Was ist Kunst? – Mirrors of Production
Was ist Kunst? – Mirrors of Production
RAŠA TODOSIJEVIC — DAN PERJOVSCHI & MARK SCHREIBER — JÚLIUS KOLLER — REGINA VATER — VIOLA YEŞILTAÇ — HUGO CANOILAS — IRWIN — ULA JOHNSEN — GASTÃO DE MAGALHÃES
The exhibition Was ist Kunst? - Mirrors of Production introduces the question what is art? with a number of works by a wide range of artists from Brazil and Europe. The exhibition is by no means an attempt to answer this question. The history of modern art is filled with struggles concerning the notion of art. Was ist Kunst? - Mirrors of Production is rather a playful game that exhibits several ways artists look at art, from a metaphysical, aesthetic and historical perspective, as well as from an institutionally critical point of view.
The question of defining art has however also aroused a lot of attention in the world of literature and philosophy. In his essay, “What is Literature?” (1949) Jean-Paul Sartre commented on the autonomy and commitment of art. Sartre was concerned mainly with the question of agency, writing that for him “the work of art is a value because it is an appeal”. In his recent book What Art is? the American Philosopher Arthur C Danto seems to agree with Sartre when defining that “something is a work of art when it has a meaning.” Similarly, this exhibition stems from an interest in what art works appeal to, what is it they are calling for, the stories they tell or perhaps in other words, what agency they carry.
In Utopia Deferred, Writings for Utopie (1967-1978) Jean Baudrillard spoke about his relationship to art and architecture. The French sociologist and cultural theorist drew on the metaphysics of the object and of the image, and referred to the Centre Pompidou as “this monster” which interested him as an object, and not strictly as architecture.3 Seemingly the question as to what does it mean, what does it appeal to, has also been at the core of Baudrillard’s understanding when discussing architecture and design. This exhibition’s title is thus also related to questions such as What is there? and What is it like?, questioning a traditional object- subject logic which has been debated since minimalism and later with the advent of so-called relational aesthetics.
The artist Andrea Fraser considers most of the art she sees today as “cultural production” while artistic practice for her “resists, or aims to resist, functioning as the representative culture of a particular group - whether they are makers, viewers, and buyers of art...” Within this canon of art as a socially engaged practice the notion of resistance in art is also present when Sociologist Chantal Mouffe considers art as a platform for articulation that gives rise to new subjectivities.
The writing of these philosophers, sociologists and artists are some of the thoughts and references that have triggered the conception of this exhibition at a moment in time when the Brazilian art market is at an historical high and artworks are no longer considered merely for their aesthetic value but dealt with speculatively, as a commodity on a global scale.
The title of the exhibition then relates to a discourse within art criticism yet in a more literal way takes its cue from the question Was ist Kunst? (What is art?), which – posed in German – is the title of a series of works independently created by Serbian artist Raša Todosijevic and Slovenian collective IRWIN. By shouting at his ‘victims’ – gallerists, museum workers, etc. - the question “Was ist Kunst?” Todosijevic formulated a radical critique of the art system in the 1970s. During these performances Todosijevic became increasingly agitated while the “victims” remained cool and totally passive. In his Edinburgh statement from 1975 the art asks in a manifesto style: Who makes profit on art and who gains from it honestly? He then lists all the professions that directly or indirectly benefit from artistic production.
One of the most important projects by IRWIN in the mid-1980s was Was ist Kunst?, which developed over time into a series of more than a hundred framed oil paintings. These paintings contain montages of Socialist Realist, Agitprop and motives quoted from Slovene modernist art of the 1960s. To this, IRWIN adds archetypal Laibach motives: metal worker, deer, deer antlers, axes, the image of a coffee drinker, cogwheels, and a black Malevich cross. Striking are the materials used on the paintings: blood, tar, animal skin, coal, wood, goldleaf and other metals, while the paintings’ heavy frames consist of black tar, wood and coal. Blurring the boundaries between social realism and folklore the collection of works comments on different ideologies employed in the arts.
