel version). They're going so far as to ask for bar code stickers to be removed. A come back to anonymity, a virgin land free from interpretation. A no man's land acting like a mirror to our escaping wills, a place where everything has to be discovered, accompanied only by the ethereal and wrongfully minimal sound of Sigur Rós.

This musical () has its visual equivalent. Thousands of untitled works have proliferated in contemporary art for years now. We won't make a list of historically title-orphaned pieces, let's just remember that the "untitled" label used to be reserved to sketches or uninteresting preliminary drawings or those found a posteriori. During the 1960s, the "untitled" title took a different meaning. Conceptual artists decided to take it as a justification for work based on a dematerialized aesthetic and a weak visual aspect. The parodic critic found an incarnation into trivial images, documentary shoots in which the "untitled" thing annihilated every hope or will to link them to conventional art. This lack of denomination left the spectator cold and lost (alone in the Icelandic desert?), with no way out. A situation we are not used to dealing with. For instance, during the same period, in 1968 precisely, the Beatles released one of their masterworks, the eponymous album. We almost immediately gave it a new name, the "white album" for Richard Hamilton's beautiful cover. The absence of words on an object left us at a loss because it disturbed our senses. That's exactly what the first generation of conceptual artists wanted.


Fatally, like any good idea, it quickly turned into something meaningless and embezzled by a litany of me-too artists. Or lazy ones. Obviously, it is easier and quicker to avoid giving titles to one's works. No opening, no hidden meaning, no lead, no orientation and no thought either. It allows multiplication of the same pieces without changing its content. The spectator is lost into labyrinths of "untitled" artworks, with the date as only indication, having to describe the piece to share it. But some artists have decided to go a little bit further. They give the title "untitled" to their work and add a subtitle, between brackets, of course. So, Sigur Rós becomes a kind of conceptual paroxysm, teaching serious contemporary art a lesson. What on earth might the reason for brackets be? To distinguish from others who've also used "untitled"? Nostalgic, we can regret the disappearance of titles that sometimes glorify the work, make it smarter, and make it real too. So many examples such as the melancholic "Bidibidobidiboo" of Maurizio Cattelan, the opened "Self portrait as Kurt Cobain, as Andy Warhol, as Myra Hindley, as Marilyn Monroe" of Douglas Gordon, the misleading "10 photographic portraits of Christian Boltanski" of, well, Christian Boltanski, the poetic "Young virgin self-sodomized by the horns of her own chastity" of Salvador Dali or the explicit "6 random repartitions of 4 white and black squares according to the odd and even figures of the Pi number" of Francois Morellet.

Clearly, if, like Marlene Mocquet, you feel the need to give such titles as "they only wanted one flower into the landscape", "the human rainbow" or "the hair stuck into the clouds", please control yourselves. Name your work "untitled" or give it a title in "volenska".... I know I'm walking on a minefield here. It is so very strictly forbidden to criticize our young French (future) artists. They are rare mammals and an endangered species for which we have to implement all the possible preservation measures and devices, including the absolute interdiction to criticize (particularly those mean negative critics). Not that hard a job given that the French, and international, critics have been dead for a long time now... Brackets closed.

[Photo : Maurizio Cattelan, Bidibidobidiboo, 1996. Ecureuil naturalisé, ceramic, formica, peinture, acier. Grandeur nature. Courtesy : galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Maurizio Cattelan]

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Published by Benjamin Bianciotto - in Art and News
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Neal Nasruddin 11/30/2008 20:46

I never knew Richard Hamilton did the cover for the "white Album"..Thank You so much for the info..I always liked to unzip Andy Warhol's cover of "Sticky Fingers" and look at the underwear when I was visiting New York as a small child.