Page 1

Today, as the concepts of center and periphery become increasingly ambiguous, RES Art World / World Art started its publishing life in September 2007 with the objective of casting a glance at world art from a broad perspective, with contributions from international authors and artists. Published biannually by Dirimart Gallery, RES champions an integrated approach, arguing that we should develop a view of the contemporary art agenda that encompasses all players in the game—artists, gallerists, academics, critics, curators, collectors etc. RES is a new and authentic publication from Istanbul that, we hope, opens the doors to a versatile set of sounds, colors and dimensions. Among the names in our May issue are the two highly influential contemporary artists Beatriz Milhazes and Ghada Amer as well as Thomas Bayrle, one of the founders of German Pop. Interviews conducted by Hans Ulrich Obrist (with art historian Michael Baxandall) and Debora Warner (with gallerist Leo Koenig, Becky Smith and Tracy Williams from New York) also shed light on various aspects of the art world. In her essay Hedonistic, Transnational and Multi-Cultural: Patterns as a Signal for a New Economy of Vision, Annette Tietenberg offers an in-depth look at the concept of pattern in art. Seda Yörüker emphasizes the importance of artistic work for the society in an article about Shirin Neshat who captures the language of international contemporary art through her use of sociopolitical concepts. Sotirios Bahtsetzis and Galina Lardeva illuminate the contemporary art scenes in Greece and Bulgaria, respectively, while Borga Kantürk critically examines the anthology User's Manual, a key contribution to contemporary art literature in Turkey. Paris Photo 2007 is another important event that is documented in our pages in form of photos and text by Janine Schmutz. We hope you find much to enjoy in this issue and upcoming issues.


1 RES MAY 2008



WITH BEATRIZ MILHAZES IN PARIS Our interview with the Rio de Janeiro-based artist Beatriz Milhazes (*1960) in Paris was the result of a long correspondence. The vivid exchange, which started with Márcia de Moraes of Galeria Fortes Vilaça—Milhazes' representative in Brazil—, continued with the artist's assistant Tereza Lyrio. We would like to thank both for their interest and support. The interview which we had initially planned to conduct in Brazil—as this would have given us an opportunity to see the artist's solo exhibition in Galeria Fortes Vilaça and retrospective in Estação Pinacoteca, São Paulo—eventually took place at an apartment in Paris that belonged to a French Beatriz Milhazes, Paris diplomat couple. On January 18, we met in the living room of this flat, with a French balcony facing a bright courtyard. The first impression we had during our meeting with Beatriz Milhazes was that she was as bright, cheerful, and positive as her paintings. During the three-hour interview, Milhazes answered our questions in all her sincerity, giving us detailed information about her life and art. RES wishes the artist all the best for her upcoming exhibition to be held in February 2009 at Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain in Paris and her future projects. We also asked Milhazes who spends part of her time in Paris every year if she paints there, too. 'No. I need to be at home and see the brightness in my garden to be able to paint,' she answered. RES Let’s start from the very beginning. How and when did you start your career? BEATRIZ MILHAZES I started at a very young age. My mother was an art historian and taught at the university. So it was quite normal that I wanted to get a degree in something other than art. That was the reason why I first wanted to be a journalist. But in my sophomore year at the university, I realized that journalism was not my thing. It turned out to be something I didn’t like. And since my mother had always been involved in the art world, she asked me why I wouldn't try art school. Now, in those times, we had this one academy of art. But it was a very academic and conservative institution. And there was this free school of art. It was the best option if you were young and wanted to make art. So I enrolled in this art school when I was 20 years old and I really felt that this was in fact what I wanted to do. After studying at the school for about three years I left it when I was 23 and I opened my studio. RES That was in 1982? RES MAY 2008


3 RES MAY 2008 BM Yes, in Rio de Janerio. RES What is your relationship with music, and cinema? How do you connect yourself with rhythm in general? BM I grew up with music at home because my father was a big fan of especially Brazilian and pop music. I had a very good art education at home. Even though my father was a lawyer, my parents were both deeply involved in art. Needless to say, thanks to my mother's focus on art due to her profession, I had an immense formation. But since I started my own work, I've never had any connection with music. Music is never used directly in my work. Only after 2000, I started using rhythm in my work more. RES We guess it is now a bit of a clichÊ to comment that underlying your work are the effects of Brazilian folk art. BM True. At the beginning, my work was neither directly interested in nor connected to it, but it certainly bore the effects of the Brazilian folk culture in a plastic way, on the visual result. It took some time before I arrived at the things I actually wanted to make. When I was at school, I wanted to establish a link between my culture and what I had always been and the painting. I think that was the greatest challenge, because painting is a serious undertaking; and back then, to be a serious painter, the work always had to be associated with meaning originating from Europe, and later on, from the United States, but not from Brazil. Yet for me, Brazil was a zone of meanings, of captions. These did not necessarily have a connection with the outside world. So in my case, I wanted to establish a connection to my work, because in reality, my life and my culture have nothing to do with painting. But how could I connect it in an interesting way? And thus the carnival became a part of it. Because I Beatriz Milhazes, Ouro Branco, 2006 have always loved the way Brazilian people live Mixed collage on paper, 61.2 x 58.4 in / 155.5 x 148.5cm it. In Brazil, the carnival develops differently in every state, every place. In reality the carnival Collection: Helga Alvear, Madrid Š Fausto Fleury is something magnificent. I am not really into carnival; I don't go out on the street and dance. But I have always been a really huge admirer of the way they develop the carnivals and of this freedom they enjoy. They mix completely different things. They always have teams of samba from every school each year. RES Frankly, we were a bit hesitant to ask you this question, as many people must be making the same connection. Many times, this may not be true either.

Beatriz Milhazes, Dancing, 2007 Acrylic on canvas, 97.2 x 137.7 in / 247 x 350 cm Collection: Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo © Fausto Fleury

BM In my case, they really matter. In my art, I use many things that have historically been found pejorative for a serious work of art—things that are folk art in general such as manifestations of folk in Brazilian culture and also in American culture. I should also not forget the costumes. I am interested in decorative design, all aspects of design in general, particularly fashion and furniture design. I also use that in my work. On the other hand, I love structure in painting. Rather than using culture directly, I love the way it combines with my work. Also, I’m a woman. Many women work with decorative art. Most of the time, the results are awful. So I have drawn a very delicate border.

RES What we think of as clichés, such as the carnival, samba, and Brazilian football are all associated with rhythm. To give an example, in Germany football is geometric while it swings in Brazil. Automatically, one arrives at the concept of rhythm. Other than these, what else nurtures your art? BM I am talking about the combination of so many sides. For that, I have always felt like an abstract painter. Abstraction has always been my reference. European and, later on, Brazilian modernism might both be references for my work. Brazilian modernism really developed theoretically. Especially one painter, Tarsila do Amaral, was very influential. She started in Brazil and mixed all knowledge she acquired in Europe with her culture in Brazil. It was also what she did: first the real link was color. It is as if it is color what makes everything happen. I could not be geometric in the way of using cubes, squares, rectangles or triangles, my work cannot think only in terms of geometry and geometric shapes. I needed elements that I could develop and use like the shape of a flower representing some motif. But the shape of this flower is less important than its color; even if I had a good, beautiful shape of a flower, it would never work unless I had chosen the perfect color. RES You emphasize your identity as a woman. Indeed, there is such a distinction in art: the notion of women's art. We had not thought of this regarding you. BM Before all else, you are a woman painter. Of course, you need to be stronger to be respected, since painting is a very man thing. Nobody thinks about it. I am also talking about respect on a professional level. I believe that it is completely a men's area. It is said about my work that it had touched what was considered as low/love art. And on top of it, I am a woman. So that is really something, like a distinctive thing. That is how I made it. RES In your early period paintings, motifs were represented in a realistic manner. Abstraction followed later. BM True. I used to make motifs more recognizable, more figurative in the past. RES And the rose motif appears everywhere. Does the rose have a specific meaning? RES MAY 2008


5 RES MAY 2008 Beatriz Milhazes, Pipoca Moderna, 2006 Acrylic on canvas, 86.4 x 43.1 in / 219.5 x 109.5 cm Collection: Marcel Brient, Paris © Fausto Fleury

Beatriz Milhazes, Nega Maluca, 2006 Acrylic on canvas, 98.2 x 98.6 in / 249 x 250.5 cm Collection: Douglas Andrews, Italy © Fausto Fleury

BM Color has been very important for me since my first works. There was a samba school in Brazil where men were more interested. But the color of the school resembled the color of a rose. What a very weird combination, a very kitsch combination! It has been a strong reference for me since the very beginning, because I had always wanted to use such strong color combinations. Also, I did not want to use more elegant colors like red or black. I think the flower motif contains so many feelings, connections. Humans have always liked something about it. And nature… I really like nature. I realized after a long time that I needed nature around me when I’m painting. I know many artists just go traveling and they have a studio elsewhere; they open a studio and then they start working. I am not like that. I need to have my studio set in the way I like. My studio looks more like a house, like a home. I do not simply enter a room and start painting. Impossible! RES So you need to be at home and not homesick?

Beatriz Milhazes, O popular, 1999 Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 70.8 in / 178 x 180 cm Private Collection © Fausto Fleury

BM Exactly. I like the feeling of being at home. And I feel this in Brazil. Of course, I can have the same thing in a different country, but I need to make it happen. It is not just about coming somewhere and starting to paint there. I know many artists who are able to do that very well but it’s not my style. And also, for many years, flowers entered my work from decorative art and pop art, not from nature. Then, more recently, I started to look to nature. Before, I used to observe flowers and shapes of the flowers from the design itself, not from nature. So nature became evident in my work rather in the 2000s. And I find this very interesting because my work became more and more abstract and the flowers in it less recognizable as I started to observe nature directly. That is maybe so because I’m more impressed with the atmosphere and less with the shape. For me it’s an inspiration to look at it. In the past, I used to try to make a drawing of it, now I’m not all that interested in this.

RES MAY 2008


7 RES MAY 2008 RES It was a rather figurative transition to more abstraction. It is very interesting that when you take the object from nature, it becomes more abstract than before. BM Exactly. That is interesting, and I don’t know why and how it happens. RES How do you set up your paintings? Do you have a sketch or plan in mind? Once you said that you don’t plan the painting, you don’t know the end. BM I think abstract art itself is an important reference to me. The basic motifs I use in my work come from abstract art. For example, Sonia Delaunay used it. Kandinsky started using it. It’s rather the motif that represents abstract art. So also these are references for me. In terms of the work, I always try to introduce new problems to the world, because my work is not local. Some people are very surprised when I say that. On the other hand, it is about the process. I don’t know exactly how the painting will look like at the end of the day but I have a plan in mind, just in the mind. I don’t make any sketches, I don’t draw anything, I go straight to the canvas. RES Abstraction is very important, but so is construction. You don't make any plans or sketches yet there is a geometric structure in the background. The painting develops as elements are placed on the canvas. So do you have a sense of construction in mind then? Because you put down the elements and construct the painting from the background. BM Yes. Like these two (Nega Maluca, 2006, and O Popular, 1999). I have the idea of having a big circle at the center of the composition as the main element. It’s one way for me to start. Another way is having an image, an open image, in my mind. It’s not totally clear but I have some sort of a composition that I would like to develop. Sometimes I only have a single color that I want to develop in terms of my painting. For many years, I had white as my main reference; I wanted to make a white painting. Of course I never did a white canvas, but I had this kind of white on my mind. Sometimes, just to start, I need to put down one color; many times this is the color on the surface. From this point on, an excitement emerges in me to develop it. Sometimes I put one motif here and another there after which I start to make the entire level between these two points. And then it goes one by one. That is how it develops, so I need time for my work. It seldom develops faster. It takes up to a month to finish a painting. So I work with four pieces at the same time because of the technique I use. I don’t paint directly onto the canvas; I have a transfer technique, which takes longer to make. RES There is this saying, "An artist interested in color must enter the same bed with Matisse." BM I had Matisse as my first and permanent reference. There are also Hélio Oiticica, Bridget Riley, and of course, Piet Mondrian. RES There are always corrections on Matisse’s paintings: he progressed as he painted. Therefore, he constantly corrected what he did, so there is no finished preliminary work. Also in his oil paintings, he first painted, put down the color, and then he covered it with another color. As in your works, he put down an element, which created a situation. Then he tried to resolve this situation with another element. BM I did not know that he also had this technique.

RES For instance, in his paper cutouts, the works are riddled with holes because they were pinned up all the time. He always looked for the right place. BM Sometimes I also make changes, but the technique I use does not make it necessary to destroy so many things since I have the motif on my hand; on the plastic sheet. So I can clearly see what will happen. RES So, before transferring the motif onto the canvas, you can see whether it is in the right place. Your technique allows you to do it in a perfect way at the same time?

Beatriz Milhazes, Panamericano, 2004 Acrylic on canvas, 77.9 x 70.4 in / 198 x 179 cm Collection: Claudia e Jay Khalifeh, São Paulo © Fausto Fleury

BM Yes. It allows me to do different things. It also helps me make it super professional. At the end of the day, technique is very important in the context of my work. Because of it I can have a lot of super-position. I can make several things, try and see if that works or not, and then superpose it. I need to go and make the motif on the canvas, then see if it works or not. It would be very hard for me to keep this quality of layers if I had used any other technique.

RES Before coming to your technique, we would like to touch on Bridget Riley. You mentioned that Bridget Riley is important to your work. Riley uses geometrical motifs in a very different way. You don’t have the sense of rectangles or squares. BM One thing that I work with is op art. I want to have optical movements, disturbing things; such visions that your eyes would be disturbed when you see them. You don’t have the real center of the composition, and your eyes are always moving. It’s rather disturbing, even vertigo. That way, I feel like you have a communication with the entire world. RES Regarding your technique, there are two distinct narratives. The first one is where you paint over plastic sheets and then you fix them onto the canvas, and it’s also mentioned that you use glass sheets. You color them and then just strip off the paint and fix them onto the canvas. Could you please tell us about the technique you use in your paintings in your own words? BM No, I have never worked with glass. That's mainly because as some artists use the monotype technique people think that I also work on glass and make the shape there. It would also be possible for me to use it as it allows me to peel it off. But I just use plastic sheets. With plastic sheets it is thick enough for me to glue, so I paint on the plastic sheet, for example I have a circle, I color the circle. It’s only reverse. It should be a thicker film at the end of the day like four to five layers of paint would make RES MAY 2008


9 RES MAY 2008 Beatriz Milhazes, Bala de Leite, 2005 Mixed collage on paper, 62 x 58 in / 157.5 x 147.5 cm Collection: Frederico Ceretti, London Š Fausto Fleury

it thicker. After I finish all this, I glue it onto the canvas and then leave it to dry, which takes a night— around ten to twelve hours. I glue it and then I leave my studio; I come back the next day to work more on it. When it dries the image I painted appears as it sticks to the canvas. It’s not exactly an easy technique. RES You also work directly on the canvas. BM Not that much. Yes and no. Sometimes I do the volume directly on canvas. I also have some outlines, like here, because I had all these images. Sometimes I realize that they need some outline. So I keep doing it myself directly, sometimes I also play with the colors. But most of the time nothing is painted directly, it’s all transferred. This technique is fantastic because I could even transfer the dust from the floor if I wanted to. These plastic sheets have been with me since I started ten, fifteen years ago. They have strong memories for me. So I still keep using them. RES At this point, we'd like to quote Jeff Koons: "My belief in art includes a moral duty. When I make a work of art, I try to convey a sense of trust to the viewer through the quality of the craftsmanship." That is, the quality in the craftsmanship mediates the formation of trust between the painting and the viewer. What does craftsmanship mean to Beatriz? BM I like hand-made things. And I like folk art, not folk in the real sense but primitive art. So I had my kind of spontaneity that handiwork has. I do love to see the hand on work. I think that is my main thing about hand-made objects. And paintings have always been very connected to the hand. But more recently, some painters started using other techniques. They allow their assistants to make most of the work. My assistant can also paint, and I have a reputation so I wouldn't have any problems with my assistant doing it. But this is not my way of doing things. I have a system, which requires me to produce the work myself. On the other hand, my painting has a very plastic quality. So it’s not at all print quality, it’s very painterly. When I paint on the plastic, the paint surface becomes thicker on the plastic; it is filtered by the plastic sheet. So normally brush strokes leave different kind of levels on the paintings. RES So handcraft is a very important element in your work. BM Yes, it is very important to my work. RES Do you agree then with Jeff Koons: is it a kind of mediator of creating trust between the artwork and the viewer? BM Yes, I could agree with this to a degree. But I think that it depends so much on the work. You can get the same kind of trust without using the hand. And also, if I hire you as one of my assistants and when you do a motif, like this motif, I repeat it hundreds of times. So sometimes it’s the same motif but it just changes color. So if I have the motif and if I am the one who selects the color, my assistant could go further. It’s hand-made but not in the real sense. So why should that inspire trust in the viewer? RES But here, by hand we do not refer to that of the artist. There is an emphasis on the quality of the hand. RES MAY 2008


11 RES MAY 2008 Beatriz Milhazes, Pacaembu, 2004 Acrylic on canvas, 105.7 x 135 in / 268.5 x 343 cm Collection: Frederico Ceretti, London © Fausto Fleury

BM Yes, but this quality of the hand should have a hand behind it. So it’s hard to separate it. Most of the time a hand’s quality refers to the hand behind. You think in a more metaphorical way. Most of the time, you lose this quality. I would not use the word hand, but rather the artist behind the whole thing. In general, I don't think that hand is all that important. Now, I think of the idea of the artist in general, that is the artist as a whole. So in works made with a computer, I can't see any connection to the hand; it completely involves an idea, a project. RES A great rigor and cleanness is observed in the works of artists who were born in 1960s, such as Sarah Morris or Tobias Rehberger. When we saw your work for the first time, it confused us and it felt not very smooth. We needed time to love it. Ernst Gombrich says on Raphael that “Raphael’s perfection is also his imperfection." When we view the works of Beatriz, we think her perfection is also her imperfection. For the painting obtains an aura particularly due to the collages. Would you like to say anything particularly about the artists of your own generation, Ackermann, Rehberger, Morris? BM I think that the painters of my generation have strong connections with the electronic, pop, graphic design, mechanics, etc. Everyone has built up and created their own images but these images provoke a kind of a distance to the spectator. Even a work like mine which is very hand-made, the technique I use denies you the possibility to touch the hand signs of the painter. The organism of the construction of my paintings is subverted by the smooth and quite equal texture of it. RES Would you like to comment on your interest in color? BM I don’t know if it makes any sense, but the only thing that comes to my mind is that I like the fact that color is the main thing in my work. One could ask specifically: “Why don’t you just make colors if the color is the most important thing? Without colors your work will just fail. So why don’t you just use colors?’’ So, that’s the thing, I could not just use colors even in a minimalist way, even in a very geometric traditional way, even on a simple pattern. I need to use elements. I need to use some elements that don’t really come from the painting world; they don’t specifically come from there or they don’t inhabit it. I need to have all these elements and put them together. They are in some sort of a conflict that will never really end up anywhere. These are not peaceful surfaces. There should be some struggle on the surface and then create some activities for your eyes. I like Yves Klein. Unfortunately he died very young. People asked him “Why do you only have squares? Why the same color and the same shape?” He said exactly the opposite because he did not want any conflict in his work. When you have more than one color, you start a conflict. It is endless. He was against it. He did not want this conflict. He wanted you to enter to the room and not get disturbed. I only agree with him on the shapes. People sometimes ask me why I don’t do robust/rebound canvases. That's because I don’t want these kind of disturbing squares and rectangles. It’s as if you are not thinking that this is a square or this is a rectangle. You don’t pick out anything with your eyes. If you do a circle, you need a good reason to do it. The circle will catch your attention regardless of what you have made and painted. It is rather disturbing, I agree with Klein. He was one of references for me in the way he talks about colors. Because I wanted to do exactly the opposite of what he did.

RES MAY 2008

RES Yves Klein strived not to create any conflict, worked monochrome in order to cleanse himself of conflict while you are trying to create it. On the other hand, Yves Klein came from a much different context, didn’t he? An artist who pursued karate and art simultaneously, indeed one who cared about his success in the former more than his achievements in the latter.


