Artopia: April 2011 Archives

Links to more thoughts on Fluxus in Artopia:
                 Fluxus Redux               Ken Friedman

April 26, 2011 7:39 AM |




Ben Patterson, String Music, 1960. Getty Research Institute. 

Benjamin Patterson's Variations for Double Bass, 1961. The concert was part of the exhibition Benjamin Patterson: Born in the State of FLUX/us November 6, 2010 - January 23, 2011 at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

By all accounts Ben Patterson is a Fluxus pioneer. Even George Maciunas [ma-Chew-nis], the Andre Breton of Fluxus, places him at the beginnings of Fluxus.  See here one of  Maciunas' obsessive diagrams.



MACIUNASCHART.jpgDiagram of Historical Development of Fluxus and Other 4 Dimensional, Aural, Optic, Olfactory, Epithelial and Tactile Art Forms. Click on link to enlarge: Maciunas

Patterson, who had started out as a double-bassist in various Canadian symphony orchestras(1956-1960) tried his home country later and was rejected by 20 conductors, probably because he was African-American. He moved from the U.S. to Cologne. And after that kind of rejection, who wouldn't? He somehow came across John Cage and began working in what would become the Fluxus manner. He was a pre-Fluxus Fluxian. Two years later, he was in the first Fluxus Festival, in Wiesbaden in 1962.


In '65, he took leave of art and returned to the U.S. where, in order to support his family, he became  an arts administrator in New York City, working at one point for the Department of Cultural Affairs.  This is why in Artopia we always say: Be kind to everyone, even arts administrators. You never know if he or she is an artist in disguise.


Then, obligations over, Patterson officially returned to art in 1988 at the age of 56 with his first one-person show at the Emily Harvey Gallery in Chelsea.


Skimmed from the retrospective of nearly the same name that debuted late last year at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, "Benjamin Patterson: Born in the State of FLUXUS/us: Scores"  (Studio Museum in Harlem, to June 26 ) is a half-hearted affair. It turns out to be one of those casework exhibits, in this case, scores and ephemera arranged under glass, in a small space above the main event: Stephen Burks: Man Made, an exercise in the exploitation of Senegalese basket weavers. Lots of educational opportunities, but little in the way of art.


The Ben Patterson show is housed in what amount to a dark balcony, although to be fair --- in Artopia we are fair to a fault --- there's a tiny reading room on the way to the video room (which has no Patterson videos) that makes available a copy of The Black and White File ("A Primary Collection of Scores and Instructions for his music, events, operas, performances and other projects: 1958-1998"). Unfortunately the blare from the video offerings makes reading the Patterson File nearly impossible.


YouTube comes to the rescue. The following videos are not in the Studio Museum show, and should give you a better idea of Patterson's too long neglected art than an accumulation of scores and ephemera.



Fluxus East exhibition opening: Paper concert by Ben Patterson, Geoff Hendricks and others (Berlin, 26.09.2007).





And then there is this ultra-Fluxus use of words, toys, and noisemakers:



Performance of Simple Opera (?), Saturday, June 20, 2009, The Museum in the Park, Portofino, Italy at the party in honor of the artist Ben Patterson for the celebration of his 75th birthday.


Sideways, as above, must be a new trend, in hearing as well as seeing. Read the following from the notes to the resplendent recording of Alessandro Striggio's long lost but recently rediscovered, heavenly Mass in 40 Parts (1566). In at least one of its incarnations, there is evidence that the various "voices" were deployed vertically on five levels of "cloud machines" in the Florence cathedral....but the writers confess.....


Unfortunately, neither stereo nor surround-sound [a second disc is a DVD offering surround-sound version expanded to 60 Parts] reproduction conveys height well...Listeners unwilling to forgo the original Pillar-Of-Cloud Experience could switch to a second pair of vertically aligned speakers for this item, while the less technically minded could try lying on their sides.


                    Conductor Robert Hollingworth and Hugh Keyte, Nov. 2010.



Back in March, the Studio Museum did offer one Patterson performance along with a discussion with the Houston curator. Was one performance enough? I don't think so. Another Patterson Piece was also performed at Third Streaming in Soho, not at  the Studio Museumthe Fluxus classic, Please Wash Your Face.


