ASRL / PERPETUAL 2014
 
Centuries Before Duchamp, Spanish King Elevated Chess Strategy to Occult Art
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 07-02-11
Astrological Chess
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The deep affinity between chess and Marcel Duchamp is well known. It's not only that picture of him playing with a nude Eve Babitz, or the striking, abstract set he designed with his friend Man Ray, or even his official decision to abandon art production for a period of 20 years whilst cultivating his tournament game. There is also the sense that the rhythms of chess were deeply intertwined with everything Duchamp did: from the carefully laid Fountain gambit set to trap his opponent the Salon Des Independants, to the fact that, as he once told interviewer Pierre Cabanne, he considered his "greatest work of art" to be his "use of time." (This of course is a point of pride among any professional Chessmaster playing on the clock). Ultimately, one suspects that the universe which swirled around the figure of Marcel Duchamp was structured, fundamentally, like a chess game--and that this is amongst the central secrets of his art.

In this respect, there is reason to believe that Duchamp may have had a seminal ancestor in a perhaps unlikely place and time: 13th Century Castile. This is where and when King Alfonso X, known also as Alfonso the Wise, a "lettered" monarch known for his skill at astrology and verse composition, commissioned the Book of Games: an allusive, luminously illustrated text based partly on pre-existing Arabic works. It is among the first known documents to consider in depth the relationship between gaming, aesthetics, and cosmology.   Backgammon, dice, chess and others are looked upon not just as diversions, but fundamental ciphers providing insight into the order of things (while also constituting standards of beauty.) One tableau, for instance, allegorizes the dialectic between chance and strategy as a mystical union between dice and chess. One cannot but think of this in relationship to the tricky, faux-stochastic work of Duchamp's: the "Standard Stoppages." These appear to leave measurements to fate, but in fact were most likely carefully, intentionally glued in the precise configuration predetermined by the artist. Seeming to appease the God of chance, while in fact leaving nothing to it: is this not one authentic, if perverse way of manifesting Alfonso's dialectic?

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How to Buy a Lawrence Weiner
By Maria Goldverg
posted: 07-01-11
Lawrence Weiner's A Line Drawn from the First Star At Dusk to the Last Star at Dawn
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If Hannah Weiner wrote a poetics that bore witness to a her schizophrenic environment, a spectacle of linguistic topologies, Lawrence Weiner—member of the Postminimalist Conceptualism movement from the 1960s with others including artists Robert Barry and Sol LeWitt—actively constructs his own peculiar conceptual landscape, by inscribing its signifiers into the real.  Unlike Hannah, Lawrence Weiner dares his audience to do more than read, he dares us to make. But how?


As a “language-based sculptor,” when Lawrence Weiner sells art, he doesn’t hire a van to transfer his texts to their new owner’s location, nor does he part with the concrete performance-work those words might both designate and embody; instead, Lawrence Weiner presents his collector with a certificate that then permits the new owner to reprint his words or construct the sculpture they are led to imagine. 


Aaron and Barbara Levine recently purchased a Weiner from the Art Basel fair that just closed in Switzerland.  They are avid collectors of what they call “immaterial art.”  That implies an emphasis and interest that stems from Duchamp’s readymade entries into the art world at the very beginning of the twentieth century: if a signature can transform an already existing object into art, why can’t a signature do the same for something that has yet to be realized?  And if that is possible, why does that something need to be realized at all?   Charles Bernstein wrote about Hannah Weiner’s work in Jacket magazine, “[it] is an unrelenting synthesis of radical formal innovation and intensely personal content,” and the same can be said of Lawrence’s work.  It exists somewhere between the innovative and the intimate—a space in which a publishable copy simply becomes irrelevant.