13 RES He was the first artist to open an exhibition without putting anything into the gallery space. It is a way of finding and returning to your self. There are no problems; there is nothing. BM Also he did one more very interesting thing, in music. He did a performance where you shared the room with an orchestra. In the room, the musicians were on the same level with the public. They just played a single tone for 20 minutes. That is interesting, because you enter into that atmosphere. He creates a single tone space. His idea was very sharp and the result was very clear and very sharp. RES In your paintings, you continuously create conflicts and progress as you resolve those conflicts. BM It should be a healthy conflict. It’s not a conflict that aims to produce any winners or losers. It’s rather a healthy one where nobody wins or loses. Tension is a good way to describe this. It needs to be well-finished. It’s a kind of tension that doesn’t really finish. It’s a matter of asymmetry and symmetry. RES Another feeling your paintings inspire is a desire to transcend the borders of the canvas, expand and spread. BM I think that’s because of the beauty, harmony. Yet, this is not an easy beauty. As you also said Beatriz Milhazes, “Peace and Love” Road Station Project in the beginning, you need time when you look Platform for Art London Underground, London, UK, 2005 Vinyl adhesive on aluminum – 19 arcs, 196.8 x 78.7 in / 500 x 250 cm each at my work. At first glance, a wrong idea might come to your mind about the work. You need © Daisy Hutchison and Stephen White, London really time to see all the things that happen on the canvas. Christian Lacroix made an interview with me a couple of years ago for a catalogue. I think it was a very interesting interview. He is a fashion designer who is interested in art. And I’m rather interested in fashion; I use the reference of fashion a lot. He was very surprised when he met me. Because he thought I would be like a very carnival person, an irrational person. He thought my work had a lot of expression, explosion. He said, “How can you control yourself when making all these things happen on painting?” For me it’s nothing about expression or explosion. It’s rather an interesting or different way of seeing things. RES How do you interpret and explain the concepts of process and time in your paintings? BM The first thing is that I need time. I could not be on the road doing my work. Every medium has different possibilities of time and that’s why I wanted to separate my studios. Because collage, painting, computer… they have completely different working schedules. For painting I really need time to make it happen. It’s happening in a good, peaceful, slow way. Introducing new things… Listening to the work… All these require time. Because you need to listen to the canvas, too. You cannot just impose things on

RES MAY 2008

BM Exactly. He was into kung fu. And so he had a very different perspective. He was also a religious person, a Christian.

Beatriz Milhazes, “Guanabara”, Tate Modern Restaurant Project. Tate Modern, London, UK, 2005 Vinyl adhesive on wall. Panel 1: 682.6 x 145.2 in / 17.34 x 3.69 m, panel 2: 453.5 x 145.2 in / 11.52 x 3.69 m © Marcus Leight & Andrew Dunkley, London

the work. The work asks you questions, too. But to listen to it, you need to have time. The collages have a different time schedule because of the materials you use; they have a life of their own. In paintings I create everything. In collages, I have the materials. The materials have their own information. So I need to work with that. There is one aspect: it is much more playful, joyful for me. Because painting is always a kind of suffering: even if you enjoy the work, you have these difficult moments. It’s hard to leave the studio thinking, “Should I go further or not.” With collage, it’s different. Because collage is more about shadows. You cut papers, play with the materials. And I need to have my assistant with me all the time while working on collages. Collage is really hard in that sense. It is a lot of work cutting papers, preparing all that stuff. In that sense, my assistant does much of the work for me. And I make the drawing, the composition. For prints, I work with Jean-Paul Russell of Durham Press in Pennsylvania. Prints are completely a result of this collaboration. I couldn't really do what I have in my mind without him. I depend on him because he is the guy who knows the technique and it’s all about the conversation between us. RES You once said that you "paint the nature of the nature; in this context, I am not interested in Kandinsky but Klimt." It reminds us of a quote from Cezanne: "I am not painting the nature, I paint parallel to the nature." Can you comment on this? BM Nobody paints nature. I paint with nature. Nature is always with me at the studio. RES Gary Hume likes to refer to himself as a "beauty terrorist." Would you personally agree with this statement regarding yourself? RES MAY 2008


15 RES David Reed says "I want to be a bedroom artist." We saw in a magazine that one of your paintings is hung on a wall in Max Hetzler's bedroom. Do you see yourself as a bedroom artist? BM Yes, he has one. But I cannot have my work at home. I don’t like the feeling of living in a studio. RES Now, finally, after all these insights: who is Beatriz Milhazes? BM If you know, tell me. I think I’m all of these together and something more, of course!

Beatriz Milhazes All images Courtesy Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo

RES MAY 2008

BM Many people say “Wow, it’s beautiful,” but on the other hand, it’s not a comfortable beauty. Going to an exhibition and looking at a canvas that I understand is one thing. But if you take one of these paintings and put it into your room, that’s another thing. You start to live with it, which is, in my opinion, more difficult. It’s hard to look at my work, with other artists’ works. Because it takes too much attention in a way. It’s hard to combine it with other artists.


PA T T E R N S A R E all around us. There is scarcely a place that we are safe from them: they are rampant on façade walls, they proliferate in our homes, they shape the language of fashion, they even undermine that exhibition space so intent on neutrality, the frequently disparaged, yet indisputably definitive White Cube. Parallel to the inflation of patterns in design, art and architecture, we want to talk and to write more and more about patterns. In recent years, their origins, their function, their meaning as well as their uses have come in for discussion in the context of various exhibition projects [1], book publications [2], and special magazine editions [3]. Patterns have always been part of our culture. And yet it appears that change is occurring before our very eyes. Not in the patterns as such—they are still based on the same regular sequencing of distinguishable forms. And they still come promising they can reach out into infinity. How they define themselves still works by carefully calculating the relationship between figure and background. And they still run variations on motifs rich in traditions, such as blossoms, cloud bands and fabulous beings or on abstract base patterns like dots and stripes. Change is occurring on a different level: a reevaluation is going on. And it bases itself in cultural politics as well as in economics. There is no way of fully considering both aspects as in any way detached from one another—which should not surprise anyone. You only need to glance back briefly into history to convince yourself that the aspects of technical production and of reception aesthetics have always been correlated in patterns and ornaments [4]. In the course of the so-called Ornament Debate [5], which took place around 1900 predominantly in the German-speaking world, anything decorative, anything hinting at the superfluous, fell under the suspicion of being hopelessly over-ornate knickknackery. That is because there was far more bound up with the condemnation of the decorative—which reached its zenith in 1909 with Adolf Loos’ polemical piece “Ornament and Crime”—than a guide to good taste. First and foremost, it was a matter of posing an ethical-moral problem: how can you recognize the true, good life? Surprisingly, it was, of all people, Adolf Loos, an architect sated by Viennese Art Nouveau, who responded to this question in a good Protestant way. It is in renouncing everything superfluous, so his insight maintained. First and foremost, all decorousness. And for two reasons: on the one hand, because the symbolic language of pattern and ornament is rooted in history, therefore invoking patterns from the past and thereby blocking a promising future. And on the other, because in turning out pattern and ornament you have to plan for an additional production stage, which affects the price of goods.

RES MAY 2008

The bad taste Loos saw as arising from a nostalgic longing was then made responsible for the production of junk. And here we are dealing with practical economic interests. When all was said and


17 So the Protestant work ethic and psychoanalysis forged an inseparable bond: everything that threatened to undermine cultural evolution and working discipline was located on the side of patterns: the instinctual, the non-European, the female, the inferior and the deceptive. And vice versa this means: anyone furnishing their home puristically and following the “less is more” agenda of classic modernism as put into words a decade later, has nothing to hide. Their thinking is as neat and tidy as their homes. With deft irony, Robert Musil put it succinctly in his “The Man without Qualities”: “Modern man is born in a hospital and dies in a hospital, so he should make his home like a clinic” [6]. In a living space cleansed of decoration, instincts are apparently kept within bounds; here desire does not cause the sense to reel: no, here the intellect rules. In this context, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu refers to the concept of “omnis determinatio negatio” [7]. According to him, taste first develops in the form of revulsion, aversion, abhorrence and a deep loathing of the taste of others. As a result, members of the ambitious middle classes, who wished to distinguish themselves demonstrably from petit bourgeois taste, developed strategies to elevate themselves over and above the taste of the under-privileged, those whom Adolf Loos already despised. They rejected floral ornamentation, sofa cushions and knickknacks and they erected a symbolic order of the life ascetic: white walls, tables made of glass and steel, and black leather couches. Well into the 1980s, artists like Anna and Bernhard Blume from Cologne were making use of similar clichés. In their search for the petit-bourgeois residues in their behavior and their souls, they crammed themselves into the uniforms of the housewife and the local worthy. In 1982, the boot of their car filled with props, they repeatedly drove out into the Brühl forest near Cologne and pulled on dresses with floral patterns and highland check jackets. In order to match the type of Rhenish housewife she used to meet in the street all the time, the artist Anna Blume also donned wigs, earrings, handbags in conservative taste, and high-heeled shoes. Thus equipped, Anna and Bernhard Blume had no qualms in performing what 1980s Germany regarded as a clear sign of smoothly functioning family life: the Sunday stroll in the woods. The patterns on the industrious housewife’s dress bloomed luxuriously. Anna Blume remembers: “Before we started working together I was already in search of an artistic approach to finding an optical and sensual visualization of the situation I shared with housewives all over the world. Every day I went shopping I took quick, secret photos of my ’sister sufferers’. I was above all fascinated by the brash ‘tattoos’, all those dress patterns and ornaments attached to women’s bodies which had been deformed by age and work. Particularly women of the older generation show a preference for splashy patterns made of iridescent blossom and

RES MAY 2008

done, people still believed at the beginning of the 20th century that you could only secure the European predominance on the world market with high quality, innovative products—keywords: “high class German workmanship”—but not with overpriced, inferior goods. Consequently, Loos only granted those who, in his eyes, were incapable of strategic-economic thinking—children, women and non-European primitive peoples, like those of Papua New Guinea—the right to decorate their environment and their bodies. These people stood, according to Loos, on the lowest step of cultural development. The citizen who might be striving after higher things, would, however, have to restrict himself to what was essential. Whoever succumbed to decorative urges revealed that they had no self-control. In other words: if you decorate your home, you admit to yourself and others that you cannot control your instincts.

floral and abstract motifs. Perhaps to compensate for how the body withers and loses shape. But it is exactly these gloriously pollenatory patterns which clearly strike me as ‘intuitive’ self-dramatisations of an uncomprehended subjugation” [8].

Anna and Bernhard Blume Waldeslust from the series Im Wald, 1982 78.7 x 49.6 in / 200 x 126 cm Courtesy the artists

The subversive effect from Anna and Bernhard Blume’s artistic routines consisted of using a comic-ironical role for creating images of the very thing that had been weeded out in both better-off social classes and in the context of art: patterns on pinafores, tablecloths and headscarves. Today, however, artists have recourse to established patterns for quite different reasons. That is because patterns are not an embarrassing index for a narrow-minded, regressive way of thinking anymore. On the contrary: Wim Delvoye conjures up geometrical patterns, like the sort of thing we are familiar with from the floors of churches or from slices of sausage. Philip Taaffe celebrates the unending interchange of figure and ground, where he takes inspiration from patterns traditionally residing in Islam, and Jochen Twelker constructs pictorial spaces, which owe their origins to stripes on shirts, blouses and T-shirts. Indeed, artists are even rediscovering wallpaper, which has long seemed the by-word for embarrassment, as it represented, after all, patterning and covering for your wall in one, hence the quintessence of lies and deception. In the footsteps of Andy Warhol and Yayoi Kusama, who were already celebrating wallpaper in the 1960s, they do not create pictures in the shape of three dimensional, restricted objects anymore, but cover whole walls with gaudy motifs.

RES MAY 2008

If these motifs, seen superficially, do nothing more than appeal to the senses, then they are, nevertheless, not without purpose. Let us now have a look at the work “Berliner Tapete” (Berlin Wallpaper), developed by artist Stefanie Bürkle in 2003. Following the decision by political authorities to pull down the “Palast der Republik,” a relic from GDR times situated in the heart of Berlin, Stefanie Bürkle set about preserving a piece of history in danger of disappearing. She found a way to at least ensure that the pattern of the copper-glass façade continues to exist by reaching back to photographs and subjecting them to a rapport. Setting out from this pattern, she produced rolls of “palace wallpaper” and papered one entire wall of each of a selection of offices belonging to well-known Berlin


19 RES MAY 2008 Jochen Twelker, Chinatown, 2003 Watercolor on paper, 21.2 x 28.7 in / 54 x 73 cm Courtesy Š Jochen Twelker / Thomas Rehbein Galerie, Cologne and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Jochen Twelker, The Excursion, 1997/2000 Oil on canvas, 114.1 x 681.1 in / 290 x 1.730 cm Courtesy © Jochen Twelker / Thomas Rehbein Galerie, Cologne and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

RES MAY 2008


RES MAY 2008


Jochen Twelker, The Fans, 2004 Oil on canvas, 86.6 x 78.7 in / 220 x 200 cm Courtesy © Jochen Twelker / Thomas Rehbein Galerie, Cologne and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

RES MAY 2008


23 In fact, taking wallpaper as an example makes clear how it has meanwhile become easy to refute Adolf Loos’ supposition that pattern and ornament cause wasted material and productivity. That’s because producing wallpaper in these digital days has become quicker, simpler and cheaper. Specialist knowledge is not necessary any more, and making it by hand even less so. Individual wallpaper publishing has meanwhile become common everywhere, and that means all you need to do is scan in a motif and have it reproduced digitally. A computer program then calculates the rapport. All you need now is an efficient printer and the wallpaper is done. It can be produced in any desired amount and can be printed in any country around the world, provided that the data is available and the printer cooperative. The border-hopping, luxuriating principle of patterns has long since migrated into ways of producing and distributing wallpapers. That is something you can observe on lamps and materials created by Tord Boontje, for instance, or Stephen Burks. The reason being, it is no problem nowadays to generate decorative elements digitally via a design program. They are etched out by computer-controlled machines, cut with water jet, engraved with lasers or knitted three-dimensionally. However, how do things look in the area of reception aesthetics? Are patterns, as corollary to the previous enthusiasm for the ascetic life, now embodying the promise of affluence, irresponsibility and indulgence in color and form? An index for a hedonistic approach to life? Not really. It seems to me much rather that the enthusiasm for patterns has got something to do with the way we are used to seeing things today. Patterns are, no doubt, the ideal pictorial elements where it is a question of the big picture. Because details are seldom registered consciously and the overall impression dominates, Ernst Gombrich talks about an “economy of vision” [9] in the context of patterns. Patterns suit a quick, casual, superficial glance. Gombrich justifiably defines patterns as the “unregarded art” [10] which is only rarely considered with the same attention we devote to a classically structured painting. So, patterns

RES MAY 2008

personalities. Taking photos of the people who work there, having them pose in front of this particular wall, is an integral part of the project. Gradually, a kind of photo album develops, which brings together faces of the city—faces of people, to be precise, who are willing to take part in an art project that deals with a difficult chapter in German history: with the way we treat the architectural and symbolic remains of that German state, that had in 1989 gone down without any fanfare in the competition between two political systems. Is the Palast der Republik falling victim to ecological or to economic necessities, to the desire for a reckoning late in the day or to the ‘victor mentality’ of the West? Let us look at another region of the world. Parastou Forouhar, an artist who was born in Teheran and now lives in Germany, has also designed a wallpaper pattern. At first glance, this wallpaper appears cheerful and decorative. Until you step closer and look at the motifs in isolation. You are looking at an infinite sequence of scenes of torture, all neatly aligned, but no less horrific for all that. With her work, Parastou Forouhar makes reference to the high regard still afforded to patterns and ornaments in her home country. At the same time she indicates a gruesome message, which is an integral part of the pattern: the individual does not count, he or she has to become part of the whole. So for her, the pattern speaks simultaneously of beauty and of the terrible—it is an ambivalent sign of Persian tradition. Paul Simmons, a designer and co-founder of Timorous Beasties studio in Glasgow, pursues a similar angle. His wallpaper “Glasgow Toile” follows examples from the 18th century. However, the village backdrops acquire an unexpected form of topicality: big city life has arrived here, with supermarkets, high-rises, women pushing prams or junkies lying on park benches. Thus the bucolic spectacle of the preindustrial world runs up against the anonymous, cynical urban culture of the post-industrial world.


1 “Office of Thomas Krüger, President of the Federal Agency for Civic Education; Wallpaper since 09.10.2003” 2 “Office of Hortensia Völckers, Artistic Director of German Federal Cultural Foundation; Wallpaper from 29.10.2003 until 12.11.2003”


3 “Office of Klaus Biesenbach, at that time Artistic Director of Kunstwerke (KW) Berlin; Wallpaper from 29.10.2003 until 06.11.2003” 4 “Hoyer Schindele Hirschmüller, Architecture Office, Berlin; Wallpaper since 24.09.2003”


5 “Christiane von Gilsa, Director of Kunstbank, the Gallery run by the Senat of Cultural Affaires, Berlin; Wallpaper from 04.03.2005 until 01.04.2005” 6 “Study of Daniel Barenboim, Director of Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin; Wallpaper since 11.11.2003” 7 “Study of Matthias Flügge, at that time Vice president of Akademie der Künste, Berlin; Wallpaper from 07.08.2003 until 08.08.2004”


All Courtesy Gallery Vero Wollmann © Stefanie Bürkle, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

6 4


RES MAY 2008


25 RES MAY 2008 Parastou Forouhar Top Thousandandone Day, 2007 Wallpaper, Brooklyn Museum, NY Left Thousandandone Day, 2007 Digital Drawing Courtesy © Parastou Forouhar

are the ideal “pictorial program” for users, who sit most of the day in front of a computer and let digital images roll over them more or less indifferently. But are they then nothing but pure superficiality? As projects by Stefanie Bürkle or Parastou Forouhar can show, they are well suited to transmitting profound political messages. Yes, they even have a further, incalculable advantage: in the postindustrial age, when master narratives have become suspect, they present themselves as a welcome instrument for generating narrative structures. Since they have for a century had the reputation of epitomizing lies, falsehood and concealment, any claim to authenticity is foreign to them. They aggressively acknowledge they are stereotypical, repeatable as often as you want, well ordered and historically codified several times over. This is exactly why artistic strategies can be developed through reflecting back on traditional patterns, in order to trick out the apparently neutral White Cube with masks from history. It is, namely, unmistakable how artists exploit an existing repertoire, and be it anonymous creations too like floral or geometrical patterns, reproducible without copyright fees and comprehensible across all frontiers of language and culture. Artists particularly like motifs evincing national or local traditions. It seems to me as if, in our globalized world, where the same goods circulate consistently through any given location and the same brands promise total happiness, patterns hold out the hope that some national identity, local color and character is still there. Whether it is Stefanie Bürkle, Elke Haarer, Parastou Forouhar or Paul Simmons, they are all reaching back to patterns anchored firmly in the tradition of their respective homelands and already possessing their own history. And it is one that does not need inventing or spelling out, because everyone is familiar with it—at least, everyone in the know is, which means people versed in local traditions. Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht has defined such intersecting processes in politics, commerce and culture as “paradoxical convergences” [11]. As he has been able to illustrate through the example of the EU, trying on the level of the administration to establish uniformity has meant symptoms of fatigue spreading among the citizens and even resistance taking shape. That resistance, according to Gumbrecht, finds expression in the return of multiple national sentiments and in the tendency to barricade yourself behind your regional cultures and languages. So the return of patterns could well have something to do with the paradoxical desire on the part of artists and their admirers to be present on the international stage but at the same time to insist on your own ways and to want to retain your distinctive local characteristics.

RES MAY 2008

REFERENCES [1] Ornament und Abstraktion. Kunst der Kulturen, Moderne und Gegenwart im Dialog, edited by Markus Brüderlin. Exhibition Catalogue (Riehen/Basel: Fondation Beyerler, 2001); Ornament und Versprechen, edited by Johann-Karl Schmidt. Exhibition Catalogue (Stuttgart, 2001); Patterns and Decoration: An Ideal Vision in American Art, 1975-1985 (Hudson River Museum, January 2008). [2] “Lachlan Blackley”, Wallpaper, London 2006; Drusilla Cole, 1000 Muster: aus allen Epochen und Kulturen (Bern ,2005); Drusilla Cole, New Surface Design (London, 2007); Edgar Lein (ed.) Das große Lexikon der Ornamente. Herkunft, Entwicklung, Bedeutung (Leipzig, 2004); John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity (Cambridge, 2006); Farshid Moussavi/Michael Kubo (ed.), The Function of Ornament (Barcelona, 2006); Petra Schmidt/Annette Tietenberg/Ralf Wollheim, Patterns in Design, Art and Architecture (Basel, 2005). [3] Archithese. Zeitschrift und Schriftenreihe für Architektur, H. 2, 2004; form. Zeitschrift für Gestaltung, H. 197, 2004; du. Zeitschrift für Kultur, H. 782, 2007; werk, bauen + wohnen, H. 11, 2007; Detail, H. 12, 2007. [4] Pattern and ornament are not always rigorously differentiated in the histories of architecture and art. A current definition runs: the ornament is something added subsequently, an application, as you find in the area of sculptural decoration on buildings, whilst the pattern engages with the load-bearing substance in an indissoluble unity. [5] See Isabelle Frank/Freia Hartung, Die Rhetorik des Ornaments (Munich, 2001); Maria Ocón Fernandez, Ornament und Moderne. Theoriebildung und Ornamentdebatte im deutschen Architekturdiskurs (1850-1939) (Berlin, 2004). [6] Robert Musil, Man without Qualities (New York :Capricorn Books, 1965), p.16.


27 Annette Tietenberg is professor of art history at the University of Art in Braunschweig, Germany. Modes of cultural production that combine theory and practice are central to Annette Tietenberg’s work approach. Among the fields of research with which she is currently preoccupied are the relationship between art and design, concepts of artistic work, the aesthetic, social and political possibilities of curatorial work and the implications of globalization for the cultural sphere. She initiated exhibitions, amongst them: "Frankfurter Kreuz. Transformations of everyday life in contemporary art" at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt/Main (2001), "Joan Jonas. Performance-Video-Installation" (2001) and "Office Hours“ (2005) at the NGBK Berlin.