Contained in a small plastic box was a paper towel, a small bar of soap, and the instruction 'Please wash your face,'" Patterson explains. "As far as I know, this will be the first performance of the piece with total audience participation. People will come to the stage -- or optionally, to the bathroom -- and wash their face. Afterward, there will be a moderated discussion on the subject: 'How is washing your face in public a work of art?'
My work during these last 50 years has always directly engaged the public,  generally with success......For example: In 1963, I presented 'A Very Lawful Dance for Ennis' at Times Square. Simply stated, the instructions asked the performer to cross the street, backward and forward, again and again, obeying the traffic signals. We began the performance on this evening with a group of about 10 friends. However, within 15 minutes we were joined by at least 100 random passerby and other local Time Square habitués, who apparently thought it was a good thing to do!


                                                         ... courtesy   

No sign of this at the Studio Museum and no sign of Patterson's 1997 Blame it on Pittsburgh; or, Why I Became an Artist which was in the Houston show. Luckily I found a cheeky Texas online site called 29-95 (the latitude and longitude of Houston) that had an informative  review by their regular writer, Douglas Britt.
In 1997, he created the most interactive work on view, an installation that grew out of 26 sessions with a psychotherapist that Patterson recorded, later silkscreening fragments of the narratives onto Plexiglas along with photos and ephemera from his youth.
Hanging from the ceiling in a pitch-dark room, the Plexiglas sheets form a maze viewers navigate with flashlights. Among other things, they encounter memories of Patterson's awkward high school love life -- or lack thereof -- during a time when interracial dating was taboo and the only black girl in his class thought he was weird....It's like being inside Patterson's subconscious, which is fitting since just after the show opened Patterson erected a sculpture that he designated Annex No. 3 of The Museum of the Subconscious. (The original site is in Namibia; there are two other annexes in Israel and Argentina.) CAMH has forms you can fill out to donate your subconscious after you die.

0a1aaapatterson.JPGPattersonDetail of Blame It on Pittsburgh; or, Why I Became an Artist. Silkscreen on Plexiglas. Courtesy the artist and the Emily Harvey Foundation, New York/Venice Photo: Douglas Britt/Staff




The Houston catalog is not available until the show closes. Publication date is June 30. We have our fingers crossed. Why is it so late? Don't art venue's know about print-on-demand publishing? Never mind. Just keep quiet and pre-order the catalog on Amazon. It will include a CD of Patterson's sound pieces.


Couldn't more  performances and concerts have been commissioned by the Studio Museum? And if budget was the problem, why not videos? Never mind. I surmise that the show was simply not taken seriously enough. The exhibition is another sop to the Fluxus revival. Which brings up an important question. 













Why the Fluxus Ruckus?


MoMA, you may have discerned, now has an important Fluxus collection, and little exhibits on the premises have been drawn from it. And even performances by the likes of Alison Knowles have surfaced. Yoko Ono's great Scream Piece was presented in the Atrium. Everyone including yours truly had a chance to scream into an open microphone. You would think that all of this was part of the current effort by galleries and museums to nail down art from 1945 to about 1980, filling in all the blanks once and for all. I have come to a different conclusion: we are making sure that everything saleable can be accounted for.


The little dips into Fluxus here and there, however, are meant to destroy it. Or at least to announce that Fluxus wasn't so avant-garde after all, because here we have it by the tail and you see how easily it fits into museum collections, museum display, and sanctified art history? Nothing to worry about, friends. Fluxus was a minor fling, and art has been made safe again.


Here are some pros and cons:




What Was Bad about Fluxus


When whimsy rears its cute little head, Fluxus fails. Whimsy is not humor, whimsy is cute. Whimsy is not an Artopian characteristic, whereas sarcasm is. Recently I read that an inability to detect sarcasm is a sign of Alzheimer's. I propose that a foaming-at-the-mouth reaction to whimsy is a sign of maturity and superior intelligence, don't you agree?


What exactly is whimsy? According to one source: 1. An odd or fanciful idea; a whim. 2. A quaint or fanciful quality. Hello, Do you not know about Hello Kitty Hell, my favorite website?


Actually it is far worse. You know it when you see it. It sickens you and makes even kind persons reach for their fly-swatters, their spitballs, their rubberband slingshots, and even their b-b guns. It smells like artificially-flavored and artificially-sweetened bad candy.


