Wednesday, August 14, 2013

reenactment art 2.0 : the remounting of legendary exhibitions

further to previous post on Art's "Historical Turn", a NY Times piece today on the remounting of the 1969 Bern, Switzerland show When Attitudes Become Form at Prada Foundation, Venice, this summer.

"What’s new in contemporary art? Old. We’re in an age of remake culture, an epidemic of re-enactment fever. Young painters are working in styles that were hot half a century ago. Yesteryear’s performance art is being re-performed. Exhibitions that have been done and done — on Matisse, Picasso, European abstraction — are being done again.

"Has the art industry, noted for its nanosecond memory, suddenly become history-conscious? Is the art market, like Hollywood, nervous about anything but proven brands? Is art just plain out of ideas? Whatever the answer, the replicants keep arriving, a recent and particularly ambitious one being an ultrafastidious reconstruction of the 1969 show “When Attitudes Become Form,” at the  Prada Foundation in Venice

"The original version, which took place in Bern, Switzerland, has a near-mythical reputation as a late-20th-century landmark. It brought together some of the most adventurous young European and American avant-gardists of the day, exponents of post-Pop, post-Minimalist, supposedly anti-market trends like Conceptual and Process art. It presented them at a high moment of political and cultural turmoil internationally, and in what has been perceived as a radically loosened-up exhibition format, with art created communally, spontaneously, on the spot."..."

And the remake occurs in a context characterised by the absence, or outright inverse, of all those things!

The writer Holland Cotter notes that some of the work was so abrasively radical, outraged staff  "effectively forced the resignation of the institution’s director, Harald Szeemann, who was also the exhibition’s curator.Too late. Word had spread through the art world. The show — its full title was “Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form: Works, Concepts, Processes, Situations, Information” — was instant history, a radical moment."

Contrast "created spontaneously, on the spot" with  Prada Foundation's archivist graft - "laboriously tracking down existing art, commissioning artists to recreate pieces and asking the estates of deceased artists to supply duplicates of lost or fragile work" - to build a Monument to the (Passed) Future. The art world equivalent to "Giorgio By Moroder". An anti-Event, anti-Rupture.

The Venice show is a partial replica of the entire space of the original exhibition:

"The Bern galleries have been reconstructed on exact one-to-one scale within the palazzo, but are spread over three floors, rather than two, as in Bern. In addition, the kunsthalle annex, the Schulwarte, which in 1969 held work that arrived too late for the main show, has been reimagined as a loftlike space on a fourth floor. And while details of the Bern galleries — door frames, floor designs, all-over white paint, even radiators — have been copied, the gallery walls are treated like stage flats, with their edges cut out as if with a jigsaw, to accommodate the palazzo’s ornate columns and cornices. Also, the inserted galleries have no ceilings: Look up and you see 18th-century Italian arches and frescoes." 

Cotter finds some merit in this huge, involved, scrupulous undertaking, including discovering that:

 "far from being a countercultural bootstrap affair, the show floated on a cloud of money. A selection of documents displayed on the Prada foundation’s ground floor reveals that Philip Morris, the tobacco company, footed a chunk of the bill, in an early example of big business wearing avant-garde art as a feather in its cap....  enshrined by history, now re-enshrined by Prada, [the original exhibition] was not quite the avant-garde ideal it was cracked up to be....  It was the end of a brief, illusory effort by art to create an existential economy outside the market, and the beginning of art business as we know it now"

Maybe such demystification and disillusionment is useful, I dunno. One thing's for sure though, nobody will look back to the Prada reenactment in years to come.  A reenactment abdicates itself from the field of possibility out which which myth and legend, now and then, emerge.  

1 comment:

  1. Szeemann's legacy as a whole has "near-mythic" status, and that exhibition played no small part in securing that status. And the 1960s in general were a decade in which the modernist telos majorly unraveled; with there no longer being one specific movement (in the "avant-garde" sense") that defined the zeitgeist -- everything (in terms of practice, material, themes, etc.) instead splintering off along a number of concurrent arcs. Szeemann's Bern exhibition being something of a watershed event, offering a very broad and of-the-moment survey. The "spontaneity" of the thing largely involving the number of site-specific works it included (that itself being a very recent domain of "post-minimalist" exploration at the time). Add to the its audacity -- painting played little to no part in it, which was bound to be controversial because it effectively declared that the medium was irrelevant. And inasmuch as one could describe much of the exhibition's contents as sculptures, the works weren't sculptures as most people thought of them.

    The idea of them recreating the Heizer is quite funny, though.

    A bit unsure about Cotter's premise in the opening paragraphs -- perhaps because his remark about art becoming "history-conscious" begs for a clarification of terms. (Case in point: How is a canon formed or revised, if not through being conscious of history? Here I find his choice of the term "art industry" murky -- almost seems like a deliberate obfuscation.) I'll have to give this some more thought.


    > Young painters are working in styles that were hot half a century ago.

    Have no idea what he's talking about, there. IIn lieu of any specifics, it's a total non-sequitur.

    But anyway, humoring Cotter's premise: I suppose the more ironic manifestation of this sort of thing was the Whitechapel's decision to hold a retrospective of the "This Is Tomorrow" exhibition about two years ago.