Upon entering the gallery, the viewer encounters jewellery works by Florianopolis-based artist Ula Johnsen. The inclusion of jewellery works in an exhibition of contemporary art radically underlines the question posed in the exhibition title. Applied arts has often been sidelined in the discourse surrounding contemporary art, despite early attempts to include such an important practice in international Biennales such as Vilem Flusser’s proposals for the laboratories at the 12th Bienal de São Paulo in 1973. The inclusion of these works in the exhibition questions an apparent elitism within the media employed in contemporary art production while at the same time it underlines the context of the gallery as a space for the commercialization of precious goods.
In the same space, Stockholm Ping-Pong Cultural Situation, 2006 by Slovakian artist Julius Koller is presented. Ping-Pong Society is a project, which Koller conceived in Bratislava in 1970. Instead of an exhibition, he organized a Ping-Pong club where visitors could play. The work presented here is one of a series of different tables the artist produced during his lifetime. Over the last decade, Koller’s concepts of the Anti-Happening, the Anti-paintings, his actions, objects, texts and the archive he built up since the 1960s have received critical attention they deserve. This exhibition also presents a number of works related to the UFO Gallery Ganek, 1981 a fictional gallery in the High Tatras without possible access, that derived from the expeditions Koller undertook with a small circle of friends.
During the Festival de Artes at the Municipal Theatre in São Paulo in 1978, Regina Vater conducted the questionnaire “O que é Arte - São Paulo responde” (“What is Art - São Paulo responds”) later produced into an artist book featuring the answers obtained from the public in Sao Paulo. In 1980 she conducted the same questionnaire during an avant-garde festival organized by Charlotte Moorman in New York, the answers of which are being released here for the first time. In her x-range series from the 1970s, Vater portrays the habitat of artist friends Paul Newman, John Cage, Lygia Clark, Vito Acconci and others. Stemming from the same period, her art series questions the metaphysics of the art object, attributing such status to a pink balloon, a soup or a piece of cleaning soap. Thus Vater employs the objects as part of a metaphoric discourse of art criticism and its
Gastão de Magalhães is one of the protagonists of the Brazilian mail art movement. The text work selected for this exhibition was realized in 1972 and presented at the 6° JAC at MAC/USP. In this text, reproduced here for the first time in Brazil since then, Magalhães analyses the various characteristics of art as a medium for ‘action and knowledge’, a ‘happening’ or ‘rhythmic sequence’, ‘a playful activity’ and ‘certainly not a passive one’. The black and white photograph This is Art (1975) depicts the artist with the letters A and R and T, part of a game of plastic letters used for the alphabetization of children. Secured with his teeth, ready to crush the letters, the piece was - according to Magalhães - also intended
as a provocation against the dictatorial regime of the extreme right, in power at the time.
On the upper floor of the gallery Hugo Canoilas and Viola Yeşiltaç are presenting a new series of paintings and collages produced especially for this exhibition. In
Untitled, 2012, Yeşiltaç works with red ink on the reverse of red vinyl, experimenting with a cheap second hand surface and employing it for the representation of
tropical, dreamlike scenery, that stems from the artists recent visit to Brazil. Spanning across different media including sculpture, writing and musical performance Hugo Canoilas has often questioned the meaning of art and its relation to life. In his work Canoilas frequently refers to political leaders or other artists, such as Albrecht Altdorfer’s painting The Battle of Issus (1528-29), or Pieter Bruegel’s tragic image The Blind Leading the Blind (1568), or Henrique Bernardelli (1857 – 1936), The last moments of a Bandeirante. In the collages produced for this exhibition the appropriation of found images dominates the canvas’ surface, which appears to have been cut and ripped in a raw fashion. Finally, My World (2006) has been produced by Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi in collaboration with South African artist and composer Mark Schreiber. My World viscerally combines the digitalized black and white drawings of Perjovschi with a playful, humorous composition of electronic sounds based on processed recordings of the act of drawing produced by Mark Schreiber. In his trademark witty style Perjovschi portrays imminent and reoccurring questions of (institutional) politics and the realities confronted by the artist inside and outside exhibition spaces. Consequently Was ist Kunst? - Mirrors of Production is also, like every exhibition, a tribute to artistic production today that we are indebted to, not only since legendary writer and curator Seth Siegelaub wrote that conceptual art would reduce the art world to “two types of people: artists and everyone else.”