Examples? Why not start at the top.


We adore Saint Yoko, but when she fails in her instruction pieces or her Tweets it is smack down on the whimsy bed-of-nails. I am sickened every time she Tweets "Love your Mom". Or "It is Mother's day in Costa Rico." Yoko, get over it! Several times I have been tempted to unfollow her on Twitter, but then she posts something really wonderful.
















More controversial than the whimsy charge against Fluxus is the queasiness evoked by George Maciunas, not all of it metaphysical. Was he as maniacal and self-serving as it now appears? When I said above that he was the Fluxus Breton I did not mean it as a complement.


Take a look at another of his patented diagrams also available on the extremely useful George Maciunas website..



bestdiagramGM-jpg.jpgLike poet Breton,  Lithuanian-born Maciunas, whose background was graphic design and architecture, became quite a little dictator and art-packager. Apparently he did coin the word Fluxus, but like Breton, who excommunicated Salvador Dali, but also Andred Masson, Max Ernst, and our very own Brion Gysin, Maciunas may have been on a power trip. He didn't "excommunicate" but he was no stranger to spite.


Maciunas' Expanded Arts Diagram is his "masterpiece", if a diagram can be a masterpiece. And why not?  By way of explanation he delineates categories of Fluxians, from: "individuals active in similar activities prior to formation of fluxus collective, then becoming active within fluxus and still active to the present day, (only George Brecht and Ben Vautier fill this category)" the most telling category...




Individuals active within fluxus since the formation of fluxus but having since then detached themselves on following motivations:

a)    anti-collective attitude excessive individualism, desire for personal glory, prima dona complex (MacLow, Schmit, Williams, Nam Jun Paik, Dick Higgins, Kosugi),

b)    opportunism, joining rival groups offering greater publicity. (Paik, Kosugi)

c)    competitive attitude, forming rival operations (Higgins, Knowles, Paik).



I will also point my finger at the Flux- boxes he instigated and promoted -- twee containers made by one and all, in editions, meant for sale. Commercialization meets whimsy. Even though I can't find any evidence of a Fluxus or Maciunasian anti-object stance, this was such an awful move that we do not even have to go into George's pioneering effort (via grants from the Kaplan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts) to turn empty factory buildings into artist lofts in what would be called SoHo, now some of the most expensive housing in the Big Apple. Nor need we mention his dull architectural proposals that are so neo-Bauhaus they make long-winded Bucky Fuller seem like the genius he thought he was.  




cage.jpg  John  Cage, Fontana Mix, 1958.



What Is Still Difficult About Fluxus?


What remains difficult about Fluxus is the music part.  Music historians simply did not get it. To this day they only grudgingly deal with John Cage, if at all. Cage was the grandfather of both Happenings and Fluxus but most visual arts critics and historians don't know how to deal with music; after all, you can't see it. Although scores sometimes have a graphic interest, they are not the main event. And theater has been attacked over and over again by art formalists, probably because it is difficult to experience Pollock and the dreary Jules Olitski without thinking of backdrops and scenery. And, to settle an old score, theater had to be denied, not out of some resurgence of Puritanism, but in order to reaffirm the saleable object, the art commodity which, alas, is now the coin of the realm.  


Could the Fluxsters themselves conceptualize the breakdown of  rigid arts categories? Fluxian Dick Higgins coined the term intermedia for Fluxus but it didn't stick because, when you think of it, Hollywood movies could be called intermedia too through the marriage of sound and moving images. And, my goodness, opera. Or Broadway musicals or military parades. Or Striggio's Mass in 40 Parts with cloud machines and costumes as it was originally performed?




A Modest Proposal


I now hypothesize that all the recent lukewarm stabs at Fluxus such as the Patterson show of scores -- rather than the retrospective from which it was culled -- are really  attempts to get the best of Fluxus, in the second sense of the term: a knock-out punch.   Fluxus is a threat. We can destroy it by trivializing it, which is a long and painful death for everyone involved, viewers included. Or we can  destroy it once and for all.


