Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Spirit of [affective] Currency

   ["Don't worry! It's only Art ..."]
One year ago, following a British poll of 500 art experts associated with the Turner Prize, Marcel Duchamp's R.Mutt-signed (a play on the German word Armut :poverty) urinal, which he presented as the artwork Fountain, was voted the most influential modern artwork of the 20th Century ( BBC News report). Art "expert" Simon Wilson was quoted at the time as saying "it reflects ... the idea that the creative process that goes into a work of art is the most important thing".
       Interior, Tate Modern
Patrick West, writing in the New Statesman (Duchamp and his urinal: he was just taking the piss) shortly after the poll result, observed that "...the reaction was predictable. The Guardian lauded "the direct link" between Duchamp and Tracey Emin; the Daily Telegraph groaned that the vote "explains an awful lot about today's art"." West later concluded his piece :"Many of today's modern artists possess the attitude Duchamp strove to challenge. Emin was incandescent when two Chinese artists, Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi, stripped off and started jumping on her bed at the Tate in October 1999. She was guilty of fetishising an object as art just because she and Tate said it was. In 2000, Cai and Xi urinated in Fountain at Tate Modern. They said it was a derisive gesture against the excessive importance attached to works of art. After all, is not a urinal merely something one urinates in? Thank goodness some of us still appreciate that Duchamp was, well, just taking the piss."
 E. Bataille, Mona Lisa With A Pipe, 1882 (far left)
 M. Duchamp, LHOOQ, 1919 (left)
Six months before this little British Tate-Modern PR spectacle, the Grey Art Gallery mounted a show called “Counter Culture: Parisian Cabarets and the Avant Garde, 1875-1905”, which explored an artist’s/writer's club known as the Hydropathes, and, in particular, the Arts incohérents exhibitions organized by a young writer and Hydropathe member, Jules Lévy. The Grey Art Gallery website goes on to describe their activities:
"On Sunday afternoon, 1 October 1882, the artists Edouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Camille Pissarro, the composer Richard Wagner, and the king of Bavaria were among two thousand curious invitees reported to have crowded into the Left Bank apartment of the young writer and Hydropathe Jules Lévy to view the exhibition bizarrely entitled Arts incohérents. Two months earlier, as a challenge to academic art, Lévy had organized a show of "drawings made by people who don't know how to draw." Lévy's October proto-happening included professional artists who poked fun at the art establishment and produced "incohérent" works using a variety of peculiar and everyday found materials, for example, sculptures made from bread and cheese. One entry, a group painting by six artists, anticipated the collaborative efforts of the Surrealists some forty years later. The most provocative work was the first documented monochrome [i.e., all-black] painting by the poet Paul Bilhaud and entitled Negroes Fighting in a Cellar at Night. Artist Alphonse Allais expanded on Bilhaud's conceit by exhibiting a white and then a red monochrome painting in the 1883 and 1884 Incohérent shows; in 1897 he published a book of these images along with an empty musical score billed as a funeral march for the deaf. As early as 1885, with photographs of an ear filled with cotton and a hand holding a rose, filmmaker Emile Cohl prefigured the uncanny juxtapositions of Surrealists. And in 1887 proto-performance artist Sapeck (Eugène Bataille), who was known to travel the streets with his head painted blue, portrayed the Mona Lisa smoking a pipe years before Marcel Duchamp added a moustache to the Louvre's venerated icon. But while these pieces anticipate the work of later avant-garde artists, the Incohérents employed raucous humor rather than esoteric theory to challenge academic tradition."
It must have been a really big Left Bank apartment.
P. Bilhaud, Negroes Fighting In a Cellar at Night, 1882 K. Malevich, Black Square on a White Field, 1913
"The 90s and the year 2000 show an increasing proliferation - a boom of museums: world architects compete for a dream amount of money, capital that is reserved by city councils, state associations and funds in Western Europe and America for the third millenium deal-of-a-lifetime in culture, from Texas to Boston, from Helsinki to Berlin: the building of new museums for art and the renovation of old ones. In the heart of the city of Berlin, in the so-called Berlin inner city island, e.g., from 2000 on, five museums will be rebuilt; the cost of such a project is estimated at DM 2 billion. According to various reports, never has such a quantity of museums and galleries, at such a rate of financial support, been constructed. The triumph of the museum is real, and thus it is perhaps more appropriate to ask ...  does, in fact, the Western museum of modern art need art anymore?"===>Marina Grzinic Mauhler