Jochen Twelker, The Painter, 2003 Watercolor on paper 28.7 x 21.2 in / 73 x 54 cm Courtesy © Jochen Twelker / Thomas Rehbein Galerie, Cologne and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

RES MAY 2008

[7] Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction. A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, translated by Richard Nice (Boston: Harvard University Press), p.110. [8] Anna Blume, “No Message, Utopia Perhaps? Replies to Questions by Hans-Joachim Lenger”, in: Anna und Bernhard Blume, Transsubstanz und Küchenkoller, edited by Carl Haenlein, Exhibition Catalogue (Hannover: Kestner-Gesellschaft, 1996), p. 147-150. [9] Ernst H. Gombrich, The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art (London: The Phaidon Press, 1979), p. 95. [10] Gombrich, Sense of Order, p. 116. [11] Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht, “Das Phänomen paradoxaler Konvergenz”, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 18, 2007 (our translation).


KENAN ERATALAY I FIRST MET Ghada Amer in December of 2007 when I visited her studio in New York City. We talked for about one hour about art, NYC, and RES Art World / World Art. I asked her if I could interview her for RES and she agreed. Then we made an appointment for March 3, 2008. When I went back to her studio for the interview she was working as usual. She had just come back from Korea from the opening of her exhibition. We talked for almost two hours. She is a really down-to-earth woman with her fears, angers, political views, looking at world issues and of course at the art world. KENAN ERATALAY I want to start with your very early years, how everything got started, just for human interest. GHADA AMER I moved to Nice, France, with my parents in 1974 when I was 11 years old. My father was a diplomat and both of my parents were working on their PhDs. My father studied law and my mother did chemistry. I grew up in Southern France. As you can see, I did not grow up in artistic environment but I always liked drawing. Even when we were living in Cairo I drew cartoons. That is something I have always enjoyed very much—the colors, drawings etc. I liked sports, too. But when we came to France I hated the art classes because they would tell you what to do. I used to draw things at home, but I did something else in art class. They used to give assignments and you had to follow the rules and do what they asked you to do. I was drawing freely and with lots of colors, so much so that I had paint all over my face. Same thing for music classes. All the artistic instruction was terrible in France. It was so bad that when I was 14 or 15 I decided not to take art any longer, I wanted science; actually I wanted to be a mathematician. I went to science classes so I did not have to take art. But I took art as an elective, not for credit, more like hobby. I was allowed to go to art school only during my last year. I did not take any art exams and I told my parents I might choose art for credit. Even my art teacher told me that I could not be an artist and I told her that I did not want to. Since I did not have to take art exams, I was free to do whatever I wanted to. At that time, I did not even know that there was the possibility to become an artist.

RES MAY 2008

I finished school when I was 17 years old. I always looked like a child and I was a year early to go to university, but I did anyway. I wanted to be a mathematician, you remember? It was a big mistake to go to university that young and I went into depression. It was a very severe one. I just could not walk or enter the university building. I did not know what was going on; I was frustrated and could not tell my parents either. Eventually it got so bad I was in sick in bed for one year. My parents said it was OK and I turned to art again and it saved my life. I was not going to school for a while, staying at home, just drawing and painting. I was drawing cartoons and coloring them and did a little bit of sewing, too. Then


31 KE Now you were an artist in Paris. Please tell me about your early works and exhibitions during those years. GA I had a couple of exhibitions. I was not a hit at the time. It was difficult for me. When I sold a painting I was happy. I was selling pieces, but very cheaply. I do not think people really got it, not the art world at least. When I did my first show here in New York in 1997 people liked it and people talked about it, but nobody bought anything. I only started to sell well in 1999. In 1998, I discovered the fashion magazine “Venus”; in German it is called “Burda”. That magazine had charts that told you how to make dresses and things like that. But in Egypt they changed those charts, dresses were longer, and they added veils. By then, my parents had gone back to Cairo and I was visiting them during vacations. Every time I went back I saw more women wearing veils and Islamic dresses. I do not know why, but I bought this magazine and started doing things with those charts—cutting them in half, changing them etc. I did this piece of wood board with two threads, with very small patterns, using this magazine and I added the sentence “love has no end.” I have an exhibition right now at the Brooklyn Museum and most of my early works, the Venus magazine and this “love has no end” piece is there right now. I think with the culture I grew up with and my Western identity, I found a womanly tool in this magazine, embroidery, a language which belonged to women. So I chose it to express myself this way when addressing issues concerning the women of the world. I am not fighting for women’s right or such things in a political sense; I am just expressing things about women. KE When did you find your way in painting? GA I wanted to find a way how I could paint. After I discovered embroidery, the question came to mind how to paint with it. So it took me from 1988 to 1993 until I had found a way to paint. In 1991 and 1992, I was only drawing and I was frustrated. I was drawing images of women ironing or doing other domestic chores. It was frustrating because those were not paintings, just drawings, and it was not yet fully what I was looking for and I did not like it. Well, I liked those pieces that showed people who ironed. They

RES MAY 2008

my parents said: You know there is an art school. They had friends there. I agreed and went to art school and took the exam but did not succeed and was denied admission. I was so disappointed, but I also liked the school very much. Then I went back to university to study languages, English and German. I did not enjoy it too much, but it was very easy. In the meantime, I started to inquire about art schools and I learned that there was something called night classes in art, so I went. Then I found out that there were actually two night classes and the second one was to prepare students for the entrance exam. I took both classes and told my parents that I wanted to take the entrance exam again, but they did not want me to because they were afraid that I would be disappointed again. So I was angry. But then, in my third year at university, they sent me to England. So I went and found out that there was an art community in London. It was perfect. Everything could not have been better than this preparation— that I had my mind set on actually becoming an artist. I found a place where you could take art classes and spent lots of time with the artists in that community. I was teaching high-school French as a requirement, but afterwards I would go straight to the art classes to work on drawing, sculpture, painting, silkscreen… I tried many things and hung out with the artists. After that I flew back to France and took the exam without telling my parents. I told them only after I was accepted. By that time, I was 21 years old. That is how I started art school in 1984. I went to art school for five years and a year later I went to Paris to the Institute d’Art Plastiques for another 5 years. So between 1991 and 1996, I was in Paris.

Ghada Amer, The Dance, 2004 Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas 84 x 76 in / 213.4 x 193 cm © Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

RES MAY 2008


33 RES MAY 2008 Top Green Paradise, 2008 Embroidery and gel medium on canvas 36 x 42 in / 91.4 x 106.7 cm Left And the Beast, 2004 Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas 79 x 66 in / 200.7 x 167.6 cm © Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Ghada Amer, Princesses, 2005 Ink, crayon and embroidery on paper 22.5 x 28.5 in / 57.2 x 72.4 cm Š Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

RES MAY 2008


35 RES MAY 2008 Ghada Amer, Checkers, 2006 Embroidery on canvas 79 x 66 in / 162.6 x 182.9 cm © Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Ghada Amer, The Bride of the Dead Sea—RFGA, 2007 Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas 64 x 72 in / 162.6 x 182.9 cm © Reza Farkhondeh / Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

RES MAY 2008


37 RES MAY 2008 Ghada Amer, Happily Ever After, 2005 Installation view © Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

were also submissive but I needed to find a contrast of image of a much more striking feature—which is why I chose the pornographic images. But at the same time, I chose porn images because things have a lot of reasons to be. There is not one reason alone, especially with me. KE How does the pornography in your paintings affect the exhibitions you have in different countries, especially in the Middle East? GA When I was in Istanbul for the 1995 Biennial, I had one piece. I was so angry because they gave me a very small, hidden room, so nobody saw the work. I am sure they were scared. The curator was very afraid of the reaction from the Turkish people, although when I did my show in 2000 at the Istanbul Modern Museum people loved it. The same thing happened in Egypt. I opened an exhibition in a private gallery on the second floor, kind of secluded from people. I did some small works too, thinking that collectors from Cairo might buy them. None of the newspapers mentioned the exhibition because they were afraid even to write the word “sex.” Only foreigners living in Cairo showed interest in the exhibition. There were a few sales and I was surprised, but then I found out that foreigners had bought those pieces. I had made some special prices for that exhibition and later I was so angry for doing that. KE During your early years in New York, how did you manage to get by? GA I was a high-school teacher for French for a while, just to make a living. Then parents complained to the school administration about the kind of paintings I was doing and they fired me. I was selling in France and that supported me to an extent. But I was at the right place at the right time because at that time it was in fashion not to be white, to be a woman, to be from another culture, periphery culture etc. I believe the art world was dying in the West; they needed some fresh air. 10 years ago, white male Western artists were doing the same things over and over again and nobody cared. But nobody took a woman or black artist seriously either. KE So you are saying that you are Egyptian, a female Muslim artist from a different culture and people were looking for a change? GA Yes, absolutely and I fit the spot. KE Do you think women artists have less of a chance to be recognized? GA I think collectors do not take women artists seriously. You can look at the market, exhibitions or Sotheby’s. I would look at Sotheby’s to make the estimation rather then at the art world. Who sells for the top dollar? Men! And museums buy very few works from women artists. I do not know, maybe they like men’s art better. I personally do not believe that there is such a thing as men’s art or women’s art. KE Your paintings are erotic, even pornographic, and also include prominent lesbian scenes. How do people react to that?

RES MAY 2008

GA I do not know, they like it I believe. I take my images from porn magazines intended for men and I try to make them erotic and beautiful and so what I do is a trick. If you look at those magazines, there are a lot of lesbian scenes. They excite men and they express pleasure. When people look at them they think: That it is beautiful, but oh my god! What am I looking at! I should not find this beautiful. That is


39 KE Tell me about Reza Farkhondeh and how he got involved in your work. GA Reza is a business and art partner. I met him in 1998 and he was so depressed that he could not get out of bed. I think when I saw him I remembered my years in Nice after high-school, being in bed and depressed. I took him to the studio and basically I took care of him. He had always been a very good friend and I was very sad to see him like that. We shared the studio and studied together. He stopped painting for a while and he was very weak for a long time. I was doing my canvases and paintings, and one time when I came back from a trip, I found my canvases were all painted over by him. I started to do my work on these painted canvases. That is how RFGA started. I have to explain this carefully because it is rather complicated. We do not talk about what we are going to do. He paints the background first in whichever way he wants to. Sometimes just black, sometimes with a combination of light colors, whatever. On that background I plan my painting, drawing and stitching. We developed a kind of weird language; we just do not talk about the painting. This is very important. Sometimes when I finish the painting or while work is still in progress, he comes in and puts some colors down, too. In collaboration paintings, basically I want to work on his paintings and he wants to paint over my works. For example he was doing a watercolor painting, landscapes, his style of work, when I saw the front, I asked him to give it to me and he did, and I did something else over it. In the beginning, he did not want me to tell anybody that he was painting my canvases. I do not know why, but I was just happy because he was doing something. Afterwards I told him that I had to reveal who was painting my canvases because he was not my assistant or anything, and he was more than a contributor. He said no, he did not care and he never wanted to sign those paintings. So I decided to label them RFGA. Only in 2004, he allowed me to tell people. At first, people did not understand what RFGA was and why we did it, but it was OK. It was a very nice path because it made my work evolve and made my work richer and gave it greater depth. That is what I called collaboration. KE Do you have a general agreement on colors, how colors affect your planning of the painting? And why do you leave loose ends of threads on the surface? GA The only thing that I came up with is that there could not be any strong colors. In my paintings if the background is too strong I get a problem with stitching. I used pale stitching when the background was too strong, white on a black background for example, but it was difficult. So we decided to choose light colors in the background. The threads are not actually loose; we glue them to the surface. They are my paint drippings. KE Do you try to hide your erotic figures behind those drippings or try to prevent them from being too obvious?

RES MAY 2008

exactly where I position myself. I think for me sexuality is beautiful. It is OK to be sexual but in the whole society, in the whole world sexuality has been forbidden, especially in the Muslim world. For me it is a very important point in the development of a human being that sexuality is ignored or presented as not important. But it is super-important. People should be able to live out their sexuality; that would make everybody happy. We talk about mathematics, ethics, we talk about things that are too serious, but we never talk about sexuality in a way—or maybe we talk too much about it, not in a good way. I have enjoyed drawing nude female bodies since art school. Please do not get me wrong, I am not a lesbian and I am not fighting for gay rights, I am not into those issues, I just do my paintings. Maybe you could say that I am fighting for women’s rights, but not just women of the Middle East, all women’s rights.

Ghada Amer, Grey Kiss—RFGA, 2003 Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas 50 x 46 in / 127 x 116.8 cm © Reza Farkhondeh / Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

RES MAY 2008


41 KE How many paintings do you do in one year and do you sell all of them? GA I can do around 20 pieces altogether, sometimes only 10, big or small. The big ones sometimes take around two months to finish. I travel a lot, unfortunately. I keep some of my paintings. For example the exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum right now is done with my collection. 85 percent of the works in that exhibition belong to me. The ones I keep usually are something new or take so much time to finish. But if a museum wants to buy one of these, I will be glad to give them up. I have some works at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum—not too many, really. I also do projects or installations like the garden at the Venice Biennial or “Happily Ever After.” I also did a project in a college cafeteria and they served food and coffee in disposable wear with “terrorism is not indexed in Arabic language” written on it. It is true. I also did two big cakes in the shape of George Bush and Tony Blair and people ate them. Especially gardens take a lot of time but I really like to do them—thanks to Rosa Martinez who supports me with these projects. KE Thank you very much for your time. Kenan Eratalay is a professor at Hacettepe University, Ankara. For twenty years he has been interested in modern and contemporary art in Europe and the United States. He has been on the organizing committees of several art fairs in Turkey and is a co-founder of Contemporary Art Foundation in Ankara. He lives and works both in Ankara and Istanbul.

Ghada Amer, Snow White’s Stepmothers, 2005 Embroidery and ink on paper 22 x 28.5 in / 55.9 x 72.4 cm © Ghada Amer. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

RES MAY 2008

GA The first intention was something like that, but now not really.


HANS ULRICH OBRIST HUO I understand you are now working on shorter texts? MICHAEL BAXANDALL Shorter texts and not art criticism. HUO And what are these texts about? MB There’s some fiction; I wrote a novel. There are one or two memoirs, that sort of thing. HUO And the memoir is a book about your life? MB No, it’s about other people and it’s about the nature of memory. Michael Baxandall

HUO And who are the people? MB About a dozen people, most of them not art historians or artists. It keeps me occupied. The theme is the disappearance of people; the way one can’t really visualize people who are dead. HUO How one cannot remember them? MB Not properly. HUO Even closest relatives, like parents. MB Yes. HUO Or grandparents. I recently tried to remember my grandfather and it is very difficult. MB One has some scheme but if one tries to remember things one is not surprised. In actual life one is surprised. HUO In memory one isn’t surprised. MB No. It’s a sort of sanded down thing. Anyway, it’s not very interesting to other people but it’s interesting to me.

RES MAY 2008

HUO I’m sure it is fascinating because memory seems such an important topic. I was speaking to the


43 MB Yes. HUO You agree? MB Yes. Memory is so important to everything one does and it’s a very confused notion. HUO As I work mostly in museums, I am obviously very interested in your experience of having worked in a museum. You were first a keeper, I think, at the V&A, and a curator. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about your experience in the museum world and how you feel it changes and how you see the state of museums now in the twenty-first century, its future and its dangers. MB I was only in the museum for four years so it’s a rather external view and also I was in a museum which was, at that time, less interested in exhibitions than in conservation and a certain sort of education. So I’m not sure how representative my experience was. I found the time to do my own work on German sculpture and it was a splendid opportunity. So this is a bit separate for me from any ideas about what museums now should do. My feeling about museums now, the sort of basic museum in my mind, is an anthropological museum and it’s a question of what curators can usefully do there. My feeling is that what would be useful is if museums fed public curiosity about why people wanted to do these strange things and not instruct people but construct an ambience where people actively think about what was intended. My personal feeling is that people, including myself, can’t avoid curiosity about the intention behind objects and they can’t avoid evaluations. And these two things coming together become very powerful. So I suppose I’m arguing for making intriguing ambiences and leaving people alone. HUO So not to over-explain everything in a didactic way, where museums almost become like ski pistes. MB Exactly like that. HUO Do you have a model of this kind of museum which you find appropriate? What would be, then, your favourite museum? MB I like anthropological museums. I like the Smithsonian. One of the things that makes it difficult for me to talk about museums is that I am, in a way, a third-generation museum person reacting against museums. My father was a museum curator, my grandfather was a museum curator, so I suppose I feel museums should not be manipulative. That’s my view and this applies to art as well. HUO One of my favourite museums is also the anthropological museum in Mexico by Ramirez Vazquez. Have you seen that? MB No, I haven’t. HUO That is another amazing museum. On the subject of anthropology, a few years ago I interviewed Clifford Geertz, so I know him well. He reacted very strongly to your book Painting and Experience in

RES MAY 2008

historian Eric Hobsbawm last week and he was telling me that we should stage a protest against forgetting.

Fifteenth Century Italy (1972) and wrote about the chapter on “The Period Eye”; and so did Bourdieu. I was wondering if, in relation to Clifford Geertz and anthropology, you could talk a little bit about this because I find it very fascinating that your work as an art historian has radiated into other disciplines such as anthropology and sociology. MB I don’t know how far it has but I think my starting point for working out was anthropology that I had read about. I had, at that time, friends who were anthropologists, so I learnt quite a lot from them about what to read and so on. This was in the 1950s and 1960s, which was a brave, colorful time for anthropology. The difference between the French anthropologists and the Americans was very noticable and I think it was an instructive tension between the two schools. Later, of course, there was a merging, but the moment before they merged was far more interesting. I think that had a lot to do with the sort of art history I wanted to do. HUO So were you more on the French side or on the American side? Or a third way? MB No. I think I would say that I was rather more on the American side, mainly because there were a lot of French people I didn’t know about sufficiently. HUO So Melville Herskowitz was important for you? MB Yes. HUO Can you talk about Melville? Because there is an amnesia here again about Melville Herskowitz; nobody in the newer generation really remembers him. I think it would be interesting to recall that influence. MB Well, he interested me because of his willingness to think about how visual perception is shaped by cultural things. It was really that that most interested me. I should explain, maybe, that my first book was about how language affects the way one sees art, specifically Latin. So that brought me up against various kinds of problems in American anthropology because one had to avoid what was called “whorfism.” Whorfism pushed a very radical linguistic determinism which was, I thought, obviously not sustainable. That had an effect, too. But I love going to anthropological museums, particularly old ones where they haven’t really written labels. I have written a paper called “Exhibiting Intention.” It’s in a volume published by the Smithsonian Press and I tried to lay out this position there. The collection is called “Exhibiting Culture” (1991). HUO When I interviewed Clifford Geertz we spoke about that idea of the period eye and the period eye as opposed to the zeitgeist. I think that is something which Gombrich misunderstood, because Gombrich mistook your period eye notion for zeitgeist. Nowadays we have so many references to zeitgeist in the media; it would be very interesting to hear from you the difference between period eye and zeitgeist.

RES MAY 2008

MB It has caused a lot of misunderstanding. I think period eye is a very modest, limited claim and it is to do with skills. The period eye is constituted by the skills of discrimination one acquires by living in a culture, including perceiving the art in that culture, but it is totally different from zeitgeist and has none of the theoretical substructure. That certainly was much influenced by anthropology after


45 HUO It is particularly important to make that point now again, I think; it is very necessary to mark this difference. I also wanted to ask you about geology. I was very fascinated that in the book Painting and Experience there is a chapter called “Conditions of Trade” which is mentioned here in the book that Adrian Rifkin edited, “About Michael Baxandall” (1999). In this chapter you evoke a series of geological terms to talk about society and painting. I am particularly interested in this definition of painting being a deposit of a social relationship. Could you tell me a little about these geological analogies and references and the notion of painting as a deposit of a social relationship? MB I hadn’t realised I used geological notions. No doubt I did but I think that is really a matter of the convenience of making a point in language rather than a theoretical thing. I don’t think I use geological metaphors so much. The remark about deposit and social relationship can be taken in that sense, certainly, but I don’t think I have anything useful to say about that because I hadn’t been aware of it. HUO You mentioned the influence from anthropology and how important Melville Herskowitz was to you. I was wondering, in terms of art history, who your heroes and your influences have been. I read your famous sentence, “I would like to do Roger Fry again but after nature.” I wanted to ask if you could explain this famous sentence to me and perhaps tell me a little bit about to which extent Roger Fry or Clive Bell were important for your work. MB Well, that was a joke! I can’t read Roger Fry now, but Roger Fry was very big in the ambience I grew up in, so I suppose if there is any sense in what I said in that joke it is that I would like to do art criticism which is more generally historical than Roger Fry but at the same time is more perceptive about aesthetic matters. So it’s a matter of drawing Roger Fry and a museum cataloguer together. HUO To unite it, somehow. MB Yes. HUO And what about Clive Bell? What is the importance of Clive Bell, because he is another English art historian? MB I don’t know about Clive Bell. I’ve read very little Clive Bell and I don’t quite know what I’ve read. HUO So that hasn’t been an influence. When you started as a young art historian, did you have heroes, people who influenced you from the past in terms of art history? MB Yes. HUO Because again, in terms of memory, I think it is a very important issue. MB Yes. Panofsky. Wölfflin. The obvious people. But I didn’t start off as a young art historian; I started off as a young literary person. At university I did literature.