We can finally rid ourselves of Fluxus by mounting a major survey exhibition. It could be at MoMA - and might be best there --- but actually it could be anywhere. Cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, or Kansas City could gain great glory, as long as the exhibition was definitive, had a gigantic catalog full of horrendous documentation and "scholarly" essays (no art criticism please!) and a  vast restaging and recording of Fluxus events, Fluxus music. Thus, absorbed by the academic apparatus, Fluxus would finally sink. It would stop being the fly in the ointment, the mouse in the room, the nagging voice. Fully dissected and dissembled it would stop being so annoyingly life-affirming and so stupidly jolly.







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April 20, 2011 10:41 AM |




Talking About Relational Aesthetics by John Perreault 2011




What Is Relational Aesthetics?


Formulated by French curator Nicolas Bourriaud to explain the work of his favored artists, Relational Aesthetics is difficult to pin down. Maybe it's like jazz. When Louis Armstrong was asked what jazz was, he answered, "If you have to ask, you'll never know." But Armstrong was not a French intellectual steeped, stewed or pickled in "theory."


In 1996, Bourriaud encapsuled his flight of fancy as:


"...a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space."




I would say instead that Relational Art consists of convivial, socializing, interactive, non-object, artist-audience collaborations. Sort of.


No blood. And if there's meat, it's cooked.


Bourriaud offers some insights in his short collection of essays called Relational Aesthetics: (1.) Paired objects are stand-ins for gay relationships in the work of Félix González-Torres. (2.) Unlike the other arts, visual art allows viewer conversations during perception. Never mind that Elizabethan theater had vocal audiences, as did burlesque and kiddie movie matinees. Nevertheless, you may want to read his essays to feel out the warp of contemporary art-discourse. We ourselves, as you may have noted, are not opposed to elliptical exposition, but if you want a bigger dose, access a section from Bourriaud's book here.



Rirkrit Tiravaija: Fear Eats The Soul. (detail: gallery alteration) photo: John Perreault.




Not the Death of Art, but the Death of the Artist


Critic Hal Foster warned in the mid-1990s that "the institution may overshadow the work that it otherwise highlights: it becomes the spectacle, it collects the cultural capital, and the director-curator becomes the star." Was he predicting Relational Aesthetics? 


Well, 15 years later, Hal, it hasn't really happened -- has it? And besides, director-curators have always had a profile of sorts, if not exactly stardom on the level of Andy Warhol. But, like most artists, they fade.


Wasn't Henry Geldzahler a star? What about art dealers? Wasn't Leo Castelli more famous than some of his artists? In the '60s, a young, very, very rich collector in Miami Beach once announced to me that Leo Castelli was her god. Art dealers would kill for customers like that.


But to the quick. Whether he wants to be or not, Rirkrit Tiravanija is a star; curator Nicholas Bourriaud, who formulated Relational Aesthetics, is not.




 Eat This Art 


A few weeks ago, as I was finishing my delicious bowl of coconut-chicken soup at Tiravanija's exhibition ("Fear Eats the Soul" at Gavin Brown's enterprise, 620 Greenwich St., at Leroy,  to April 16) the artist himself made an appearance in the salon/lunchroom part of the exhibition.


I include the cross-street of the address, because you should know that this venue is definitely outside Chelsea. Yes, there is art outside of Chelsea, even though you might have to take a cab or walk 20 blocks crosstown through quaint Greenwich Village nearly to the Hudson.


Here's a soup I am sorry I missed:



MENU - Thursday March 17


Tempermental (sic)  Pumpkin Soup


Pumpkins (roasted and pureed)


Vegetable Stock


Coconut milk

Chipotle peppers (in adobe sauce)

Curry powder (Indian)


Sea salt


Mint (fresh)


In a big stockpot saute onions till caramelized

Add curry powder

Blend chipotle peppers and garlic, add to onion mixture

Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil

Add coconut milk

Add pureed pumpkin and cinnamon

Season with salt and a bit of honey to taste

Reduce heat and let soup simmer till flavors are well integrated

Garnish with fresh chopped mint (optional)


Click here for other soups served and a short history of soup.




The Tiravanija hangout, replete with neo-Expressionist paintings by the uncredited Dutch artist who originally made the space as his own salon, has been transferred  from Amsterdam. Tiravanija in the past has done similar transplants -- once his own East Village apartment.