Following the rise and pre-eminence of the readymade, the system of galleries and museums changed the modalities of the artistic function in the beginning of the 20th century. Before the readymade, all the elements of artwork were inherent to the material with which the work was realized. Although artists could have some ideas about norms and values, these external elements were not part of the work of art. As a result, an artwork that was designed as an artwork could be recognized as such out of the art context. Contrasting with this, the content of a readymade is not the concrete object, but its context - i.e., the art gallery or museum or [big Other] assigned public space. It is possible to say that the context is the content of a readymade, and therefore, the object of the readymade is the gallery system, etc., in itself . What is much more important is that the appearance, the birth of the readymade allowed galleries and museums to acquire the monopoly of evaluating the work of art in society. In fact, that a readymade was accepted as a work of art openly demonstrates the arbitrariness of the definition of the work of art by the gallery system and museums. The fact that the readymade was accepted as a work of art is the purest sign of the real power of the system of galleries and museums in society. From that moment on, this relation has not changed, but reified.
Moreover, in this displacement from reality to a fantasized universe, the status of the obstacle changes: in the 1970s, the obstacle, the failure is inherent (the relation between the museum and the neo-avant-gardist movement in art simply does not work). In the second half of the 1990s, this inherent impossibility is externalized into the positive obstacle which from the outside prevents its actualization: history, progress, chronological time are now seen through anti-historical views. And this move, from inherent impossibility to external obstacle, is the very definition of fantasy, of the fantasmatic objective position in which the inherent deadlock acquires positive existence! A-historical exhibitions, ruptures with styles, trends, classifications, etc. work with the implication that with these obstacles cancelled, the relationship will run smoothly. The museum is presented as an institution, a self-reflecting historical phenomena which use their own means to examine their functions and possibilities in the context of today's multimedia society. When all of the concepts of chronology and history break down, then the re-ordering of the museum and gallery space is based on the curator's geniality and taste; they are seen as a possibility for "dipping in", for objective random collective memory in images and space. This museum structure is no less hallucinatory and no less a spectralization of the fantasmatic scenario of the power of the art institution from the past.
In contrast with the traditional actions of the museum in masking its power structure, when in the 1970s it was sustained only as the fantasmatic spectral entity, the museum today does exactly the opposite: it destroys not itself, but its fantasmatic image/support. As opposed to the 1970s, when the museum was segregated and survived as spectral entity, it seems that in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s the museum survives in reality by sacrificing, destroying its fantasmatic support.  The museum openly assumes the role of what it is possible to call the devil of transparency, but the paradox of self-exposure, self-transparency tells us that this transparency makes it even more enigmatic. The art community thinks - not wanting to accept this - that behind the cold manipulative surface, there must be something else.
"In the 70s, the museum was perceived as a threat to the art community, with its historical and chronological time classifications and with the developing of the idea of constant progress in art and culture with styles and trends. The museum was seen as a place of restriction and power which dominated the field and provoked violently the conceptual and neo-avant-garde art world to undermine it. The new situation in the 90s, when the museum asserted visibly, transparently its power and connection to capital, money, architecture, is a process that can be described as to bring to light, to act out the underlying fantasy of the 70s! This situation is much more effective and threatening for the social and symbolical sphere of art perceived as Institution, than the spectral power of the museum of 70s."