RES MAY 2008

Herskowitz. But people were very quick to think if one said that people in a culture derive visual skills from that culture that this is a zeitgeist claim. I never persuaded Gombrich.

HUO And when did this transition happen? Can you tell me the moment when you decided to make that move into art history? How did it happen? Was it a sudden decision or a transitory decision? MB I went to Italy for a year after Cambridge to work on the literature of the Italian Renaissance and I became very interested in the art, painting, particularly the fifteenth century. After spending a year in Italy I went to Switzerland to learn German. Then I went to Munich and in Munich I had my first real experience of art history. HUO So like Marcel Duchamp, you went to Munich. MB Yes. I think I went to Munich because I thought it would be an interesting city, not because of art history. HUO When you were in Italy that was obviously the foundation for your book “Giotto and the Orators” (1986). Molly Nesbitt told me that you had this incredible command of classical knowledge and then mobilized this classical knowledge into a rhetoric of gesture. I was wondering if you could explain to me how this happened and how that command of classical knowledge got transformed and mobilized into a rhetoric of gesture. MB I don’t really know. I don’t think I can give an answer for that. I had an old-fashioned education of the classical kind, Greek and Latin, at school. At Cambridge I studied English Literature and I suppose that’s it. I am not quite clear what is meant by gesture. Rhetoric, I was very interested in and gesture, too, but I don’t think it was specifically classical gesture. HUO Different gesture. MB Yes. HUO What about Aby Warburg? There has just been a new book by Georges Didi Huberman on Aby Warburg, who is very much revisited right now in the early twenty-first century. MB Yes. HUO So I was wondering if you could speak a little about your view on Aby Warburg. MB Aby Warburg is hugely impressive. When I went to the Warburg Institute, the first job I was given was to collect photographs for the Italian edition of the collected works of Warburg and I was told to take the time to read Warburg, which I did. It is hugely impressive. It is elusive and that is one reason why people are writing about him now. HUO So you think that the notion of the elusive makes it very contemporary. MB You could say so, yes. And different people see different things in him, partly because he never simplified his view into a sort of crystallized form; it’s fluid.

RES MAY 2008

HUO We started this interview talking about memory. Is there anything in relation to memory that we


47 MB I think it would be a matter of the limitations of memory; that is to say, what one can retrieve is very little and very crude. That is one thing that comes out of Warburg’s work on the use of classical motif in later art. But I find I would never write anything about Warburg because whatever one wrote would be setting up one reading of his work and it seems to me a value of his work is that lots of people can go in and develop different lines. HUO So is that almost a notion of ambiguity as a quality of the work? MB Ambiguity in the sense of having various legitimate meanings, not one. HUO A book which is read by many artists and architects right now is your “Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures” (1985) where you actually talk a lot about the social and cultural circumstances which enter the examination or explanation of pictures. Could you talk a little bit about the “Patterns of Intention” book and how in relation to that book one could understand your notion of ostensive criticism? MB To take ostensive first, it is a point about language that when one says blue the precise quality blue is a matter of relating the category, the concept, to what one is referring to. I could not describe that blue. On the other hand, I can say things about the effect of that blue by matching concepts with that paint over there. That’s what ostensive means: it simply means that what one says takes meaning from what it refers to. HUO So that is a definition of the ostensive. MB Well, it’s one definition. There is, of course, also the notion of the ostensive definition, which is where you don’t give a verbal definition of a thing, you point and say, that is blue. I think that’s all I mean by ostensive, and it is a language point, but it is a point which is very important for art criticism, I think. HUO The second part of my question on “Patterns of Intention” was about the cultural and social circumstances; basically, the context. In art and architecture there has been a debate in the last couple of years about context or non-context. It is something Rem Koolhaas has been discussing a lot. In the early 1990s there was a movement called Context Art and context was again everything. As there is this whole debate about context or non-context, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the whole notion of context in your art history, which is, I believe, something that plays a role in “Patterns of Intention.” MB I think what I want to say there is that I don’t much like the term “context” because it suggests something static and solid in which art, or whatever it is, happens, whereas I would like a more active relationship between art and circumstances. That is why I use the word circumstances so much; it is not a word I like but it avoids the notion of the unified context. HUO So it’s not solid, but it’s fluid once more. MB Yes.

RES MAY 2008

can learn from Warburg now? Is that another topic?

HUO Very interesting. MB And it’s open to the free will of the agent; the artist does not have to express this or that in this context. HUO That is very beautiful because that is something which, for example, Molly Nesbit elaborates in her essay in “About Michael Baxandall.” I was very curious because Molly wrote this text on Duchamp for your book and I was wondering about your relationship to the work of Marcel Duchamp. MB I find it difficult to make a response to that. I’ve nothing against Marcel Duchamp. I don’t believe he has played a big role for me. In fact I think I probably got this dislike of the notion of context from literary criticism, the kind I did at Cambridge. HUO So it didn’t come from art, it came from literature. MB I think so. HUO And what about more contemporary art practices? Have you had dialogues over the decades with living artists and have you written on contemporary artists? A lot has been written about you and minimalism, about you and Marcel Duchamp, so I wondered what was, in reality, your relationship to contemporary art and also about the idea, because there are some art historians who have conversations with artists and then for others it plays a lesser role. MB That is not so important for me, but the last bit of writing I did on contemporary art was on Baselitz. I did a short piece on Baselitz’s sculpture. Baselitz interests me because of the question of what the relation is between the sculpture and his painting. That was last year. HUO Can you tell me more about this? You spoke about the relationship between the sculpture and the painting and how the sculpture comes out of the painting. MB Well, the sculpture doesn’t come out of the painting, or not in any obvious way, and at first sight it is a bit surprising that the man who does these paintings does these sculptures. What interests me, though I don’t manage to write about it in the catalogue essay, is what common ground is there between this immensely accomplished painting and this immensely impressive sculpture when they seem to have nothing in common at all? HUO One other aspect I wanted to ask you about was also something we discussed with Molly Nesbit, which is the political dimension of your work because there has been a lot of discussion in the art historical left about your work and your position on ideology that has been very different from the one of T.J. Clark. Your work appears to have a more latent political dimension; it isn’t illustratively political but maybe more latent. At the moment, while we have a war going on in Iraq, it is similar to the 1960s when we had the Vietnam War; there is again in the art world a sort of re-politicization going on. I was wondering if you could explain that notion - it’s a very big question, obviously, but what is the role of the political for you within your art history? RES MAY 2008


49 HUO Definitely. MB But for my generation, and this is a generational thing, the discovery of Gramsci (and I discovered Gramsci when I was a student in Italy) was very important, partly because he’s not over-explicit. He leaves room for one to think oneself. He is a hero for me. HUO So that is the answer about the hero. It is Gramsci. MB Yes. HUO Beautiful. And what about utopia in relation to that? We have been very interested in this notion of utopia with a project called Utopia Station, where we have been investigating that whole Ernst Block notion – when Ernst Bloch, pushed against the wall by Adorno, said, “Something is missing” as his definition of utopia. I was interested to know about the notion of utopia in relation to your work. MB I don’t think there is one. HUO You haven’t worked on utopia, really. Why? Is it not something you think is relevant? MB It just hasn’t arisen. One works, very often, on things as they come up. HUO You don’t think that there is a link between Gramsci and utopia? MB Yes. HUO Maybe that would be interesting to explore. MB I think I’m content to stay with Gramsci. It’s a matter of staying in one universe and part of the attraction of Gramsci to me is that there is so much there and if one brings in other universes that are systematically different then one can do damage to one’s first intuition, I think. HUO I understand. That maybe leads to one of the last questions which is about the new art history or the social history of art. Adrian Rifkin starts his introduction to his book “About Michael Baxandall” with what he calls a kind of epitaph for the new art history or the social history of art. He quotes you: “On the one hand, that such a process penetrates our language so deeply does suggest that causal explanation cannot be avoided and so bears thinking about. On the other, one may want to be alert to the fact that the description, which seen schematically will be part of the object of explanation already, embodies pre-emptively explanatory elements. When the dust settles we are left with text.” I was wondering if that really is an epitaph for the new art history or the social history of art and if you could tell me a bit about your view, or your relation to, that whole notion of social history of art which has been so important in the last decades.

RES MAY 2008

MB I think it is strong, though I have never wanted to bring it in specifically but I think anybody who knew Gramsci would see that Gramsci was a very strong influence on me. His notion of the intellectual has been very important to me. I think of artists as Gramscian intellectuals. I’m not quite clear how far Gramsci would count in political thinking at the moment.

MB I have had problems with the social history of art, partly because – due to its success – it has led to what interests me being distorted. I think there are all sorts of preliminary questions one has to ask oneself if one is going to do some sort of social history of art, and one is whether one is doing social history or whether one is doing art history. Both are important to do, but a decision has to be taken and that is one reason why I tend to use the words “art criticism” rather than “art history.” Clearly, the preoccupations of the new art history are social. I had to work quite hard to maintain an independence from this so I suppose – this is very difficult to talk about because I don’t want to seem to be dismissing a whole lot of work which is clearly very solid and very good. It is rather that in the course of doing what I wanted to do, I had to be careful not to give in to the pressures of the new art history. HUO Can one then say that your position is not being part of a movement or a school but to be an independent thinker. MB Not so much independent but not confined. There was a time in the 1980s when the social art history became very dominant and very insistent and one really had to keep one’s freedom. So I would say it was a matter of remaining free rather than independent. HUO That freedom leads me to another question. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a wonderful book which is an advice to a young poet. I was wondering what would be your advice to a young art critic or art historian today. MB “Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.” Rilke (from “Herbsttag” in “Das Buch der Bilder”). And what I would mean by that is simply that if you don’t already know what you want to do it’s better to try something else. HUO So that would be your advice. MB And to understand what a strange and eccentric activity verbalizing about visual art is. It is a hugely strange activity. HUO We are almost at the end of the interview; I have a few last questions. One thing was, at the moment the art market is more dominant than ever and there seems to be a very strong dominance of market forces in the art world. I was wondering if you had any views on that and how that changes the role of the art critic or the art historian. MB It seems to me there is no point in worrying about the extent of the influence of the commercial art market. In a way it has always been there. Art has always cost money. The worry is how that influence is shaped and there’s a big distinction here, it appears to me, between commissioned art and previously-made art. I believe that as long as it’s not a matter of commissioned art but a matter of ready-made art, the sort of influence a New York dealer or whatever needn’t be destructive. It is in some ways alarming but one could say that the role of the museum curators has also expanded in the last twenty years, so it would very quickly become a question of the structure of the market and the extent to which the artist is, firstly, allowed to do what he wants to do and, secondly, getting good suggestions from his culture about what is good for art to do.

RES MAY 2008

HUO So these would be two answers to that. And one other aspect is the question of the virtual and the


51 MB Do you mean digital technology as a means of studying? HUO And how it affects art production. MB I think those are very different questions. HUO I am interested in both. They are two very different questions. MB Yes. To take the first one about its bearing on one’s study of the stuff, there is no question I would have benefited a great deal from digital computer tools in, for example, studying the relationship between the wood and the form of the sculpture. As for the second, the relation of digital to the practice of art, the main thing I notice in using the computer, partly using it for language but also for manipulating photographs, is the lack of a moment of finishing. This in a way is very exciting, but it is also rather worrying; one has never really finished. This, for me, raises problems which I am sure have always been in making art: When has one finished? Cézanne or whoever one wants, Braque notoriously, the nineteenth and twentieth century artists were very aware of a problem about finishing but it seems to me that the problem now is different and greater. It is partly because it is difficult in the medium of a digital computerisation to know what, in analogue terms, one has got. Which medium is one looking at? Is one looking at the digital medium or is one looking at some eventual product? This, I would guess, would be a problem for me if I were an artist. HUO I have two last questions. I was wondering if you have any unrealized projects. What would be your dream or unrealized project? MB I have a book on attention, partly about eighteenth century notions of attention, partly about current notions of attention, and this, incidentally, interlocks with memory. It is half there. I don’t know whether I’ll finish it. [Laughs] HUO So it’s a partially unrealized project. MB Yes. HUO Does it also have to do with attention economy? MB How do you mean, economy? HUO Because we live in a world of attention economy in some kind of way.

RES MAY 2008

computer, digital technology. Right now at the Serpentine we are doing an exhibition on young American artists called “The Uncertain States of America” and in this exhibition there is quite a lot of sculpture. There seems to be a return of sculpture right now in the art world, which is also a very physical form of sculpture, material sculpture, which is a kind of a resistance, I think, to the digital. Obviously your work has pioneered this whole idea of materials through the limewood sculpture of the Renaissance in Germany. It would be very nice to hear you talk a little bit about your book, “The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany” (1980), now that we have digital technology. How do you see that sort of field?

MB Oh, I see. A bit, because it raises matters like “what happens when you’ve got a series and the series is broken?” HUO And you have your yet-unfinished book about memory, which is these twelve stories. MB Yes. HUO But that’s almost finished. MB That’s got nothing much to do with it. But staying just for the moment with the other book on attention, what has happened with that and why I will probably never finish it, is that I realized after a time that what was more interesting than attention was inattention and what is happening outside of attention. HUO Almost like in the hors champ. MB Yes. The title of the book is “Three Levels of Inquietude.” Inquietude is an eighteenth century term for restlessness. HUO Like inquiétude in French. MB Yes. HUO My very last question is about interviews. We have been recording an interview here and interviews also play a certain role in art history as a possibility. David Sylvester recorded all those interviews with Francis Bacon. I was wondering how you see the importance of interviews for art history. MB I’d have thought if one gets an interviewer like Sylvester and somebody who responds to him like Giacometti, it’s bound to be good, but in a way it’s been going on for a long time. If one thinks of the people who wrote in the sixteenth century about Michelangelo, this was based on interview, really, so I would think it is, and has long been, a rather powerful means of contact. HUO You are thinking about Vasari? MB Vasari, maybe; but others, too. It’s surprising how much of earlier art criticism comes out of conversation, chat. I forget which palazzo Vasari used to go to for dinner, but he used to go to the house of one noble friend in Rome there and he claims that the origins of “The Lives” (The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, 1550) was in people responding to his conversation about art and artists and saying, “You should write that down.” Whether that is true one doesn’t know, but there is a truth about it. HUO But for you, recording interviews hasn’t played a role in your own work? MB I haven’t interviewed people. I have always found when one reads an interview, when one has been interviewed oneself, that one sounds very strange and remote and one doesn’t much like the person. RES MAY 2008


53 MB Not really. No, I don’t think so. You mean me interviewing artists? HUO Yes, or you reading interviews from history, from the past. MB Well, Vasari’s Lives. I suppose I said earlier that I read most art criticism as if it was an interview. HUO Very interesting. MB Because most lively art criticism is – HUO Conversation. MB There’s dialogue and interchange; reciprocity. HUO That is a marvellous conclusion. Thank you so very much. I was wondering, what are these two paintings? Who are they by? MB That is by Hélion. You know Hélion? HUO Yes. MB It’s mid-1930s. And that is by Ben Nicholson. HUO Early Nicholson. MB Very early. HUO We haven’t spoken about your book on shadows (Shadows and Enlightenment, 1995), but maybe that is for another time. MB Nobody reads that. HUO Why? MB It’s a very self-indulgent book. HUO It’s very different from what Gombrich wrote about shadows, isn’t it? MB Yes. We didn’t know we were both working on shadows until quite late. They are different. His is shorter! [Laughs]

RES MAY 2008

HUO So do you have any favorite interviews from art history, are there interviews which have been important? I have been very influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s interviews by Pierre Cabanne, David Sylvester and Francis Bacon and Giacometti. I was wondering if you had any interviews which had been important for you.

HUO Is there anything by way of conclusion you could say about the Shadows? Why did you decide to write on shadows? MB It connects with attention. I suddenly started attending to shadow and it was a sort of new world. If you weren’t here I could sit for an hour quite happily looking at shadows. That was it. HUO Like a world within the world. MB Something one has never attended to, never really seen. And it happened that I was reading French eighteenth century writing, which I thought very interesting, about shadows and they were themselves very interested in shadows and the two things came together. I mean, look at that! HUO Extraordinary! MB If one starts thinking about that in terms of the mechanics of the shadow – it’s a great resource in old age. I can sit quietly in a chair and look at shadows. [Laughs] HUO Thank you very much. Hans Ulrich Obrist (b. 1968, Zurich) is a curator and art critic. In 1992, he founded the Robert Walser Museum and began to run the Migrateurs program at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris where he served as a curator for contemporary art. He was also the curator of the museum in progress, Vienna, from 1993 to 2000. Since 1991, he has curated over 150 exhibitions internationally, including Do It, Take Me (I’m Yours), Cities on the Move, Live/Life, Nuit Blanche, Manifest 1, the 1st Berlin Biennial, Moskow Biennial, the 50th Venice Biennial, and the 2nd Guangzhou Biennial (Canton, China). He has edited more than sixty books, including Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews Vol 1 (2003), Do It (2005) and Don't Stop (2006). Hans Ulrich joined Serpentine Gallery as Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects in April 2006. Obrist's most recent work in London included a series of 24hr interview marathons at Serpentine Gallery and China Power Station in Battersea. In 2007, he co-curated Il Tempo del Postino with Philippe Parreno for the Manchester International Festival.

RES MAY 2008



| A t h ens , Greece

3 & 7 Monis Asteriou Street 105 58 ATHENS T +30 210 32 34 678, F +30 210 3316 027

Xiang Shi, Portrait Series no 1, 2006, oil on canvas




27 14






A H ! O H ! So Monsieur is an Iranian! What an extraordinary thing! How can anyone be Iranian? Montesquieu, Lettres Persanes,1721 Shirin Neshat, who explored the problem of the Shiite-based Islamic revolution in Iran and its effects on women with her photograph series Women of Allah (1993-1997), made a transition in her visual language from photography to video in 1997. Having taken a leading role among the most remarkable artists of the global art community as both a photographer and a video artist, Neshat has not only changed her approach to developing ideas, but has also extended her artistic methodology. As an Iranian artist living and working in New York City, Neshat creates works of art that invite a discussion about major cultural and political issues such as the conflicting identities of the United States and Iran, the West and the Middle East, and Islam in particular. Though the aesthetic, fictional, and literary approach has always shown in her art, it only now emerges as such strong feature in her latest five-video series that Shirin Neshat needs to be approached from an entirely new angle. In this context, the concept of culturalism may have validity as both a step towards viewing Shirin Neshat who has manifested her art in a 'narrative' by basing it on the literary text Shirin Neshat by Youssef Nabil and as an act of deconstruction against the judgment that she is an Orientalist artist. It may be argued that as an artist living in the United States, making others look at Iran with her art, Shirin Neshat demonstrates an Orientalist attitude, performing her art on a culture which has been identified with the other. However, Orientalism alone proves insufficient to explain Neshat's art. Shirin Neshat's artistic approach is the state of an artist in exile who speaks from the middle ground between two countries and two cultures, struggling to relate to the distant geography which she calls “my country,” and to transcend the boundaries of where she finds herself: in the middle, yet always in between. As a Middle Easterner, Neshat is a culturalist artist in how she deals with this culture as a source for her works—an element of belonging and difference she externalizes and sometimes elevates and which she uses to express herself, thus acting as a cultural ambassador.

RES MAY 2008

Following her videos Mahdokht (2004) and Zarin (2005), which were inspired by the Iranian author in exile Shahrnush Papsipur and his both realistic and fantastic fiction Women without Men on the lives of five women, Shirin Neshat shot the third and fourth videos of this installation series, Munis and Faezah, and exhibited both videos at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York in February 2008. They are shown at the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark from March to May 2008.