Even midweek his funky cafeteria was packed with arty, chatty soup-slurpers, leaving the stripped-down, ripped-open showrooms next door bare and beautiful. He has also done architectural strip-downs before. Here, window frames are artfully leaning here and there against the walls, and the space is wide open, as if to remember its garage origin. The word FEAR takes up one long wall. Yes, "Fear Eats the Soul" refers to the Fassbinder film. And in the midst of it all is a locked, free-standing cubicle replicating Tiravanija's first show with Gavin Brown: chromed versions of various Warhol sculpture, described in the press release as follows:


In 1994, Tiravanija made/curated a two-person show with his other half, Andy Warhol. It was a hybrid retrospective of sorts for each artist. Tiravanija created a binary setup of three pairs of work, with one work by each artist in each pair: A Mao and a stack of beer bottles; a Brillo box and a wok; a bed and a pile of books and movies. Each pair created a metaphysical and cultural bridge across time and space from one world to another. Each side looking at the other in the mirror and being disgusted at themselves. One side surface and mediated, the other dirty and touched, but both steeped in melancholia and necrophilia.  







Who would have guessed the artist would soon cook up a storm?


Eats Opening_Ruthie Abel-7.JPG 























Tiravanija: Fear Eats The Soul , opening reception (in the soup kitchen).




And there's another free-standing cubicle where you can buy t-shirts ($20) with various "mottos" stenciled on them, to order if need be.




teesfixed.jpgMy shirt was printed by a young man who kept saying he would have to close for awhile because he was starving. I had FEAR EATS THE SOUL made up for my Jeff because he liked the movie so much and often wears the Empire (State Building) t-shirt I brought him from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.


Artopia aims to be of service. You can order the T-shirts online. And while you are at it, read a history of t-shirts.










After the charming schoolgirls with pencils and pads were through interviewing Tiravanija, I introduced myself. I had met him in '88, when he was collaborating with artist Bob Roberts on an exhibition at the New York Experimental Glass Workshop. I asked him if he still had his apartment a block from mine on East 7th Street. He did. But, of course, I know he also works in Berlin and is an art nomad like many artists now: Japan, Minneapolis, wherever. He is a natural post-national. He is Thai, but was born in Buenos Aires, and because his father was a diplomat, he lived in many places as a child.


"I hope you won't be upset," I said, "but I have to ask you how it feels to be identified all the time as the Relational Aesthetics poster boy."


"Naked," he answered.





Tiravanija's food art is now part of the international art vocabulary. Although he has done outdoor movie projections, videos, room alterations and realist drawings of newspaper photos of political demonstrations (seen at the Drawing Center not too long ago), he is still best known for his temporary kitchens in which food is cooked and offered to visitors. When you listen to him speak, you might get the feeling that Bourriaud lifted all of his ideas from him. Unlike Bourriaud, however, Tiravanija is a utopian. Read what he recently said about his project at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and then take a look at the video below. The interview takes awhile to get going, but stick with it.



The situation is not about looking at art. It is about being in the space, participating to an activity. The nature of the visit has shifted to emphasize on the gallery as a space for social interaction. The transfer of such activities as cooking, eating or sleeping into the realm of the exhibition space put visitors into very intimate if unexpected contact; the displacement creates an acute awareness of the notion of public and private, the installations function like scientific experiments: the displacement becomes a tool and exposes the way scientific thought processes are constructed. The visitor becomes a participant in that experiment.'





The Short List


Bourriaud's Relational Art candidates are mostly artists he has dealt with as a curator, first at CAPC Bordeaux in his 1996 groundbreaking show "Traffic," then as co-director of Palais de Tokyo, Paris. 



Dominique Gonzalez-Foerister -- who last year showed dioramas with old books dumped into them at the abandoned quarters of the New-York Historical Society under the aegis of the Museum of Hispanic Art, sponsored by the Dia Foundation. She designed a Balenciaga shop in L.A., too.


Douglas Gordon -- famous, and rightly so, for his 24-Hour Psycho (Hitchcock's film slowed down so it takes a full day and night to see the whole thing).


Félix González-Torres -- neo-Minimal, gay, brilliant and, alas, dead. Piles of wrapped candy, yours for the taking.


Rirkrit Tiravanija -- Mr. Relational Aesthetics, and with good reason.


Jorge Pardo -- recycles midcentury design to no account that I can see. Ruined the floors of the lobby of the old Dia building with "colorful" tile-work.


