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September 29 2008 2 29 /09 /September /2008 19:26

The exhibition « Traces du Sacré » at the Pompidou Center , Paris (May 7th - August 11th 2008) left traces


Questioning the place, disappearance and return of a « religious feeling » in art is a delicate interrogation. And particularly during such confused times as ours. Art is often linked to metaphysics and the miraculous and creative author, the artist, becomes rapidly somewhat of a shaman, a priest, a pop, a god. The latest self-declared "art shaman" is Matthew Stone but there were dozens of them in the last century. From Beuys, the adventurer risen from the dead, to Malevitch, the supremacist pioneer, via Hirst, Rothko, Acconci.... The waiting list grows.
Questioning the place, disappearance and return of a « religious feeling » in art is a delicate interrogation. And particularly during such confused times as ours. Art is often linked to metaphysics and the miraculous and creative author, the artist, becomes rapidly somewhat of a shaman, a priest, a pop, a god. The latest self-declared "art shaman" is Matthew Stone but there were dozens of them in the last century. From Beuys, the adventurer risen from the dead, to Malevitch, the supremacist pioneer, via Hirst, Rothko, Acconci.... The waiting list grows.

But, somehow, two names keep coming back regularly, or at least have been for the last 5,000 years of (conscious) creation. That‘s a lot of people, including a few stars... But only two chosen ones remain: Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.

Here comes the anxious reader, thinking frantically: "You are not going to speak evil of Duchamp and Warhol.... How dare you?" A dreadful and unforgivable crime, a violation, like those bad taste caricatures you can find atop La Butte. Immediate condemnation. Execution. Of course, Warhol and Duchamp are two mere art genius and often empowered as factice gods for bad reasons. Somewhere between the shoe designer and the king of "Be quiet, Marcel! They don't get it. Shut up, and you won't say crap!" strategy, we could consider a new historical approach.

One might even think that they were two unhappy innocents creatures. Well, not that innocent. They both obviously wanted to be glorified and to attain mythical work... until fossilization. Maybe they didn't claim for such a result. Let's take an example. "Theft is Vision" (JRP/Ringier ed.) is a great collection of articles and interviews by art critic and American curator Robert Nickas. There's the snag: half of the articles quote Duchamp and two-thirds of them quote Warhol (probably due to American solidarity....). Is there really nobody else to speak about, or to write about?


Warhol

This kind of artistic deification could be laughed at. However, it reflects a larger trend. Young people in France are discovering Leonard Cohen's cold and broken "Hallelujah" as covered by Jeff Buckley. The heavy on-air rotation could make you spit up your Host. Society seems to regain its faith in a post-nietzsche dead God. Such a return to religion is never neutral and appears to be the sign of our loss of marks and referents. In this instance, you'd better hold on to trustworthy people... Like Andy and Marcel.

Opposed to this pathological "duomania", some artists choose variety and dispersion. Take the exhibition "From the voice to the hand" by Melik Ohanian (does it refer to Nauman's "from hand to mouth" covered by Marclay's "from hand to ear"?) at the Plateau, Paris, from September 18th to November 23th 2008. A long line of white neon lights enlighten small piles of letters (as in a-b-c, not mail) put on the floor or grouped together along side walls. Upon the neon lights, a long litany of names, a learned assembly of philosophers, thinkers and erudite writers. We'll reveal the surprise: the piles of letters refer to a quote by each personality named above. Too easy for you? The artist has taken a letter from each pile in order to complicate the game.... Ok, that's much better now! Let's play! The installation is beautiful, Ohanian is (usually) a good artist, that's not the issue. The piece does not allow any sort of comprehension. It is a fruitless, useless rampart. It symbolizes the excessive multiplicity of historical gathering points. This is a massive trend in art since the rise of artistic post-modernism at the beginning of the 1980s, known as name-dropping. An accumulation of quotation including names of people, artists, writers or cultural personalities. A way to reassure yourself and fill up an embarrassing void on sacrosanct speech about your work of art. While the referents are not judged, the way some artists use them, is. Some artists know what to do with them, some of them don't. More precisely, storing up references to the verge of incomprehension is nonsense. In that case, it's better to quote just... Warhol and Duchamp.


[Photo : Andy Warhol, Last supper, 1986. peinture polymer synthétique, poussière de diamant, peinture à soie sur toile. Copyright : Andy Warhol Foundation for the visual arts, ARS, New York]

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Published by Benjamin Bianciotto - in Art and News
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