59 Following the traumatic events of September 11, 2001, and inspired by Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel “Tooba and the Meaning of the Night,” Shirin Neshat shot the video Tooba with an emphasis on mythology in 2002. Right before, in 2001, she had transformed into video the Logic of the Birds, a poetic narrative by Farid al-Din Attar, an important figure in Persian literature. Her 2003 video, The Last Word, focused on the story of an Iranian female author who was put on trial for what she had written. In 2004, the artist began shooting her Women without Men series based on Parsipur’s 1989 novel which was banned immediately after publication. The video installations Munis and Faezeh (2008) question the political, sexual, social, and religious problems in the life stories of the two female characters. While in fact these problems are familiar subjects in Shirin Neshat's art, the two videos exemplify Neshat’s increasingly close connection to Persian literature and Iranian cinema. Since Women of Allah, the photography series which helped her gain international recognition, Neshat's approach has undergone a major transformation. However, this transition process does not involve any major breaks or ruptures as it multiplies within itself and advances. So much so that while incorporating political and social criticism in her work, Shirin Neshat uses visual elements from her cultural memory which attribute particular importance to the aestheticization of the pictures she creates. Using strikingly minimal images both in her videos and her photographs, and transforming unique cultural elements—ranging from architectural features to the alphabet—into aesthetic and extolling scenes, what distinguishes Neshat's art is that she always focuses on an aesthetic approach while producing works of a political and social nature. The aestheticization we encounter in all of Shirin Neshat's art is certainly the most important reason why we view her as a culturalist artist. In fact, Neshat's connection with Iran's multi-faceted performance culture—which extends from the Persian theatre to Zoroastrianism and Shi'ism—that can be seen in her several video installations such as Fervor, Passafe, Possessed, and Zarin, is as noteworthy as are her links with Persian literature, a product of her cultural memory. On the other hand, the video works, which the artist has been creating for a long time, may also be seen in the context of the new wave of Iranian cinema, which has achieved great international successes with directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, Muhsin Makhmalbaf, and Samira Makhmalbaf. The changing but continuing interest of Iranians in performance arts manifests itself in Shirin Neshat’s art as well. The importance of the Women without Men series lies in the fact that it is the most elevating work of her "culturalist period," which is the result of Neshat's growing interest in the Persian literature since 2002.

RES MAY 2008

Relationships with literary texts have existed in Neshat's art all along; in her many photographic works such as the Guardians of Revolution or Allegiance with Wakefulness, both of which are part of her highly controversial Women of Allah series, the artist included poems by Iranian poets Forough Farrokhzad and Tahereh Saffarzadeh. However, in these works, the literary text placed on the photographs by the artist herself had a rather formal and aesthetic value, and moved back and forth between a mere “visual effect” and to the contrary “an element that implies a meaning,” depending on the viewer’s ability to read Persian. But today, in her most recent videos Munis and Feazeh as well as in the previous two works of the same series, Neshat no longer uses literary text or script as a formal element but as an instrument of design and narration. More importantly, while these works, which were inspired by Papsipur’s text and by Persian literature in general, emerge in the form of a dialogue Neshat establishes with her own culture, they also manifest her culturalist attitude which yields its product from within a narrative from this particular culture. In fact these video installations may be deemed to represent a transformation in Shirin Neshat's art that finds its meaning in culturalism and as the exact equivalent of a turning point.

Shirin Neshat, Mahdokht, 2004

Munis and Faezeh, which combine Shirin Neshat's poetic approach with Shahrnush Parsipur's both fantastic and realistic attitude, present a typical cinema design that tells a story from the beginning to the end, as seen in the previous two video installations of the series. Mahdokht is the story of an insane teacher who has dedicated her life to children. Throughout the entire video, which has a highly mythical atmosphere, we watch Mahdokt in the Karaj garden where all five characters in Shahrnush Parsipur's story eventually meet. So in the video series, the first character arrives in Karaj ahead of the others. Neshat's opening of the Woman without Men series with Mahdokht shows that she does not approach the story, which would eventually end in this garden, from a rectilinear angle. Zarin is the story of a prostitute who starts seeing skin sheathed faces on customers coming to her room. This is another character who would meet others in Karaj after various experiences. In Zarin, Neshat focuses on bodily and social taboos in the most direct way. Terrified with what she has lived through, Zarin first rushes out to a public bath for bodily purification and afterwards to a Shiite place of worship for spiritual purification, but remains unable to achieve either. Running away to eternity, the place where Zarin's escape ends is none other than Karaj. In this first work of the series, Neshat tackles the concepts of illogicality and insanity. The theme of going insane, which is also predominant in her previous video Possessed, points to the disharmony of female characters under social and religious pressure.

RES MAY 2008

The theme of going insane, the most direct instrument of uncanny and poetic rebellion in Neshat's women, also confronts us in Faezeh. Faezeh, a religious person whose only aspiration is to get married and start a family leaves her city after having been raped. She is dragged into madness by a woman


61 RES MAY 2008 Left Shirin Neshat, Allegiance with Wakefulness, 1994, Women of Allah Series Below Shirin Neshat, Untitled, 1996, Women of Allah Series

draped in a black veil whom she encounters. These themes are also prevalent in the 1989 novel by female writer Parsipur, who opposes the Islamist government that came to power in Iran after toppling the Shah, as a critical stance against the repressive regime of the time. In her video installation Munis, Neshat deals with the effects of this political turn of events in Iran. This video displays how the life of a young woman named Munis, who is sensitive to social issues but always oppressed by her brother, changes when she becomes a political activist. The character is the artist’s first interpretation on such a political level since the martyrs’ mothers as the leaders of the revolution in the Women of Allah photograph series. In fact, there is political content not only in the story of the young woman, Munis, but in the very novel which Neshat based her work on. In that novel, Parsipur takes the reader back to the year 1953, an important year. At the time, the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq's efforts to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, back then largely dominated by the British controlled Anglo-Persian Oil Company, led to the toppling of his government in a CIA-backed coup. The effects on Iran of the elimination of the Mossadeq government would later extend to the makings of the Islamic revolution in 1979. As in these two videos, in which she focuses on the individual stories of female characters, Shirin Neshat has been highly inquisitive in all of her work, which has been based on the political, historical, and cultural structure of Iran. Her works have an ongoing form in which she uses critical aspects to determine and convey her messages, so Neshat appears as engineering a particular construction design. And in her works, the visual construction encompasses all political and social critical points as an attitude of the aesthetic, as a metaphor of an opposing stance. It can be said of Neshat's art that it is the intellectual expression of an aesthetic construction. At present, Shirin Neshat works on the story of Farokh Legha, the last of the women in the Women without Men series. The venue for the final protagonist of the series is likely to be Karaj, the garden where all the women from previous stories meet. There is a strong importance attached to gardens which have occupied the cultural past of Iran. As Neshat's last video series Excerpt from written correspondence with Shirin Neshat, shows, the garden itself is a kind of dialogue, a Seda Yörüker, 04/01/2006 fantastic metaphor on the “lost paradise”—on Iran itself. The garden theme builds the bridge to her contemporary Parsipur or, when broadening the perspective, to Firdevsi, Hafız, Hidayet, and Farrugh Farrokhzad whose poem “I Feel Sorry for the Garden” used in her 1993 photograph Offered Eyes, is the very garden of paradise of Persians, a cultural element that permeates from literary text to Shirin Neshat's art, and the meeting point of Iranians who share the richness of a common culture. As Stuart Hall says, diaspora identities are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference. Neshat's last video series Women without Men demonstrates the artist’s ongoing reencounters with her culture and establishes her as an artist who creates critical yet aesthetic works that address the global art community. . Naturally when an artist comes from a non-Western country, his or her subjects seen more or less 'exotic' to the Western audience but this is not in the control of the artist. The modern world we live in has always placed the West in the center and East on the periphery.

RES MAY 2008


63 RES MAY 2008 Shirin Neshat, Zarin, 2005

Shirin Neshat, Munis & Revolutionary Man, 2008 C-print & ink 49 x 90 4/5 in / 124.5 x 230.6 cm 54 1/2 x 96 in / 138.4 x 243.8 cm framed Edition of 5 + 2 APs SN139

My art is deeply PERSONAL, and FICTIONAL. However, my ideas / my narratives always cross elements of history, politics, religion, stereotypes and I then give myself the necessary task and responsibility to educate myself to have sufficient research and information. This is partially due to the fact that my personal life is interconnected to all of the above. And at times I am angry so the work has a harsher edge. So as the nature of my questions, emotions or obsessions change the work takes a new angle and direction. Excerpt from written correspondence with Shirin Neshat, Seda Yörüker, 04/01/2006

References: B. Schmitz – E. Stammer, Shirin Neshat, Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, exhibition catalogue, 2005 Stuart Hall, “Culturel Identity and Diaspora”, Identity: Community Culture, Difference, Ed: Jonathan Rutherford, Lawrance and Wishart, London, 1990

RES MAY 2008

Seda Yörüker graduated with a B.A. from the Department of Art History at Mimar Sinan University, Istanbul, in 2003. The same year, she started her graduate studies on Western and Modern Art at Mimar Sinan University. She received her master's degree in 2006 for her thesis on "Identity, Body, Scripture in Shirin Neshat's Art," prepared under Prof. Zeynep Inankur's supervision. Since 2003, her articles have been featured in publications such as Türkiye'de Sanat, Gençsanat, Plato Güncel Sanat Dergisi, Rh Sanart, XXL Mimari Dergisi as well as in exhibition catalogues. In January 2008, she presented a paper on Shirin Neshat at the Youth in Art History seminar at Istanbul Technical University. Since November 2007, she has been working as the assistant editor of Gençsanat.


65 RES MAY 2008 Above Left Shirin Neshat, Haji, 2008 C-print & ink 60 x 40 in / 152.4 x 101.6 cm 65 1/2 x 45 1/2 in / 166.4 x 115.6 cm framed Edition of 5 + 2 APs Above Right Shirin Neshat, Zarhra, 2008 C-print & ink 60 x 40 in / 152.4 x 101.6 cm 65 1/2 x 45 1/2 in / 166.4 x 115.6 cm framed Edition of 5 + 2 APs Left Shirin Neshat, Faezeh & Amir Kahn, 2008 C-print & ink 88 x 70 in / 223.5 x 177.8 cm 93 1/2 x 77 in / 237.5 x 195.6 cm framed Edition of 5 + 2 APs

All images © Shirin Neshat Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York


RES Departing from your works, how has the world changed over the years? THOMAS BAYRLE When I started out, the world was analogue. Today it's digital—except for the one billion people who are not part of the game. RES How do you comment on Spinoza's idea of "a single nature for all bodies, a single nature for all individuals"—what Deleuze refers to as the plane of immanence? TB If you "plough the ground" like I did, you automatically discover such thinkers. The metaphor of my childhood was "the meadow"—a flat world, composed of billions of little creatures, which lived in symbiosis or coexistence, representing layers upon layers from the smallest living beings to an entire wholeness...humming...dancing....singing...swinging... RES How would you comment on the contrasts of motion/tranquility, speed/slowness in this context? TB Later on, this "paradise" was structured by the experience of weaving. When I was 18, I worked in a textile factory for two years. There I found that systematically 1,000 x 1,000 individual threads could make up a collective piece of fabric. By using very simple up to most complex binding qualities, you could create something like a complex pattern for a whole society. RES How could one link ornamentation to holiness in its most general sense, to the idea of God? TB As weaving was a kind of technical ornamentation, I could feel a bridge to meditation as well. The composition of a machine... its steady recurrence of 20 / 30 actions... these ongoing procedures, loops, rounds turned me on. I saw a similarity, a connection to the monotonous rhythm and motions of the rosary. And as the rosary is everywhere, I felt plugged into the great tendrilled, twined complexity going on worldwide. As oriental ornamentation avoids showing God, it might be able to show at once millions of little details of him. It stands for the abstract ability to serve as the most sovereign container for meditative, circling loops. And that's the moment where phenomena like the Dervishes come in! Not having seen them yet I suppose these organic drillings, ups and downs of ornamentation, might lead to God's similar exaggeration! RES What is the place of "ironic playfulness" in your works? How important is it? TB Humor is what keeps me going! It's always fine to exaggerate, but there comes a point when it's even better to break it with a twinkeling eye—because for each solution there is also an opposite one. RES MAY 2008


67 RES MAY 2008 Thomas Bayrle, Coats, 1967/68 700 Silk screened plastic coats, signs, pictures, stages, posters in Milano, Cologne, Essen, Frankfurt/M. etc. Coat designing: Lukowski + Ohanian Public relation: Christian Roeder Š Thomas Bayrle

Thomas Bayrle, VW red, 1969 Silkscreen on paper, 32.6 x 23.8 in / 83 x 60.5 cm © Thomas Bayrle

RES MAY 2008


69 © Thomas Bayrle

RES MAY 2008

Thomas Bayrle, Telephone AT & T, 1970 Yellow variation/Grey variation Silkscreen on paper, 35 x 27.5 in / 89 x 70 cm

Thomas Bayrle, M-Formation, 1970 Silkscreen on paper, 23.6 x 33.4 in / 60 x 85 cm © Thomas Bayrle

Thomas Bayrle, Sign for mountain Motif terraced landscape, 2005 Silkscreen on cardboard, 72 x 72 x 4.7 in / 183 x 183 x 12 cm (Chinese Motorways/Beijing Chase)

Thomas Bayrle, Sign for center Motif long march, 2005 Silkscreen on cardboard, 72 x 72 x 2.3 in / 183 x 183 x 6 cm (Chinese Motorways/Beijing Chase)

© Thomas Bayrle

© Thomas Bayrle. Courtesy Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt/Main (MMK)

RES MAY 2008


71 RES MAY 2008 Thomas Bayrle, Stills from (b)alt, 1997 Computer animation, video, sound, 4 min. With Kobe Matthys and Helke Bayrle Š Thomas Bayrle

INTERVIEW WITH LEO KOENIG, BECKY SMITH, TRACY WILLIAMS DEBORA WARNER DW As the art market and art practices continue to expand globally while becoming ever more fragmented, do you think that there will be further obstacles to achieving “consensus” on the work of the artists you represent? Is consensus still important? BECKY SMITH I am not sure consensus is something I have been seeking actively or consciously, but I guess it is a good way of putting the idea that the press, collectors and curators tend to concentrate on particular artists. My experience is that there are all kinds of consensus... critical, curatorial and commercial. It is hard to get the magic balance of all three when a career is only emerging, but you can usually get one or more of these if the artist has true potential. Given the globalization of the art world via the internet and art fairs, I think it is much easier to reach a consensus on artists that mainly show in smaller cities. Artists like Jim Lambie and Jonathan Meese have really used this phenomenon to boost careers that might have been more regional for a longer part of their development. LEO KOENIG Although I would agree that the art market and art practices continue to expand, I don’t necessarily agree that it is becoming ever more fragmented… Of course “consensus” is still important; however, it is evolving from what it used to be, when the dialogue between artists and their works was city-specific. Now the dialogue is expanding across borders. This can be seen within my own gallery. Even though the majority of my artists live and work in New York and have formed a close-knit community, there is still a lively dialogue with artists living outside New York and in Europe. I specifically see this with the artists living here and those living in Berlin. TRACY WILLIAMS Consensus among whom exactly? Collectors, critics, curators? There are definitely more "artists" now than at any other time in history. To date at least, history shows that over time the onehit-wonder artists or those artists relevant only to specific moments are always weeded out. Eventually, those artists that endure over time, whether dead or alive, are the ones still going strong now.... or having become, in terms of the market, "blue chip.” The approach I have taken for my gallery has been geared towards a long-term relationship with a group of artists that continue to create work of importance for now and for the future. In a broader sense, I think consensus among respected curators, writers, or even serious collectors is important for the artists as well as for the gallery and its longevity. DW Do you feel that a tendency toward speculation is what drives most of the collectors in this current market and, if so, how does that affect the careers of the artists you work with over a long time as well as your business? RES MAY 2008


75 LK It would be rather naïve for dealers to say that speculation is a contemporary phenomenon. However, I am rather old-fashioned in some of my ideas with regard to artists in that I believe in nurturing and not rushing the process of career building. I do not want to become the kind of dealer that fashions an “art star” every couple of months. I want to develop a relationship and dialogue that will last for years. I am lucky to work with collectors that appreciate and trust that same kind of relationship, and my business is thriving because of this. BS I am personally pretty conservative when it comes to going after speculative money. I tend to click well with collectors who are smart, genuinely love art (and oftentimes know way more about art than I do!) and are into collecting not as an investment, but as a lifestyle... they tend to have valuable collections, but speculation is not what motivates them. More money in the emerging market is allowing many of my artists to be self-sustaining, which is a huge upside to the current market. But not everyone is making mad money. Me and my artists are working our butts off... it’s not at all like shooting fish in a barrel... but maybe when they get more established we can take that rest on a big pile of laurels... DW Leo, you were conspicuously absent from Art Basel Miami this year. Why? You casually mentioned that art fairs are “over,” yet 40% of the overall revenue of most galleries comes from the fair business. Can you elaborate on your statement? LK 40% of the business seems like a rather high figure, but perhaps that is indeed the case with some galleries. However, in my case I find that art fairs account for around 10% of my overall business; it is rather a case of icing on the cake. As far as Miami is concerned, it was a case of not getting into the fair. We all have at one time or another sat on one of these selection boards, to select who gets to be represented in these fairs and who doesn’t. This brings up far more issues, such as why do rather opinionated galleries judging subjectively choose the other galleries for the fairs. It feels rather incestuous, doesn’t it? DW Becky and Tracy, do you agree with Leo? Is there a shift away from a dependency on fairs? BS I was personally very curious about what percent of my sales came from fairs. Amazingly, the number for me in 2006 from NADA and the Armory was 11%, which absolutely shocked me. This could be deceptive, because there were many works made for those fairs (artists find fairs to be very motivating) that were sold before or after the actual event, so my numbers could be misleading... but I was amazed to find that I sell mostly out of the studio or backroom, which I think describes the nature of the art

RES MAY 2008

TW I definitely know that there is a tremendous amount of speculation in the current art marketplace. I have a collecting base of private individuals and museums that are focusing on building relevant collections. Most of them are honestly not collecting for speculation. But I do not fool myself into thinking that money is not a factor. Most individuals spending more than a "certain" figure envision that a work of art sold for a certain sum will hold its value or eventually rise in value over time. Zoe Leonard and Barbara Bloom are both having survey shows, Matt Mullican is included in the Whitney Biennial 2008 with museum shows in Europe in 2008, Richard Dupont is opening a commission at the Lever House in March 2008, Simryn Gill and Zoe Leonard were both included in Documenta XII... maybe these exhibitions will have an effect on their “market.” Time will tell but it's all good.

Leo Koenig

Leo Koenig Inc Exterior & Interior Courtesy Leo Koenig Inc

business, which is about client relationships. I use the art fairs mainly to promote my artists. I think of them as a big ad in Artforum and I expect the same kind of return as I would from an ad, meaning that promotion drives sales in both direct and indirect ways. My job is to exhibit, promote and sell the work of the artists I represent. This happens in the context of relationships more often than not. The degree to which art fairs nurture these is impossible to assess, but it is real and felt. I also think they are a way of showing up, of being present, of communicating to the art world how you see yourself. I am doing more statements these days. They are harder to sell, but get way more attention, which is more of a priority for me right now... especially knowing that sales happen mostly out of my office! For the record, I think the emphasis on the fairs needs to let up... and the annoying split focus on the novel/new and the established/powerful is creating a really awkward situation for inbetween galleries like mine and Leo’s. It is unclear how the power can be taken back. I am thinking about it... it seems like ruthless competition is the main way... but that’s not my style, so I am trying to move forward via determination, hard work and flatout excellence.

RES MAY 2008

TW I don't believe that fairs are over. It's still an over-stimulated situation which so many individuals enjoy. I participated in Art Basel 2007 with Zoe Leonard and Barbara Bloom and also in Art Basel Miami Beach 2007 with Jennifer Nocon. Both fairs were very successful for the artists and the gallery. I will also participate in the Armory Fair with Fiona Banner and Matt Mullican. 40% of my overall business, no way. Perhaps 10%. However, I imagine that if I was presenting work going for more than $100,000, maybe the end-of-year totals and percentages would be different. I do agree with Leo that there are too many fairs and, honestly, if this trend of one-stop shopping moves back to the gallery where one actually sees works in context, I would be thrilled. I think there may be a shift away from this insanity of participating in 10-15 fairs a year! I would be content with just two or three maximum.


77 TW I think there may be a shift in the way some younger artists are working, but I don't see anything truly changing for a while. Some institutions are starting to show work that doesn't necessarily have crazy market values. It may take quite a bit more time. It is a bit much if production and production costs denote "value" in the art marketplace and hence "powerful" artists. I do still think “lifestyle collecting” is alive and well, with many people buying immediately recognizable works—almost everyone knows what a Hirst, Prince, Murakami or Koons work looks like. BS I think Koons, Hirst, and Murakami are all artists that are about the power of commerce and consumption. Their artistic language, like Warhol’s, is the culture of capitalism and that is inspiring to capitalists who collect art. It creates a circle-jerk of rich guys buying expensive things from rich artists/dealers... the money stays in the circle, which is just where they like it. Money, and the power it affords, will ALWAYS be “influential” and we will always have this aspect of the art world. These days, more often than not, wealth is new... the self-made men are the ones who are getting into the collecting game, so the values of the noblesse oblige is (sadly) becoming an outmoded form of patronage. Wealth is fun and powerful, so why not buy a giant Koons gem sculpture for your foyer to tell the world, “I’m rich, I’m fun, check out my gigantic expensive Koons!!!”