Pierre Huyghe --- can't get a handle on him yet.


Vanessa Beecroft - masses of naked women.


Liam Gillick --- like his neo-Judd sculptures, but...


Maurizio Cattelan, the Italian comedian. Can we ever forget his sculpture of Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteorite?


Later additions: Gabriel Orozco -- a few oranges and a Volkswagen joke at MoMA.  But Andrea Zittel with her usable sculptures is less of a problem.


                                                *     *     *


Although at the time Bourriaud claimed that Relational Art was the art of the '90s, -- which continues to inspire the phrase "It's so '90s!" - curator Nancy Spector's "theanyspacewhatever" show - yes, it was really called that -- at the Guggenheim in '08, finally confirmed the avant-garde credentials of Relational Aesthetics by being roundly attacked from all sides. Many, perhaps too many, of the artists were from Bourriaud's list. It was a sleeper, but not in the way you might first think. You could make reservations, fork over some dough, and sleep all night in Carsten Höller's Revolving Hotel Room. Now, there are single-room "hotels" sprouting up as art projects all over the place: London, Singapore. But the show was so boring it put most viewers to sleep, even while on their feet.


It proved once again that artists don't always know what they are doing. New Museum founder Marcia Tucker once went down the road of extreme artist-input and eventually learned her lesson. But wisdom does not get passed from museum to museum. Shockingly, "theanyspacewhatever" took four years of meetings with the artists. Spector thought that the artists should make all the major decisions about the exhibition. And what did this stellar group of international collaborators decide? Brand new, individual artworks by each of them!



In Artopia, we truly believe that everyone is an artist (Beuys) and everyone is a star (Warhol), including directors/curators, critics and even dealers. In art there is no dark side. Or, as some would have it, all art is ultimately on the dark side, since art as it is now practiced tends to separate people from social action and from each other.


Well, so what? So do all the other major religions.





















Maurizio Cattelan: Pope John Paul II.




All Families Art the Same 


Dear Reader, perhaps you are still staring at the Relational Art shortlist above and wondering how it can make any sense. Perhaps out of curiosity you have even Googled the names. I stared at the lineup for quite awhile too until I came up with the solution.


Unless there is a poet-dictator in charge, like Marinetti or Pope André Breton, most art movements consist of artists who do not follow rules from above -- or from the side. At best, artists in an art movement bear a family resemblance. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein used games for his brilliant formulation of his anti-Aristotelian family resemblance trope. We can use Abstract Expressionism or Pop Art as examples. In regard to AE, neither kingmaker Clement Greenberg nor Harold Rosenberg could make his rules stick. Greenberg merely said that the art that didn't fit his rule wasn't worth looking at. Think about this: what do de Kooning and Pollock have in common and what do the two have in common with Rothko or Newman? There's a family resemblance. Same for the art grouped as Pop.


One big family; each member different, but somehow related. I have my father's steel-blue eyes, but my mother's taste in food. My sister is blond like Mom, but I am not; more reddish like my father's aunt Blanche. And none of my nephews look like me at all.


This has some interesting philosophical ramifications, but never mind about that. I don't want to be accused again of solving problems you didn't know you had. Suffice it to say that a Wittgensteinian family is formed by horizontal relationships of shared traits that are not universal within each item in the set. No characteristics are necessary and sufficient. Think sociogram or rhizomes rather than royal or Roman Catholic hierarchy.


However, the above only proves Perreault's Paradox: Qualifications in the name of clarification lead to obfuscation. Or as Alfred Jarry might have said: clarity is opaque.


However, so Francocentric and so beholden to "theory" is Bourriaud that he himself hasn't noticed the problem we have just solved for him. And for free. His artists don't look like they belong together. His group makes Douglas Crimp's Pictures Generation and the YBAs (Young British Artists) -- both exhibition-generated, curator-concocted classifications ---  appear completely rational in retrospect.


We now face something new. Whether we think of art-movement proposals as made up of ranks, families, or even political parties, it is difficult to tell them apart.


Alas, Bourriaud has other problems even I can't solve. He actually claims that Relational Art is the first art movement/style since Conceptual Art that is not a revival, which, like many of his points, once you tease them from the text, does give pause. Is it true? Only relatively.


Even Conceptual Art was not super-new or too new. We who knew Duchamp already had a roadmap.