Click on image to enlarge

"And the same goes for today's art scene: in it, the Real does NOT return primarily in the guise of the shocking brutal intrusion of excremental objects, mutilated corpses, shit, etc. These objects are, for sure, out of place — but in order for them to be out of place, the (empty) place must already be here, and this place is rendered by the "minimalist" art, starting from Malevitch. Therein resides the complicity between the two opposed icons of high modernism, Kazimir Malevitch's "The Black Square on the White Surface" and Marcel Duchamp's display of ready-made objects as works of art. The underlying notion of Malevitch's elevation of an everyday common object into the work of art is that being a work of art is not an inherent property of the object; it is the artist himself who, by preempting the (or, rather, ANY) object and locating it at a certain place, makes it the work of art — being a work of art is not a question of "why," but "where." And what Malevitch's minimalist disposition does is simply to render — to isolate — this place as such, the empty place (or frame) with the proto-magic property of transforming any object that finds itself within its scope into the work of art. In short, there is no Duchamp without Malevitch: only after the art practice isolates the frame/place as such, emptied of all its content, can one indulge in the ready-made procedure. Before Malevitch, a urinal would have remained just a urinal, even if it were to be displayed in the most distinguished gallery."===>Slavoj Zizek:The Matrix, or two sides of Perversion
The Spirit of Currency,  2005, $ : Tate Modern/Virtual.
And so it is with supreme, sublime pleasure that $ shamelessly wishes to announce a cyber-exhibition at Tate Modern/Virtual, with an installation entitled The Spirit of Currency, celebrating the post-political, post-artistic victory of today's ultra-cyber parasite: the symbolic Real of $ ...
"We can no longer, as we did in the good old times, (if they were really good) oppose the economy and culture. They are so intertwined not only through the commercialization of culture but also the culturalization of the economy. Political analysis today cannot bypass mass culture."


Click on image to enlarge

"Constable didn't produce his art in order to elicit (yawn!) shock, even if shock, outrage and misunderstandings were by-products of his painting. Constable had what the alleged conceptualists of Britart lack: a unique vision of the world, a set of perceptions that re-engineer the way in which we see. This meant that he could lead taste, pre-empt it; something that the Britartists could never hope to do. It's precisely the 'tomato-throwing' dismissal that has never happened to the cossetted Britartists, who, may well be derided by elements of the public, but who were immediately coddled by a sycophantic art establishment. "===>Mark at K-punk


Blogger Keith said...

This is really a great post. I just wanted to point out something concerning your reference to the signature of "R. Mutt" for Duchamp's Fountain being a wordplay on the German Armut. From part of an interview with Duchamp that I found in a subsection of Bourdieu's 'The Production of Beleif: Contrubution to an Economy of Symbolic Goods' that appeared in Art in Theory: 1900-2000, Blackwell, 2003:

Q. But to come back to your ready-mades, I thought that R. Mutt, the signature on The Fountain, was the manufacturer's name. But in the article by Rosalind Krauss, I read: 'R. Mutt, a pun on the German, Armut, or poverty'. 'Poverty' would entirely change the meaning of The Fountain.

M. D. Rosalind Krauss? The redhead? It isn't that at all. You can deny it. Mutt comes from Mott Works, the name of a big firm that makes sanitary equipment. But Mott was too close, so I made it Mutt, because there was a strip cartoon in the papers in those days, Mutt and Jeff, everybody knew it. So right from the start there was a resonance. Mutt was a fat little guy, and Jeff was tall and thin...I wanted a different name And I added Richard...Richard is a good name for a loo! You see, it's the opposite of poverty...But not even that, just R. - R. Mutt.

Of course, Duchamp had no aversion to word play, and could not always be taken seriously.

2:49 AM  
Blogger Padraig said...

Thanks for that fascinating reference, Keith.

Of course, Mutt is also the name of my neighbour's pet dog.

3:01 PM  

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