Tracy Williams

Tracy Williams Ltd Interior Courtesy Tracy Williams Ltd

On the more intellectual side of things, there is a real fascination with conceptual art, which is very exciting. On the other hand, there is its evil twin... work that I loathe... that uses the visual language and reduced palette of the history of conceptual art and abstraction, but is absolutely devoid of ideas. This is a very bad trend... faux-conceptual, I like to call it. Ironically, this kind of work seems to have Warholian motivations, in a Duchampian way...and it’s as fake as a Koons, but snotty about it! This is my current pet peeve... but I would say that more than anything, we live in mannerist times... there is no avant-garde per se, but a recycling, updating and exaggerating of historical art languages. Even the Warholian and Duchampian artists are mannerists. I guess that that is how I would define our current

RES MAY 2008

DW Powerful international artists like Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Takashi Murakami are not necessarily the most influential. Do you think we may be approaching an end to the pervasiveness of the Warholian model in studio as well as in artistic practice?

state of affairs: a mannerist pastiche of Warholian values and Duchampian means.

Becky Smith

LK Why do you feel they are not influential? I mean, they are the artists you are asking about, so there has to be some influence there. And no, we are not approaching an end to the pervasiveness of the Warholian model; I think it is possibly growing stronger. However, I think that the Warholian model in studio practice has been fading for a long time. I believe that artists today have been trying to eke out a different way of working and that trend is a refreshing change. Young artists that I have been following today are attempting to achieve something that, for lack of a better word, I would define as a new authenticity. I seem to see a renewed importance of gesture and evidence of the hand in a lot of work that I am attracted to these days. DW Does the rising prominence of artists from developing countries place the preoccupations embedded in “Western” artistic practice in a precarious position?

LK I have to admit that although I have been following the rise of artists from developing countries, I feel a bit ambiguous about it, perhaps at Bellwether Exterior my own peril. But here is the way I see it: developing Courtesy Bellwether Gallery countries have had art practices that obviously predate western art practice and I think that many of the best contemporary artists have explored this relationship. In countless instances, this exploration has contributed greatly to the artists’ contemporary evolution. However, when I see work from, lets say, China, which is probably the most closely watched country in terms of new artists, in some cases I see the work as incorporating the worst aspects of western art, not as promoting the most interesting aspects of the artist’s own cultural antecedents. In the end, I don’t think that western artistic practice is in a precarious position. At the same time, I believe that non-western artistic practices have greatly influenced contemporary art and will continue to do so. I believe that in the end, artists will utilize an amalgam of art practices, just as they have for decades now. BS I sure hope so! I still think that if a lot of the Chinese art that everybody is nuts about had been made in NY it would not be cool at all. It all looks kinda 80s to me. RES MAY 2008


79 DW Western civilization is facing a challenging transition as we are restructuring our belief systems away from the pathologies of capitalist expansionism toward a more egalitarian, eco-conscious society. Is the arts community addressing these critical issues? BS Artists will always be lefty political radicals... so yes, there will always be radical political ideas percolating in the art world. Sadly though, nothing has made me more of a feminist than being an art dealer. I didn’t think I would find a glass ceiling, since there have been so many powerful female art dealers, but if you look closer, their power comes from serving powerful male artists. In terms of assigning genuine value to art that is gendered in the feminine we still have a long way to go. Louise Bourgeois and Kiki Smith might be considered two exceptions... but even they are anything but economic powerhouses compared to their male counterparts. I do see this as one of my soap-box issues. We can keep pointing out the art world’s sex discrepancies all we want, but no-one will care and no-one will be accountable until we face the fact that the money and power that are out there are limited and that we all seem to love money and power. Art made by women is our own internal developing country and maybe it would be better served if we applied economic development theory... structural change, anyone? TW Only a few are dealing with these questions. I still think many artists are making art about art or art about current popular culture. There are still some making subversive art, though. LK On the one hand I would say that superficially the arts community is addressing these issues. For example, there is a plethora of exhibitions being curated and mounted worldwide that address them. However, when you speak about real change I believe that the art community can do much more. This is one reason I am starting to dislike the proliferation of art fairs that is going on. I cannot think of anything more wasteful and ecologically (and spiritually for that matter) destructive than the art fair model, where thousands of people descend upon a city, flying in hundreds of tons of artworks to set up shop and party for a weekend… I know that some communities are now totally reliant upon this influx, economically, but there has to be a better way. “Think global—Buy local” has to be considered as an option in the art community. DW Lastly, if you had the means to acquire the work of any artist for your personal collection, what five artists would you pick, and why? TW I actually have works by all my artists. LK The Disasters of War and the Black Paintings by Francisco Goya, Edvard Munch’s prints, Antonin Artaud’s work on paper, Pieter Breugel’s paintings of the season, and almost anything by Caravaggio.

RES MAY 2008

TW Not really. I think the Chinese artists and the market surrounding them is very specific and on the whole not terribly interesting. There are some very good artists but they aren't necessarily the ones that are achieving these crazy million-dollar prices... Some of the Indian artists are also quite interesting, but I think the idea of the "new" again is a factor in this and that certain individuals are playing the markets to attain higher values for the work they have purchased earlier.

Wouldn’t you want to live with these works? BS I would put my money where my mouth is. These are five of maybe 20 female artists that I am thinking about a lot right now: 1 Amanda Ross-Ho—because she is a genius up-and-coming installation artist who has the most surprising, witty and natural touch. She also deals with the decorative in a shockingly non-femme way without being too butch. 2 Jeni Spota—She is my religious art messiah. 3 Daria Martin—She deals with experimental film, dance and music in a way that is really moving and aesthetic... and her collaborations with musicians, dancers and actors are fascinating. 4 Ellen Altfest —I should have bought a penis painting when I could have afforded one... and now I can’t. 5 Carol Bove—I loved Berkeley in the 70s and I love Carol Bove. Debora Warner is an artist, activist, and amateur triathlete living in NYC. Her latest multi-media exhibition was at the I-20 Gallery in NYC (2007). Prior to that, Debora had solo exhibitions at the Akira Ikeda Gallery in Tokyo and Berlin, and her work was included in “Cosmic Wonder” at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco (2006). Some of her sound works, including Flutter (2000) and Blood Horse (2004), have been shown at the FRAC Bourgogne, Dijon, and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. In New York, her work has been included in shows at the Swiss Institute, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, White Columns, Art in General, Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert Gallery, and Andrew Kreps Gallery. The next exhibition is scheduled for 2009 at the Akira Ikeda Empty Space Project in NYC. Recent works explore the concept of social transformation symbolically and metaphorically.

Leo Koenig born on July 29, 1977, in New York City and grew up in Munich. The son of Professor Kasper Koenig (one of Europe’s foremost curators and director of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne) and Ilka Koenig, owner of the Ilka Koenig Buchhandlung in Munich, Leo grew up surrounded by both art and artists. Through this unique upbringing, Koenig became familiar and comfortable with some of the most notable contemporary artists. Leo Koenig opened his gallery in 1999 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Within a year, he presented a schedule of solo shows including promising young artists such as Aidas Bareikis and David Scher alternating or in tandem with established artists such as Dara Birnbaum and Siah Amanjani. Exhaustively curated projects were scheduled as well, including a cross-curatorial exchange with the well-known gallerist John Weber. For that exhibition, the two gallerists exchanged spaces, with Koenig bringing his group of exceptional emerging artists to Manhattan and Weber bringing a significant exhibition of contemporary masters such as Sol LeWitt, Michael Heizer, Daniel Buren, and Hans Haacke to the heart of Brooklyn, suggesting a generational lineage for both the artists and the gallery owners. Because of his rare combination of affable personality and impeccable integrity, Leo Koenig established himself as an important newcomer to the New York contemporary art scene. Many of the artists that Leo Koenig worked with were later selected for prestigious museum shows, such as Generation Z and the Greater New York at P.S. 1/MOMA in Long Island City, New York. On April 8, 2000 Leo Koenig Inc. opened its doors at 359 Broadway in Manhattan. The move to Manhattan proved to be an auspicious one with a series of extremely well received solo exhibitions by Erik Parker, Torben Giehler, Jonathan Meese , Les Rogers, Lisa Ruyter, Greg Bogin, Marko Lehanka, Sean Snyder, and Bill Saylor. Almost all of these exhibitions were the artists’ debuts in New York City. After a little over a year at 359 Broadway, the gallery moved to its current location at 249 Centre Street in Soho, bordering on both Little Italy and Chinatown. Having been at this location for over two years, Leo Koenig has continued with his exciting schedule of exhibitions in the heart of downtown New York. Respect for the young gallerist’s reputation is growing with each year. Most recently, Leo Koenig has been featured in the article “Power Punks, Baby Big Shots that run New York City” in the New York Observer. He also writes a regular column for the renowned Art Investor, published in Munich, Germany. He is currently serving on the selection committee of Art Cologne. In addition to his activities in New York, in September 2002 Leo joined forces with Cologne gallerist Michael Janssen and opened the Happy Lion Gallery in Chinatown, Los Angeles. With this collaboration, Leo has extended his influence in contemporary art by combining a surprising mix of exciting and fresh exhibitions with his expertise regarding the publication of unique catalogues. The current roster includes some of the internationally most renowned emerging and mid-career contemporary artists. In 2007, Leo Koenig was profiled in German weekly “Der Spiegel” and German GQ, among others. Aidas Bareikis was selected to participate in the Athens Biennial after finishing a tremendous solo exhibition at Locust Projects. Torben Giehler’s paintings have appeared in “Like Color in Pictures,” at the Aspen Art Museum, Denver, CO. Nicole EIsenman’s work “Progress: Real and Imagined” was prominently featured in a prestigious exhibition at the Museum Ludwig entitled “The Eight Square.” She also had an extensive solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Zurich which then travelled to Le Plateau in Paris. Alexis Rockman had a solo show at the Rose Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, and was included in exhibitions such as “Baroque Biology: Tony Matelli and Alexis Rockman” at the CAC, Cincinnati, Ohio, and “Surrealism, Dada and Their Legacies in Contemporary Art” at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. His work was also shown in “Failure” at Landesgalerie Linz in Linz, Austria in 2007. Tony Matelli’s work was presented in the exhibition “Freakshow” at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in the UK and the Whitney at Altria, New York, last year.

Becky Smith, the owner and director of Bellwether, has become known for her ability to present new artists and contextualize their work within the contemporary art scene while also providing a professional haven to foster careers. Smith holds an MFA in painting from Yale University (1998). As an artist, she was the recipient of many honors and awards including residencies at both Skowhegan

RES MAY 2008


81 Tracy Williams has been involved in contemporary art since the early 1980s. Her path has been varied: she has been an auction specialist both at Christie's and Sotheby's, an artists’ agent working with Matt Mullican, James Casebere and Ulay and Marina Abramovic among others, a freelance curator, a gallery director at Zwirner & Wirth and Galerie Crousel Robelin and is now a gallery owner. She has lived in both New York and Paris during her 25 years in the contemporary art field. In September 2001, she lived in Tribeca and witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Center. “For most of us,” she says, “it was a definitive moment clearly marking the fragility of life itself.” She decided at that time to work by herself and set up her business in the city that she loves most, New York. She worked as a consultant/private dealer until she opened her gallery in March 2004. Located in an 1880s townhouse in the West Village, the space reflects a more intimate approach to the art gallery. The gallery's main focus is building the careers of a group of artists, while at the same time expanding the artists’ possibilities through multidisciplinary collaborations and projects in alternate locations. Renovated by Richard Gluckman, the space strikes a unique balance between the clean lines of the modern "white cube" and the warmth and intimacy of the existing townhouse architecture. The gallery program focuses on outstanding artists of domestic and international origin. This distinctive group ranges from younger, up-and-coming artists to those well established in their careers: Fiona Banner, Cindy Bernard, Barbara Bloom, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Ernst Caramelle, Anna Craycroft, Lili Dujourie, Richard Dupont, Simryn Gill, Olav Christopher Jenssen, Judy Ledgerwood, Zoe Leonard, Domingo Milella, Jennifer Nocon, Anne-Marie Schneider, Georgina Starr, and Jan Vercruysse. In addition, she continues to work as a private advisor and private dealer in the secondary market.

RES MAY 2008

School of Art in Maine, and The Fine Art Work Center in Provincetown, MA. She exhibited at several galleries including Lombard Fried and PPOW before deciding to focus solely on her art gallery. Established in 1999, Bellwether began as an artist-run project founded by four artists in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In 2000, Smith became the sole owner of the gallery and has remained the driving force and vision behind the gallery. Bellwether moved from Brooklyn to Chelsea in 2005 and has ever since enjoyed being a part of the vibrant community of galleries specializing in contemporary art in this section of Manhattan. Bellwether has been participating in The Armory Show since 2000 and in the NADA Fair since it was first held in 2001. Smith serves as an advisor to NADA and has been a juror of the fair since its inception.

INTERVENTIONIST AND PUBLIC-RESPONSIVE ART IN GREECE DR. SOTIRIOS BAHTSETZIS A S T H E A R T C R I T I C Rosalyn Deutsche comments, “statements about public art are also statements about public space, whether public art is construed as ‘art in public places,’ ‘art that creates public spaces,’ ‘art in the public interest,’ or any other formulation that brings together the words ‘public’ and ‘art’.” [1] Consequently, public art in Greece and elsewhere, too, seems to deal with all of the discrepancies of theoretical discourse concerning issues of representation of either art historical or political authority in the public sphere, as well as interventionist and site-specific attempts to understand functions of public space; and can even instrumentalize it for purposes of an aesthetic guerilla, and in some cases appropriate it for other market or spectacle-orientated uses. One can say that on one side the divergence between the aims of official institutions are to motivate and educate the “ignorant” public and, in doing so, to promote the instrumental role of art in delivering social inclusion. On the other side the predominant goals of artists’ groups are to create convivial, userfriendly, festive, collective and participatory projects in order to establish micro-communities. A third current in this development brings together groups that are actually concerned with a more interventionist and political approach towards issues of the public sphere, either deriving from a highly politicized background such as the “Void Network Society” or architectural activist practices of urban intervention, collective action, and community networking such as the “Urban Void” or the “Nomadic Architecture Network.” Clearly, a discussion of contemporary public art in Greece has to acknowledge all of these aspects and various approaches in addition to the fact that public art is not necessarily among the top priorities of mainstream art production. The peculiar aspect of Greek public art is that it moves at three speeds; so one will find more established, institutionalized and consumable public art projects such as the exhibition “Athens by Art,” organized by AICA Greece in 2004, or the ongoing installation of artwork in the stations of the Athens metro network coinciding with alternative, interventionist approaches today.

RES MAY 2008

In giving an account of the established public art projects, such as the Metro Project, it is important to point out that this “underground museum,” which has managed to attract international public attention, was conceived in a period of major changes towards urban beautification in prospect of the 2004 Athens Olympics. The driving force behind it was the adequate presentation of Greek art as an important factor of contemporary Greek culture. Obviously, the project had to address both the demand for a representational presence of contemporary art, and the vanguard demand for a reflective and active critique of the existing reality of the public sphere simultaneously. Despite its novelty, this project was not largely acknowledged as a cutting edge event by the local art public; simply because it did not (although filling the gap of a continuous institutionalized presence of commissioned public art) necessarily comply with the up-to-date artistic concerns about site-specific or even publicresponsive/public-conscious issues. What legitimized these works as “public art” was quite simply their placement in locations regarded as public because of their unrestricted physical accessibility. Similarly, the major exhibition “Athens by Art” aimed to endorse contemporary art as cultural capital


83 Courtesy the artist and Wohnmaschine Gallery, Berlin Below Maria Papadimitriou, Transbonanza Platform at T.A.M.A. (Temporary Museum for All), 1999 Courtesy the artist Bottom Maria Papadimitriou, Hotel Grande, The Restaurant, 2005, Old Town of Larissa, public installation Courtesy the artist and Beltsios Collection

RES MAY 2008

Left Dimitris Tzamouranis and Kathrin Lind, "Follow me‌", public installation, 2004

Top PPC_T/FARCADONA, Communitary TV and Free Radio Workshop Broadcast from the Lab Courtesy Yannis Arvanitis and Hariklia Hari Bottom PPC_T/FARCADONA, Creating a Lab at Thessaloniki during the Biennale 1 (May-September 2007) Courtesy Hariklia Hari

RES MAY 2008


85 However, there are many examples of events and projects that have taken place in Athens lately-two of the first attempts in that direction were the projects “Route 49” (1999) and "37–58°B / 23–43°A: Exhibition for a night" (2001), which radically revaluated the aesthetic necessity of site-specificity, its conceptual parameters and its social and political efficiency, and redefined the interventionist public-responsive actions in public as “public art.” In 2002, “A Station - Center for Contemporary Art” (1999-2005) organized a workshop and an exhibition entitled “Suburbia, the vast Cityscape of the Athenian Suburbs” that dealt with the city and its urban and social complexity. Young artists, architects, theoreticians, and urban planners worked together with the project’s curators Paulos Lefas and Nikos Kazeros in group projects that managed to exhibit a contemporary reading of the city, focusing on its underexposed areas. One of the most interesting projects of “Suburbia” was the intervention of public monuments in the suburban landscape of Athens by Mandy Albani. The artist researched the specific history of these unseen public monuments by critically recording the sociopolitical context, which defined daily aesthetic choices and the ideologically delimited way of life. By projecting the “details” of the clash between official historiography and actual daily life she directed the public’s attention towards the destruction of the urban landscape, the conformist communalism and the biopolitical indoctrination that form urban subjectivities. One of the projects which has considered various notions of “public art” in the context of research and cooperativeness in addition to addressing issues of locality, artistic nomadism and viable connectivity was the exhibition “Going Public ’05 Communities and Territories,” organized at the Larissa Contemporary Art Center. The curator Claudia Zanfi invited international artists to interact with artworks and situations intervening in the city of Larissa, resulting in the creation of structures in which the inhabitants of the city were confronted with experiences related to the use of public space. In the project “Common Ground,” artist Maria Papadimitriou analyzed the social structures of a Romany district, and explored the possibilities for an experimental community based on the idea of the marginal traveler, the immigrant, the settler and the squatter. Maria Papadimitriou employs critically marginal forms of sociability in her work and associates art with a form of political sensitization. Her mission focuses on the creation of contemporary, possibly utopian structures (architectural and institutional), which intervene in the everyday life of marginal local communities, such as Romany gypsies (in the Avliza-Menidi area near Athens), and create possibilities for conviviality. This activistlike effort to integrate art into socially established situations has developed from approaching the “other”: the minority individual, the socially dislocated person, as shown in the project “T.A.M.A. (Temporary Autonomous Museum for All),” in which the artist mediates between the actual experiences of the community and the general public.

RES MAY 2008

as well as enhance the potential of public art in promoting cultural tourism. The project clearly reflected the individual choices of the fifteen invited “art critics” involved in the selection of the artists, a process in which two main tendencies became apparent. The majority of the works remained at the level of creating a “sculpture boulevard” which failed to address any issues of site specificity by remaining restricted to a conventional contextualization of the qualities of the chosen site to the extent that they posed formal compositional challenges. They did not succeed in creating opportunities for the public to experience artworks in a non-museumlike reception environment or even in challenging (public) art’s values and priorities with alterations in the methodology and procedures of the actual production of artworks. There have only been a few artworks produced focusing on the participatory or public-responsive aspects, properly utilizing the site-specific nature and “openness” of the event.

RES MAY 2008


87 RES MAY 2008 Left Mary Zygouri, Hacking Reality, May 22, 2005, performance Courtesy the artist Below Yorgos Sapountzis, After Electricity. The Remains of a Start, December 13, 2007 Performance, duration 25 min., photograph by Kostas Sachpazis Courtesy the artist, Loraini Alimantiri/Gazonrouge Gallery, Athens, Isabella Bortollozi Gallery, Berlin

Yorgos Sapountzis, Yeti-lines, 2006 Video, duration 3.25 min., music by Joar P. Nordtun Courtesy the artist, Loraini Alimantiri/Gazonrouge Gallery, Athens, Isabella Bortollozi Gallery, Berlin

Among the various projects created for the event, special attention should be paid to the community-based research project carried out by Hariklia Hari entitled “Post-Programmed City-Territory.” Hari works with the local community in the village of Farkadona, consisting mainly of repatriated Pontic Greeks who arrived in Greece after the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. Despite government promises of immediate integration, this community has had to face serious problems concerning housing, education and living standards. The interesting aspect in this collaborative project (a collaboration between the inhabitants and the various experts contributing to the project) is the organic use of artistic creativity and structures of selforganization (from architectural design to the creation of computer hardware) which actually creates possibilities of generative discussions between public art and the interests of non-art constituencies.

One of the recent projects based on interventionist public-responsive actions, was the event “7 performances & a conversation” (2006) organized by “Locus Athens,” a group which employs the city itself which subsequently becomes a platform for events in a variety of places such as offices, apartment blocks, the meat market, coffee shops, train stations, parking lots or private homes. During this event, seven young artists presented their work individually at a place and time of their choice over a period of two weeks. The performances took place both in public places and in noninstitutionalized places accessible to the public (such as abandoned car warehouses or internet cafés). The project focused mainly on people’s expectations in public spaces, provoking the individual, the viewer or passer-by into becoming the actual content of art. One of the most interesting projects was the event “Hacking Reality” by Mary Zygouri. The artist organized various Athens council employees in charge of street cleaning in a public performance in a square in downtown Athens. After three road sweepers who surrounded the crowd while spraying a fresh-smelling aroma had forced the audience into a dense mass, four refuse collectors standing in front started chanting the phrase “Within a Structure. Outside a Structure” while holding flags using the sempaphore alphabet. The public had to respond using the same alphabet. In the action “Sold Out” (2004) the artist organized an auction of all of the articles found in an old shop to invited guests and passers-by, an action that mocked institutional systems of artistic value and exchange. The conditions and particularities of each site are central to the development of each project; the main focus in Zygouri’s audience-based art (performances and interventions) is its collaborative, participatory or interactive aspect.