There are so many precedents for Relational Art that it is more accurately seen as a continuation or mash-up of Fluxus, Happenings, environments,  Performance Art, Situational Art, and, yes, Conceptual Art, rather than anything revelatory or game-changing. Relational Art is only one of many modes or forms that artists feel free to use. Focus is now too easily read as appeasing the art market. The interactive is attractive, but each artist is now the producer of his own group show.


Maybe that's the best we can do without kicking out the jams.





Tiravanija: Fear Eats the Soul




The October Trials


In his favor, many of Bourriaud's points have been attacked by the October gang. See here Claire Bishop's "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics."


In this October screed, Bishop describes the work of Tiravanija and Liam Gillick, not so much to attack them or rip apart the thin fabric of Bourriaud's "argument," but ultimately to promote in contrast two of her own favorites: Thomas Hirschhorn and Santiago Sierra. The first is still a mystery to me, but Sierra is now an official art-world Bad Boy. In 2000, his work Ten People Paid to Masturbate was exactly that; and in 2001 he produced Persons Paid To Have Their Hair Dyed Blond for the Venice Biennale. And then, whether they are faked or not, there's his intentionally notorious penetration pieces -- pictures of groups of black men penetrating white men, white men penetrating white men and the reverse, and black men penetrating white woman. An attack on the commodification of sex, or itself an example of same? You tell me.


If I were teaching now, I would assign Bishop's essay and ask the students to identify the main subject of her bottom-heavy, heavily footnoted essay. I would fail any who said it was about Relational Aesthetics.


Her artists are somehow more pure because they contest or reveal capitalist relations, or at least she thinks they do. Or is it because Relational artists smell utopian and her pets do not?


                                                      *     *      *


I see Relational Aesthetics as utopian. Oddly enough, Bourriaud himself is a knee-jerk anti-utopian, which you have to be if you have read Foucault and not been aware that he once confessed that his life-long influence had been life-long Nazi Martin Heidegger. Bad poetry is sometimes seductive. Wouldn't you choose Being instead of industrialization? But blood, soil, and the volk? Maybe like others, Foucault did not know that Heidegger wasn't really de-Nazified, as claimed. Not even Heidegger's ex-girlfriend Hannah Arendt seemed to know. Sartre spoke up for him too.


Furthermore, did Bourriaud not remember Joseph Beuys' concept of social sculpture? Had he forgotten the Situationalists? Oops. No excuse. They were French!


Why was he so late in coming to Marcel Duchamp's famous lecture called The Creative Act:  "...The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."


Theory is rhetoric. 


My theory is that "theory" - so impenetrable, so inbred -- is the reason there have been so few important French artists since the School of Nice. And since the rise of the October gang in the U.S., we have not been doing so well ourselves, have we? Theory cramps art; thought does not.


The French are amazing, particularly when they try to catch up. It is as if the French language and its product, French theory, automatically screen out anything that happens on this side of the Atlantic. Tiravanija himself gives full credit to Gordon Matta-Clark as represented by that artist's short-lived, artist-run restaurant Food, and I would think his architectural interventions.


Bourriaud needs to study the Artopia theory of art history. Nothing ever goes away; everything always comes back -- like the strands in a braid. Or, as I like to say, history, particularly art history, is twisted. There is not even the Nietchzean Eternal Return. There is only a knot, and all knots are braids.



                                              *   *   *


The correct answers to our word-art quiz last time around:

Thumbnail image for Robert Barry .jpg







                           A.   Lawrence Weiner                       

images (4).jpg

B.    Aram Saroyan    




C. Joseph Kosuth 



                            D. Henry Flynt        

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                                            E. John Giorno    



                         F.  On Kawara                                                  



                                G.    Jenny Holzer          


                            H. Yoko Ono   


                         I. Glenn Ligon                       






                         J. Barbara Kruger                       



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   K. Luis Camnitzer                          

No one identified all of the authors. Does this mean context is all? True, two of the authors are poets. True, Kosuth is not known for putting words on plastic cubes.

On the other hand, why didn't anyone know Henry Flynt, generally considered to be the Fluxus genius or Luis Camnitzer who is currently being honored by a retrospective at El Museo del Barrio?







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April 4, 2011 12:15 PM |


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