RES MAY 2008

The work of Yorgos Sapountzis, who also participated in this event, is often based on erroneous readings of everyday life that mock the codes of certain functions. In his videos and performances in public spaces, he creates situations out of nothing by coming into contact with common, petty,


89 One final remark addresses the contemporary phenomenon of how commercial galleries highjack the reception strategies first employed by artists working within the context of public art. While the Athenian art scene is a highly commerce-driven art field, due to a substantial lack of strong public institutions, galleries have often had to meet other needs besides promoting and trendsetting. One of the most successful examples is the project “Opening Hours” (2007) curated by Pier-Luigi Tazzi and organized by Rebecca Camhi’s gallery. During this exhibition, artworks were installed in commercial places, such as cafés, convenience stores or restaurants run by immigrant Athenian citizens in the underdeveloped downtown district of Kerameikos in Athens. This area is located in the city center next to Psyri and Metaxourgio, areas that since 1994 have attracted the gallery scene of the new generation. The main idea of the project was to direct the attention of casual gallery-goers towards non-places of art and to enable the establishment of a new cartography in the city. The same urban area was also the arena of the “Re-Map,” a side project of the first Athens Biennial in 2007, where Athenian and international galleries temporarily occupied spaces such as fully functional as well as derelict buildings, lots and public spaces, and presented their programs there. Due to the rash gentrification of the Psyri area, the neighboring Kerameikos offered an excellent alternative for acquiring new, alternative spaces, despite the fact that this action was accused of being more a hide-and-seek game of profit-driven real estate investors (a game of corporate-oriented economy) and less a genuine demand to present art in less favorable areas of the city. Moreover, this art-driven redevelopment destroys according to its critics, the conditions of survival for residents no longer needed in the city’s economy such as low-profit immigrants and outsiders. However, this deployment of art “in public” or “for the public” even by commercial art galleries is symptomatic and it clarifies that the potential of public art (or public-oriented art) exhibited outside the institutional context, of enhancing the communication between work and audience(s), is enormous. Any use of public-related art evidently always has a direct or indirect political goal, as the term “public” has some democratic connotations which imply “openness,” “accessibility,” “participation,” “inclusion,” and “accountability” to “the people.” According to Rosalyn Deutsche, discourse about public

RES MAY 2008

everyday articles. In a series of videos which are the outcomes of performances, he re-maps the city by focusing on public monuments that appear to have become almost invisible—he completes them by adding construction (rods and tape) and himself, thus creating a form of “parasitic” city sculpture. Communication with the audience is his point of reference. Sapountzis’s radical attitude is a silent war against boredom, performed in mathematical precision and simplicity, with self-discipline during the creative process and rejection of any form of redundancy. In the performance “Earth” by artist Georgia Sagri, the audience was able to communicate with her by mobile phone without knowledge that they would be communicating with the artist, who, in turn, would start a spontaneous dialogue relating to what she was doing at the time in one of 14 different points around Athens. Sagri often tests her personal stamina (she has stood half naked outside the Athens Polytechnic University during a political demonstration; she has been dragged with her arms and legs tied through the streets of Athens in “The New Kind”; she has “lived” in a shop window) but also plays with the limits of the socially accepted by questioning the distinction between private and public. She seeks to challenge conformism and provoke reactions. The artistic persona itself (as body) threatens the guinea pig aspect in the hands of the artist through which she critically reacts against the complacency of a politically insensitive and idle society. Sagri’s actions suggest a stance of alertness in which the experience of the body as a new “species” confronts the modern hedonistic superego that urges individuals to consume and forget.

or public-oriented art is not only a site of deployment of the term itself and its art theoretical context but, more broadly, of the term democracy, and specifically of its fallacies and its misuses. What was called “the new public art” in the late 1980s actually served a political function: it conferred democratic legitimacy on redevelopment, serving on one side some practical or beautifying function, and helping on the other side to suppress the social conflicts, the relations of oppression, that were actually producing new urban spaces [2]. To create conflict-free spaces obviously means to create art that is addressed to conflict-free individuals, and moreover to create sites of conflict-free subjects. If public art is an instrument that constitutes a public by engaging people in political discussion or by entering a political struggle, contemporary discourse on public-oriented art should continuously demand further definition and understanding of the ongoing debates about this so called “public.” We shouldn’t forget, for example, that in the late 1990s and with the advent of “relational aesthetics” the focus shifted towards art that includes the presence of a micro-community, which had to be accommodated in the working process of the artist. However, these temporarily formed “collectives of viewers” often function only as an accessory to the artwork itself. Curator Nicolas Bourriaud declares that “the aura of artworks has shifted towards their public” [3] and this peculiar sentence implies that the public in relational art is no longer an inexperienced and lethargic “audience” but it is suddenly transformed into the added value of the artwork! This is not just optimism, but obviously a political agenda that instrumentalizes the public as an “invented community” formed around the core of the convivial artwork. Many critics have accused relational art (and its “dream of waking the zombies of consumer culture”) [4] of complicity with the very neoliberal imperatives it purported to critique, as both employ exactly the same methods of spectacle. The enthusiasm for the consensus in the relational is not confined to art but has become the symbol of contemporary smart capitalism, which goes hand in hand with the collapse of the political into the managerial. One of current authoritative pronouncements for its critics is exactly this dogma of “relational art” that promotes happy sociability. The dogma itself creates boundaries when it becomes mainstream. As critic Claire Bishop has often remarked, the proximity of an artwork to "relational" practices or its contextualization as a “public art” piece does not guarantee its potential of turning the public into an active agent. The mere fact of being collaborative, or participatory, or interactive, is not enough to legitimize a work or guarantee its significance from the audience point of view since, as I mentioned before, participation is often used today as a form of controlling the public by the creative industries, the mass media, cultural tourism and the government [5].

RES MAY 2008

Following Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, the public as political agent should be thus understood as an open site, as a tension field of blocked partial identities formed by each other [6]. Public space should be able to reflect this conflictual creation of active subjectivities. Proclaiming the “emancipated spectator,” as Jacques Rancière does, means acknowledging ‘this power that binds individuals together to the very extent that it keeps them apart from each other” [7]. When he then speaks about the “alleged” passivity of the public, he basically criticizes this division between activity and passivity as an artificial separation imposed by political consensus and the spectacle. The fundamental question is how to explore the possibility for play and make art that thwarts expectations. “The main enemy of artistic creativity as well as of political creativity is consensus—that is, inscription within roles, possibilities, competences” [8]. Public-responsive art should thus always take into account exactly these obstacles and opportunities of art at its political core to make people become active. Due to a peculiar lack of exposure to traditions of interventionist public art, and despite the alleged claims of


91 References: [1] Rosalyn Deutsche: The Question of “Public Space”, [2] Ibid. [3] Nicolas Bourriaud: Relational Aesthetics, Dijon : Presses du Reel, 1998, p. 58 [4] Paul Helliwell: Exodus, July 11, 2007, [5] Claire Bishop: Socially Engaged Art, Critics and Discontents: An Interview with Claire Bishop by Jennifer Roche, July 25, 2006, published online, [6] Ernesto Laclau & Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, London: Verso, 1985 [7] Jacques Rancière: The Emancipated Spectator, Artforum, March 2007, p. 278 [8] Ibid. Dr. Sotirios Bahtsetzis works as a lecturer and independent curator. He is based in Athens, Greece, and has curated the "Open Plan 2007" (curatorial project of Art Athina 2007) and several exhibitions presenting works by young Greek artists, such as the exhibition "An Outing. Contemporary Art in Greece in the 21st century. The Beltsios Collection" (2006). He teaches art history at the Architecture Department of Patras University and University of Thessalia in Greece. His PhD thesis (Faculty of Art History at the Technical University of Berlin, Germany) researched the History of Installation Art. Between 2002 and 2004 he taught the history of culture and visual culture in the Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design at London Metropolitan University, UK. He was also the research coordinator at the Museum of Installation, UK (Thames & Hudson 2003 Volume Installation Art in the New Millennium).

Georgia Sagri, The New Kind, 2003 Performance and video, 25 min. Courtesy the artist

RES MAY 2008

the existence of strong narratives concerning social cohesion and political consensus which guarantee that society is unified by a substantial basis, contemporary Greece seems to be an interesting testing ground for Rancière’s claim.

MODERN BULGARIAN PAINTING: CONTEMPORARY REBUSES DR. GALINA LARDEVA THE 1990S in Bulgarian fine arts can be regarded as the phase of intense and fast-tracked catching-up, with processes that did not occur during the long period of government-imposed cultural isolation in the second half of the 20th century. What marks this period as the time of modernity are both the political changes of 1989 and the subsequent reforms in the country. At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the development in Bulgarian fine arts was characterized by a vivid interest in modern visual forms and means of expression—including installation, object, video, and performance. Before then, artists did not have an opportunity to develop free and comprehensive art projects. While initially, the share of paintings soared, this trend went through its own quick evolution to make way for a whole new generation of artists and curators. With cultural integration, a free art market and the opening of private galleries promoting new concepts, the Bulgarian art scene gradually became modern, dynamic, and versatile. From today’s perspective, the processes that determined painting within these twenty years could be summarized as the catch-up period. However, catching-up seems to be what the entire 20th century was about for Bulgarian fine arts. In this context, it is also important to stress Bulgaria’s peripheral position in relation to the big international centres and its own strong folklore tradition which is reflected in various models of artistic practices—such as the continuing interest in the idea of the “national,” which throughout the 1920s, 1960s, and mid-1980s was manifested, interpreted or implemented in different ways. For instance, despite the intense exchange with and influence of ideas from Europe, the works by Bulgarian artists working and studying at the academies in Vienna, Munich and Paris still continued to carry a specific “Bulgarian” message. Under the communist regime, the art scene was firmly restricted within the limits set by the dogma of “socialist realism” that excluded the option of progressing along with other European and international trends in the arts. From the 1960s on, a number of artists attempted to break into certain abstract principles (Georgi Bozhilov, Petar Donchev, Ivan Vukadinov, etc.). By the late 1980s, both “figurative” and “abstract” as the modern alternative to the traditional genre system had become a popular notion.

RES MAY 2008

Abstraction, as a sign of the “reformation” of Bulgarian painting, had a rather symbolic character. This late and modified process concentrated on the purposeful interest in informal plastic concepts, in sensuous expression and semantic features of the untraditional as well as in artistic materials and substances. This very popular trend in the Bulgarian art scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s was represented by a generation of artists born in the 1950s (Svilen Blazhev, Stanislav Pamukochiev, Dimitar Cholakov, etc.). Today Bulgarian galleries present their work alongside that of younger artists (Georgi Shtarbev, Antonia Angelova, etc.) whose mainly large-scaled paintings feature a variety of materials such as sand, resins, wood, etc., with the intention of lending basic meaning to the effect of the expressive matter.


95 The artists Andrei Daniel, Krasimir Dobrev, and Ivan Kostolov represent significant styles that do not reflect the above-mentioned trend of catching-up and instead produce auto-reflexive works. They form a group of conceptual painters, and one of the main elements in their conceptuality is their traditional attitude towards the media of painting. Moreover, they are some of the most curious and dynamic representatives of contemporary Bulgarian painting. There is a constant and untiring interest in the subject matter to be found in the works of Andrei Daniel (b. 1952). Playing on an unlimited resource of stories, his works offer “readings.” However, they require the audience to know what exactly is to be read. In other words, they ask for a special eye to understand whether the piece is in fact a still life, a composition, or a landscape. Daniel’s typical approach to the composition of his paintings is the eliminating effect, which is based not on the deformation of space but on the selection of a viewpoint—which serves as both optical perspective and narrative position. The specifics of this choice shift the crucial aspects of the story and place them within a different, unexpected context. A good example is Funeral in Gintsi (1995): At first glance, the spectator sees an ordinary, familiar situation, placed in a recognizable environment. Only the title gives away the true subject matter. Gazing at the materiality of the painting, the spectator begins to

Ivan Kostolov, Dirigent, 2008 Oil on canvas, 47.2 x 66.9 in / 120 x 170 cm © Ivan Kostolov, Courtesy the artist

RES MAY 2008

Another important trend that started in the mid-1980s was the so-called “rehabilitation” of the subject in painting. Artists of several generations still continue to work with different approaches to and interpretations of the narrative of the painting.

“read the story”—locked in some corner of the painting. The title is highly specific, including the location (Gintsi is a small village), but the story could take place anywhere. The choice of the moment—not the burial itself, but its preparation—shifts the meaning to the subject matter. The episode depicted precedes the culmination in the story line. With Andrei Daniel, the key to the subject matter is always “before” or “after”—some point outside the epicentre of the action. In the complicated game played out between the composition and the title, which may bear the concept of the work, the spectator begins to “read” the codes of this Andrei Daniel, Funeral in Gintsi, 1995 “hidden narration.” For the author, the subject Oil on canvas, 55.1 x 55.1 in / 140 x 140 cm matter in “Funeral in Gintsi” is in the tactility of © Andrei Daniel, Courtesy the artist the excavation, which resembles flesh, located in a deliberately cheerful landscape. The funeral as a ritual is stripped of all its emblems and drama. In this way the central meaning—as in many of Daniel’s paintings—is deliberately shifted or hidden. This leads to astonishing contiguities and suggests a play with the possibilities of the perspective depending on which object offers greatest potential to the narrator; an unusual approach to seemingly common subject matters.

RES MAY 2008

Krasimir Dobrev (b. 1962), who debuted in the early 1990s, follows an exceptionally definite and complete artistic concept. His early paintings relied on an expressive surreal approach toward the subject matter, on an academic rendering of the form, and on references to the old city and “popular-tune” culture. Gradually his means of expression shifted from the collage-like mastering of the painting’s space to establishing a very active conceptual connection between vision and text as well as to stylized, almost poster-like images. In Drobey’s paintings, we can see elements of Dada, Surrealism, Pop Art, cartoons, street graffiti, and TV commercials. Every image in his paintings seems to have its own specific nature, feature, and determinable origin. In “How Krasimir Dobrev, How Should I Know, 2005 should I know” (2005), Biedermeier costumes Acrylic and oil on canvas, 31.4 x 39.3 in / 80 x 100 cm play hide and seek with speech bubbles in both © Krasimir Dobrev, Courtesy the artist English and Bulgarian, an AK machine gun, and the allusion to classic pencil drawing— apparently incompatible features. The key is once again hidden in the title, an important element in the author’s conceptual design. At first, this key seems “stuck” in an illogical and visual depiction, but with


97 Š Krasimir Dobrev, Courtesy the artist

RES MAY 2008

Krasimir Dobrev, Mother Devil Take It, 2004 Acrylic on canvas, 39.3 x 31.4 in / 100 x 80 cm

the introduction of the title, the painting is literally “unlocked” (in this case through speech bubbles with the text “How should I know”). This is Dobrey’s specific way of provoking his implicit spectator by underlining the necessity to “read” the subject matter. No matter whether the viewer is prepared for this reading or approaches the work intuitively, he definitely enters an unusual situation with the story requiring his complicity. The “clippings” from different visual systems in the painting are similar to a rebus the viewer has to solve. But while there is a clear solution to any rebus, there is no final answer to Dobrey’s riddles. With his inventive codes the artist involves the audience in an intellectual game which nobody wins. Ivan Kostolov (b. 1972) is one of the newgeneration Bulgarian painters, with an outlook unburdened by artistic dogma and norms. A graduate of the Städel Academy of Arts in Frankfurt, he is well acquainted with both the old European masters and modern art processes.

Ivan Kostolov, Shooting, 2007 Oil on canvas, 94.4 x 53.9 in / 240 x 137 cm

Kostolov uses realism as a means of expression because he regards it as the shortest way to the subject matter. In his works we see a multitude of still images with deliberately attitudinized poses, gestures, movements, and mimicry. His is an acute, worried view of the world, which he continuously visualizes with a sometimes sinister offhandedness and a notable lack of sentiment.

Along with traditional painting techniques and the classical composition of form and space, Kostolov bases his work on the visual nature of the photograph. Not in the sense, however, of a documentary-like “precise” representation of reality, but of an obsession with the brevity of the single moment. The images and situations in these otherwise imperceptible time segments are often unrelated to each other. Kostolov transforms the process of reading a painting: the spectator sees a story, which is then disintegrated in front of his eyes. The artist demonstrates that each image has its own life without necessarily relating to its environment with a common script. So there is always more than just one story. In “Shooting” (2007), for example, the characters pose around a common “meaning centre”—a jar—carefully positioned as if in front of a camera. They start simultaneous dialogues with the spectator either with a gesture, look, grimace or close-up view—completely independent from each other, following their own logic of presence and

© Ivan Kostolov, Courtesy the artist

RES MAY 2008


99 Andrei Daniel (b. 1952), professor of painting at the National Academy of Arts in Sofia. Participation in national and international art forums since 1977. Over 25 independent shows in Bulgaria and abroad. Active participant in the European programmes Erasmus and Socrates. Masters’ programme at the Seoul Art Centre in Korea in 1994 and 1995. Daniel has received many awards and his work is represented in the collections of the National Art Gallery, Sofia City Gallery, National Art Gallery Bratislava, and the Art Gallery Szczecin as well as in numerous collections abroad—in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Finland, Israel, Spain, France, England, the USA, Germany, Canada, and South Korea. Krasimir Dobrev (b. 1962), associate professor of painting and scenography, at the Academy of Music, Dance and Fine Arts in Plovdiv. Numerous independent exhibitions and participation in national and international art forums. Dobrev has received national awards for painting, including the Award for Young Artist by Bulgarian Art magazine (1995) and the Art Award of M Tel (2005). His work is represented in art galleries and private collections in Bulgaria and abroad. Ivan Kostolov (b. 1972) studied at the Art Academy of Mainz, Germany, between 1999 and 2001. From 2001-2006 he visited Städel Academy of Arts in Frankfurt, Germany, where he studied with Prof. Hermann Nitsch and Prof. Christa Näher. In 2005-2006 he was a graduate student in the master class of Prof. Christa Näher. He has had several independent exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions in Bulgaria and Germany. In 2007, he won the First Prize for Painting of the National Competition for Young Artists and Curators in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Galina Lardeva (b. 1972) holds a Ph.D. in art history and is Senior Lecturer of Art History and Theory at the Academy of Music, Dance and Fine Arts in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. From 1995-2002 Lardeva was a curator at the Centre of Modern Arts, part of the Plovdiv City Gallery of Fine Arts. Her main interest is modern art practices. She is the curator of numerous exhibitions of modern Bulgarian art both in Bulgaria and abroad.

Ivan Kostolov, Bacchus, 2006 Oil on canvas, 47.2 x 66.9 in / 120 x 170 cm © Ivan Kostolov, Courtesy the artist

RES MAY 2008

communication. And again, we discover the meaning of the title. In this case, however, it conceptually overlaps—like a gesture in a performance, the visual story.



Since its first opening ten years ago, “Paris Photo” has become the worldwide leading international art fair for photography. The preview show gathered not only renowned artists and dealers from all over the world, but everyone who is linked to photography in one way or the other. This year Italy was featured as a special guest at the fair, presenting itself with selected works from the UniCredit Collection and other contemporary positions. Since the fair opened its doors for the first time ten years ago, “Paris Photo” has acquired a worldwide reputation. This year about 300 galleries applied for a space in the Louvre Carrousel; however only 83 of the applicants could be included—the toughest choice for the curators in the history of the fair so far. The program covered a broad range of genres: from the famous pioneers from the early days of photography, such as Heinrich Kuehn or the brothers Lumieres, to the latest works of contemporary photography by artists like Petros Chrisostomou (1981) who first builds miniature dollhouse interiors and then creates large-scale prints of them (ill. 1). The French even Paris Photo, main hall with view to the BMW Paris Photo Prize exhibition on the first floor divided the exhibit into three sections and eras: “Photographie Ancienne” (1839-1914), “Photographie Moderne” (1917-1970), and Courtesy Janine Schmutz “Photographie Contemporaine” (1970 onwards). Also included was the outstanding photography of Paris’ scene in the 1930s, with such great works as André Kertész’s “Chairs, the Medici Fountain, Paris” of 1925 on display (ill. 2). In addition to the 83 galleries, 26 publishers presented themselves, which were three more than last year. This record number reflects the increasing popularity that photography-themed publications and catalogues enjoy. The selection of galleries was extraordinarily international. Haling from 16 countries, approximately 77% came from outside of France: 18 French galleries were joined by 16 dealers from Italy (this year’s guest of honor), 15 from the USA, 7 from Spain, 6 from Germany, 5 from Great Britain, 3 each from the Netherlands and Japan, 2 from Finland. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Hungary, Luxembourg, Portugal and even South Africa were represented by one gallery each. Apart from internationally renowned galleries such as Yvon Lambert (Paris/New York) who exhibited for the first time at Paris Photo, Massimo Minini (Brescia, Italy), Kicken (Berlin) and Xippas (Paris/Athens), all well known from other art fairs, Paris Photo registered 26 newcomers whose programs concentrated primarily on contemporary experimental photography and thus pushed the fair’s program well into the 21st century. RES MAY 2008


© Petros Chrisostomou, Courtesy Galerie Xippas, Paris 2 André Kertész, Chairs, The Medici Fountain, Paris, 1925 9.2 x 11 in / 23.5 x 28 cm © André Kertész, Courtesy Bruce Silverstein, New York Bottom Esther Wördehoff Gallery showing the works of the German artist Sabine Dehnel Italian photographers of the UniCredit Collection Courtesy Janine Schmutz



SPECIAL GUEST ITALY Following last year’s focus on the northern hemisphere and its “Ecole du Nord,” in 2007 Paris Photo turned south and welcomed Italy as special guest, a country that has only recently begun to appreciate photography as an art form. The Italian scene has, however, caught up with the market over the last couple of years and offers an impressive array of new talent. An exhibit of a selection of works from the UniCredit Collection took center stage at the fair. Finance institute UniCredit is one of Italy’s major sponsors of contemporary art and has established an impressive collection of about 500 photographic works dating back to 1970. The exhibition at Paris Photo, which had been arranged by the curator and art critic Walter Guadagnini, focused on different contemporary visions of nature and landscape, showing artists like Luigi Ghirri, Olivo Barbieri and Gabriele Basilico. Guadagnini—who had organized the Photo Biennale Modena in 1993—also helped select the so-called statements in which eight galleries from Rome (VM21, Oredaria), Milan (Nepente, Bel Vedere), Turin (Guido Costa, Alberto Peola) and Naples (Trisorio, Umberto di Marino) presented new works since 2000, including works by Botto e Bruno, Luca Andreoni, Lorenza Lucchi, and Basili. All in all, an excellent arrangement that was complemented by contemporary video works from major Italian collections exhibited in the project room.

101 RES MAY 2008

Left 1 Petros Chrisostomou, Plot Plant Landscape, 2006 47.2 x 59 in / 120 x 150 cm


RES MAY 2008

3 Jitka Hanzlová, Untitled (Hungry Fishes), from the series The Cotton Rose, 2004 C,Print- 11.2 x 7.4 in / 28.5 x 19 cm


© Jitka Hanzlová, Courtesy Kicken Berlin

103 The prize was awarded unanimously to the Czech photographer Jitka Hanzlová whose small but exquisite picture Untitled (Hungry Fishes) (ill. 3) from 2004 won the jury over. The artist (*1958 in Nachrod, CZ) who is represented by Gallery Kicken, Berlin, is the first female artist to be awarded the prize and was quite overwhelmed to be the recipient of the 12,000 Euro prize. Previous award winners were Jules Spinatsch (2004) of Switzerland, American Anthony Goicolea (2005) and Mathieu BernardReymond (2006) of France. Jitka Hanzlová has been highly regarded in the international photography scene for some time. In the past, her work has been awarded prizes and has been featured in numerous significant exhibitions at London’s Barbican Centre, the Academy of Arts, Berlin, and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and is represented in several international collections. However, fact that the award went to this specific picture, Untitled (Hungry Fishes) 2004, came as a surprise. The image—which is part of a series titled The Cotton Rose and comes from a series of photographs taken in Japan—was not an obvious choice. But by catching the colorful movements made by the fish at the surface of the murky water, Hanzlová expressed the preciousness of water as a source of life. Paris Photo 2007 (November 15-18, 2007) Further information: Janine Schmutz (b. 1975.) Studied art history and history in Basel (Switzerland) and Freiburg (Germany). Research assistant at Schloss Balmoral, Bad Ems, Germany, 2003-2004. Has been working for the art agency of Fondation Beyeler (Basel) since 2004 as an independent curator.

RES MAY 2008

BMW PARIS PHOTO AWARD The BMW Paris Photo Award has established itself as an annual highlight of the international photography scene. The prize—which was awarded for the fourth time in 2007—honors and supports contemporary art photography. The competition is open to all artists represented by galleries showing at Paris Photo. From the fifty works submitted by the exhibitors, 16 were nominated and presented in a small exhibition on the first floor of the fair. The theme this year was “Water, the Origin of Life,” resulting in a wide-ranging compilation of works from which an international jury, headed by BMW France Chairman Nicolas Wertans, selected the winner.


INTRODUCTION The 10th Istanbul Biennale had such an impact on the art scene in Turkey that it led to a virtual “explosion” of artistic activities. The enthusiasm among artists and their ensuing work resulting from the Biennale could still be felt many months after it closed. Inspired by the previous Istanbul Biennale, the 10th’s curators, Vasıf Kortun and Charles Esche, implemented a strategy to expand the show all over the city, to both the European and Asian sides, and to create a citywide circulation of art with mobile public projects. Independent artists initiatives, art centers and museums backed by the major institutions such as Istanbul Modern and Santral Istanbul [1] participated in the project to draw public attention to the international audience of art lovers and collectors and capital that poured into Istanbul for the sake of contemporary art. This lively atmosphere reached its climax at the opening of the Biennale. This year, there was so much interest that two openings were hosted at both Santral Istanbul and Antrepo. While Antrepo enjoyed a great success with its pavilion "Entre-polis," that attracted the biggest crowds during the Biennale, Istanbul Modern invited visitors to step right into an exhibition [2] on the Biennale itself. In this setting which was characterized by the neighboring corporate structures (Antrepo No: 3 where the Biennale was held and Antrepo No: 4 of Istanbul Modern), visitors were welcomed by several stands. In addition to familiar regulars like the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) selling Biennale catalogues and souvenirs, the stand of Art-ist Publishing attracted quite a bit of attention. A meeting point for many, from participating artists to leading art writers, this stand was one of the most popular stops of the opening. Art-ist presented the audience with a reference book on the last two decades of contemporary art in Turkey. “USER’S MANUAL Contemporary Art in Turkey 1986-2006”* is a comprehensive edition published by Artist with the support of the publishing house Revolver based in Frankfurt, Germany. The co-editors are Halit Altındere and Süreyyya Evren. With the intention of offering an overview of the most recent twenty years of contemporary art in Turkey with contributions by 78 artists and 15 writers, Art-ist has delivered a comprehensive reference book that had been sorely missing on the market of art publications. So now that a reference book is available, it is slowly finding its way into the libraries of many art enthusiasts and artists, and some criticism is beginning to be voiced, but no proper review on the book has been written so far. The author of this article wants to take a critical look at the book. To clarify some questions, he conducted an interview with one of the editors, Halil Altındere whose cooperation was highly appreciated [3]. RES MAY 2008


107 INITIAL FINDINGS The publisher of the book, Art-ist Production Design and Publishing, generally addresses a rather specific group of readers. Considering its target audience, the magazine positions itself close to the post-structuralist criticism and focuses both on Turkish and international contemporary art criticism. It has a vision that feeds off a provocative and opposing aspect of art. Art-ist’s profile if defined by writers such as Süreyyya Evren, Erden Kosova, and Sezgin Boynak. The publication in question, USER’S MANUAL, was prepared close to a reference book format derived from "Art Now." It appears to be a source that focuses on contemporary art from Turkey and consequently needs to deliver a general overview. Actually, this manual is an unusual publication for Art-ist in the way the book is presented. With its eclectic design, the publication stands out as something like a fetish object which may not appeal to long-time followers of Art-ist who are set on consistency. Art-ist is providing the reader with an elegant tabletop publication which is the very format it normally would deeply disapprove of. The beginning of the book is divided into two chapters under the headings "Writers" and "Artists." An initial listing of dates and events and a preface by Süreyyya Evren and Halil Altındere and an introduction by Halil Altındere are followed by texts by 15 different writers. The second chapter includes 78 artists with four pages allocated to each. However, only visual materials were included in these pages. This first chapter, which carries contributions by a central group from various generations, but particularly younger writers, provides a regional, historical, and general view of the contemporary art environment in Turkey and has an interesting story: As noted by Halil Altındere, according to the initial plans, the first chapter of the book was supposed to be composed of the transcripts of a debate at a roundtable meeting. This format was abandoned when the cooperation between participants could not be achieved and finally a compilation of multiple writers was selected. Now, although the texts are independent of each other, they nevertheless move on a chronological timeline extending from the 1980s to 2000s. This polyphonic structure is considerably similar to the format and content we know from other Art-ist publications. The essays as well as the accompanying predominantly black and white or blue visuals imply some reference to an Art-ist special issue. Süreyyya Evren collated the scattered pieces of this chapter and gave them a smooth and readable structure. While Süreyyya Evren put his editorial weight into the "Writers" chapter, Halil Altındere came to the forefront in the "Artists" chapter: Here, each artist was given four pages. Although some artists and exhibitions inevitably stand out in the essays that constitute the first chapter, the book follows a democratic policy in terms of the space provided to the artists. The issue that stands in the centre of criticism is the selection of these particular 78 artists, questioning whether Halil Altındere should have been such a determining factor in the choice of artists. Another criticism voiced about the second chapter is the lack of additional reading available in the artists’ pages as the layout clearly focuses the reader's attention on visual materials only. In this format, with the exception of the pages where they appear as side notes in the texts of the first chapter, there is no mention of the artists’ production process and artistic understanding. Some artists are placed at the center of the texts while others only receive marginal comments in the footnotes—a situation that creates an obvious imbalance. This is once again proof of how little is actually read about contemporary artists in Turkey. In general, texts tend to deal with sociological issues,

RES MAY 2008


geographical events, works shown and stands taken. In addition, while information is available on certain artists active throughout the 1990s [4], the lack of analytical texts dealing with artists from the younger generation included in this book seems problematic. While certain information may be obtained on artists referred to in the texts in the first chapter, there is a lack of information regarding the work of the artists who are not mentioned in this chapter. This shortcoming could have been overcome by including texts by the artists or short readings on their works in the second chapter. The editorial team also confessed that they had a difficult time due to the limited amount of texts provided by artists, and therefore chose this path to keep the balance and to be democratic. Despite all good intentions, the democratic ground tilts in the end, albeit inadvertently. The book includes two indexes in addition to the two main chapters: "20 Important Exhibitions in Turkish Contemporary Art" and "Web Sites / Blogs of Artists, Initiatives, and Venues Controlled by Artists.” Halil Altındere argues that we could see the former as a chapter and a matter for discussion in its own right. The second index, on the other hand, seems to be quite a right move, made in the name of "fairness" as mentioned by the editors. Here, a list of web sites and blogs of artists and writers from the contemporary art scene in Turkey is provided. The Internet and blog spaces deserve to be a subject of special interest. As a platform for many independent formations, they allow young writers and artists who experience difficulties in raising the required budgets to bring their publications to life. They enable them to present their activities rapidly to each other as well as to their audiences. In fact, some artists who work exclusively in the blog format deserve an important place in the Turkish art environment and it is good that the book has not overlooked such a vital field. VOL II: SECOND READING, DETAILED READING USER’S MANUAL "Is this an anthology? A history book? A selection? Or, as the title announces with a tinge of irony, basically a user's manual?” Süreyyya Evren – Halil Altındere [5].

RES MAY 2008

The historical process the USER’S MANUAL focuses on covers the decade between 1990 and 2000, during which the editors also played an active role in the art arena. Likewise, most of the authors we encounter in the first chapter either witnessed these years or debuted during this period. Among the texts about the 1990s, Ali Akay's piece titled "The Art Community in the 1990s" and Erden Kosova's "Contemporary Art in Turkey" [6] stand out. Evrim Altuğ's essay, "Media and Its Messages: Notes on Contemporary Art Criticism in Turkey," is noteworthy in terms of the issue, which it treats fairly. The author comments on the last two decades of contemporary art criticism in Turkey, not as an art historian but as an art journalist who has been working in this field for nine years, as he puts it. The text, "Visual Art as a Field of Complication" by Beral Madra—one of the most senior representatives of the country's contemporary art environment in the book—provides an


109 The impact that the Istanbul Biennale had both culturally and pedagogically on contemporary art in Turkey is described by Marcus Graf in a text on the history of the Biennale 1987-2007. Fulya Erdemci's essay "Thinking Otherwise" [7] notes that Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, has experienced an increased socio-cultural interest due to EU integration, however, with an emphasis on an Orientalist and touristic point of view. Erdemci analyzes the situation in regard to the changes during this era, constructs her essay on this problem and suggests alternatives. In her essay "Digital-Minded Attempt: Detecting Digital Culture in Turkey", Başak Şenova establishes a family tree of collectives and individual artists who use new media as a form of artistic expression. Pelin Tan provides a short but a fairly informative text for outsiders where she evaluates artist initiatives and independent artist venues in Turkey which emerged mostly in the 2000s. Three essays that focus on the starting points of contemporary art in geographical regions outside Istanbul are ordered in a system which allows the reader to associate them with each other. These essays, written by Şener Özmen, Elmas Deniz, and Ferhat Özgür take a look at Diyarbakır, Izmir, and Ankara. The authors chronologically assess the independent structures and artistic movements at these places by moving from a local to a general perspective and by including various production strategies. As noted by the book's editors, to understand the 2000s, first the 1990s need to be investigated; and to understand the 1990s, the 1980s and late 1970s are to be examined. The most striking document on 1980s is "Object Art, Conceptual Art, Post-Conceptual Art Trends in Turkey." The essay, written by Nilgün

RES MAY 2008

assessment of the 1982-2007 period in Turkey departing from the generalist perspective. Ayşegül Sönmez picks up the thread from where Beral Madra leaves it and presents an assessment of the first years of the new millennium.

Özayten, is an extract from the author’s 1992 PhD thesis. Vasıf Kortun's essay "Weak Fictions, Accelerated Destinies," written for the catalogue of the exhibition "Scorpaena: Contemporary Art from Istanbul" (Berlin 1998), is another authentic text that the editors “revived” for the book. Looking at the 78 artists in the second chapter, we observe a general preference for artists who produced work during the 2000s. Halil Altındere personally takes responsibility for choosing the artists in this chapter (including the selection and arrangement of visual material which constitutes these pages). In this respect, the book differs from similar international works formed in accordance with the opinions of invited curators [8]. Generally, the selection of artists in such works is made by experts representing diverse philosophies and visions. In this book, however, artists and their works were selected only by one of the editors, which shifts the focus to artists he personally knows or has worked with, reflecting Halil Altındere's own curatorial chronology. To be fair, had the selection be made by an entirely different curatorial board, a great majority of the artists would have been chosen for this book. USER’S MANUAL stands as the last step in Art-ist's and Halil Altındere's curatorial adventure [9] chronology. The comprehensive approach, which increasingly expands from the specific to the general, adopted by Altındere also in his exhibitions, aims to reach a wider audience. The book clearly reflects the ebb and flow between Art-ist's provocative identity and its efforts to create a "guide" for a broader public. This tension becomes obvious with the two chapters seeming rather detached from each other. The effects of the struggle between "representation" and "identity" predominant in today’s art scene (with corporate museums, comprehensive reference publications, large private collections) also seem manifested in the book. This atmosphere also heralds a transformation in how contemporary art in Turkey is managed and presented. There is a need for change and new attitudes are under way. So it should not come as a surprise that USER’S MANUAL gives the impression of being the product of a transition period. To conclude, a few remarks about recent developments: It can be stated that the "National Exhibitions" in the 1990s were an important step [10], maybe even the beginning of change. These exhibitions could be called the away games for groups of artists from Turkey. And while the surprising interest in these events led to major breaks in the Turkish art world, they also communicated to international audiences that "there is contemporary art in this country." The introduction of USER’S MANUAL also mentions the so-called "Istanbul Miracle," a term referring to the surprising interest from the West. As a result, European curators reintroduced the Balkans to the agenda with a series of comprehensive national exhibitions that mainly focused on post-war trauma. The process continued as contemporary artists from Turkey found a special place for themselves in these exhibitions. Meanwhile, artists from Turkey also started to feature more prominently in art events outside Europe, such as the São Paulo Biennale.

RES MAY 2008

Today, not the presence of contemporary art in Turkey is a matter of debate, but how to include new forms into the commercial art market. The number of institutions that show contemporary art is rising continuously, and some Turkish art institutions even participate in international contemporary art fairs. And while there is still some discussion in certain circles about contemporary art itself, many institutions and private collectors help contemporary artists gain stronger international recognition. Moreover, it is now possible for contemporary artists to find a place within corporate structures and


111 In this context, USER’S MANUAL Contemporary Art in Turkey is urgently needed. We shall thus extend our thanks first to the team that created the book, to authors and artists who shared their work without expecting anything in return, and finally to all those who are committed to the promotion of contemporary art in this country. Let us hope that the book will lead to further debate and subsequently to an abundance of publications on the topic. REFERENCES * USER’S MANUAL Contemporary Art in Turkey 1986-2006, edited by Halil Altındere-Süreyyya Evren, Art-ist Prodüksiyon Tasarım Yayıncılık/Istanbul - Revolver Archiv für aktuelle Kunst/Frankfurt am Main, 2007 [1] Santral Istanbul opened on 8 September 2007 with the exhibition "Modern and Beyond." The exhibition covered the period between 1950 and 2000 in Turkish art. Curators of the exhibition were Fulya Erdemci, Semra Germaner, Orhan Koçak, and Zeynep Rona. [2] “Time Present Time Past – Highlights from 20 Years of the International Istanbul Biennale,“ September 2006 – 2 December 2007, Istanbul Modern, [3] For the full text of this interview please see [4] This text, by Erden Kosova, is an excerpt from the exhibition catologue "In den Schluchten des Balkans"; curated by René Block at the Kassel Fridericianum Museum in 2003. [5] Excerpt from the preface of USER’S MANUAL. [6] Examples include interviews conducted by Erden Kosova and Vasıf Kortun with various artists such as Gülsün Karamustafa, Bülent Şangar, Esra Ersen, Aydan Murtezaoğlu, and Serkan Özkaya as well as various texts on their artistic production (Please refer to the blogs for Vasıf Kortun's articles and for Erden Kosova’s in Turkish). [7] The mentioned text was written for the catalogue of the exhibition "Focus Istanbul" but was withdrawn by the author as a response to the Orientalist approach of the exhibition and has not been published anywhere else. [8] See: Ice Cream: Contemporary Art in Culture, 10 Curators, 100 Contemporary Artists, 10 Source Artists (2007), Vitamin Ph: New Perspectives in Photography (2006) are some examples published by Phaidon. Alternatively, series by Taschen such as Art Now (2001), Art Now Vol.2 (2005) and “Art Tomorrow” (2002) published by Terrail may also be added to these examples. Like the User's Manual, these publications were also prepared not with the intention to accompany any exhibition. [9] The exhibitions organized under Halil Altındere's curatorship include: “I am Bad and I am Proud” (2002), “Paving Stones Beneath the Beach” (2002) (Halil Altındere was co-curator of the exhibition curated by Vasıf Kortun and had assumed an important role in his artistic ascent with originating from Diyarbakır. Some artists coming from this region after the exhibition made an entry to the international art environment with their fierce and provocative rebukes), “I will Kill You, I am Sorry” (2003), “Free-kick” (2005) (one of the co-exhibitions of the 9th Istanbul Biennale) and most recently “Be Realistic Ask for the Impossible” had the highest participation among exhibitions realized by Altındere. Mostly young artists were invited to show pieces at these exhibitions. They have been noted in Altındere's chronology as polyphonic curatorial works with increasingly crowded staff that aim to strike and shock the audience at first glance. [10] Mahmut Koyuncu's essay in the User's Manual focuses on the national exhibitions, its genesis and the representation problem. See: User’s Manual, p. 88-101 Borga Kantürk (b. 1978) is an artist and independent curator. He graduated from the Department of Painting and completed his master's degree at the Dokuz Eylül University in Izmir where he has been working as a research assistant since 2002. Kantürk has participated in several international and national exhibitions and has curated international exhibitions with the support of Hiap, FRAME, Av-Arkki (Finland), Atelier Frankfurt (Germany) and K2 Art Center (Izmir). As the founder-director of the KUTU Portable Art Venue project (2001-2005), he also worked as a project manager at the K2 Art Center from 2004-2007. In 2007, Kantürk was a member in the curator team of the 10th Istanbul Biennale Nightcomers project. He lives and works in Izmir.

RES MAY 2008

other initiatives where long-term projects are implemented in order to ensure a sustainable impact. Given such vivid interest, efforts to record the near past of contemporary art in Turkey are inevitable, with private institutions, individuals, and museums launching initiatives reflecting their respective visions and strategies.

RES No.2  

Interview With Beatriz Milhazes Res Hedonistic, Transnational And Multi-cultural: Patterns As A Signal For A New Economy Of Vision Prof. Ann...

RES No.2  

Interview With Beatriz Milhazes Res Hedonistic, Transnational And Multi-cultural: Patterns As A Signal For A New Economy Of Vision Prof. Ann...