   The result of all this can only lead to a perception of artist as God figure, capable of literally remapping his world—whether by blowing craters around California or writing about blowing craters.  This, certainly, becomes complicated when the subsequent creations must be made to enter an economy, especially when the transition from the conceptual to the concrete is negated and often reversed.  Perhaps at least one intended benefit of Lawrence Weiner’s work is that art appreciation is liberation from fetish: “transcendence can only be completed by the viewer.”  Duchamp had said something very similar.  But perhaps receiving a gold-starred, stamped certificate of ownership only serves to reemphasize our dependency on a commodity form.

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Sometimes Conceptualist Photographer Jeff Wall Charted Crooked Path Past Duchamp
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 06-30-11
Jeff Wall's Pop Ascendance
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Today among the most prominent photographers exhibiting in the world, Jeff Wall has navigated a complex route towards the goal of making large-scale photography safe for top art museums. Along the way he has incorporated influences from classic photography (portraiture, documentary, photo-essay), academic modernist painting (like Post-Impressionism), Minimalism (Dan Flavin), and Conceptualism. A new show at the Bozar Palais Des Beaux Arts in Brussels, entitled Jeff Wall: The Crooked Path, attempts to thread these motley sources into a reckoning with the complex accomplishment of an artist who some have accused of losing his edge to success. (A few years ago Sonic Youth even titled an album after his famous Destroyed Room, which is hard to say if it counts for or against the aforementioned.)

In a way, it makes sense that the early 20th century work that the Wall exhibition chooses to focus on is Duchamp's Etant Donnes, featuring Manual of Instructions for the Assembly of Étant donnés: 1° La chute d’eau, 2° Le gaz d’éclairage (1966) in one room. Wall, who wrote part of a dissertation on Duchamp at Courtauld Institute of Art in London, shares with Duchamp an element of the provocateur. As Barry Schabsky writes in a recent Nation article, Wall's early-career insistence on blowing up vividly constructed photo tableaux to the size of monumental painting was then a radical salvo in the battle to delimit the role of the photographic medium within the art world.

Moreover, Wall, like Duchamp, frequently and ambivalently straddles lines between strict conceptualist manipulations (and deconstructions) of pictorial form and the production of strikingly visual, sometimes panoramic icons. Finally, as Schabsky points out, Wall has risked devolving into a manager of his image and legacy. Here, Duchamp's solution, hiding in plain sight at chess tournaments while toiling away in secret on a final confrontation, can only be upheld as exemplary.

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An Epitaph for Immortality: Dali on Potsdamer Platz
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 06-28-11
The Esoteric Dali
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After crumpling up that poster of The Persistence of Memory for post-college interior redecoration, the specter of an anti-Salvador Dali backlash presents itself. It's all too easy to decide that the wax-mustachioed Spanish showman was a commercial, cliched hype-machine and somehow your adolescent self was tricked into buying the Kool-Aid.

The error of such a position, in my view, is revealed time and time again. It's refuted as much as anything by the permanent exhibition showing now over two floors of a blue-green modern-glass gallery in Potsdamer Platz, the former dividing line between East and West Berlin. Potsdamer Platz, which had been leveled by Allied bombing and was rebuilt only recently with a dizzying matrix of luxury hotels, multiplexes and museums, is somehow a fitting site for Dali. It's all disorienting modernist glitz tempered (or underwritten) by recollections of abject destruction, twinkling away into transience. As in Dali's famous In Voluptate Mors, material lust and aestheticism form death's afterimage.

Other than the aforementioned, which is displayed right by the exit, the show mostly stays away from the most obvious Dali icons. Instead it displays a rich collection of illustrations, lithographs, anamorphic drawings, and mixed media works. The wiry, comic-book-like Don Quixote sketches are especially worthy, along with the Pantagruel series, in which Dali mimics Renaissance-style illustration in order to animate Rabelais's classic novel. The Adventures of Casanova are portrayed with bulbous, buffoonish eroticism. Finally, on the second floor, Dali's complex geometric symbology, filled with golden ratios, hieratic marks, and 4-dimensional shapes, manifests in his Recipes for Immortality. Metaphysical, heady, and not a melting clock in sight. 

 

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Virtual Duchamp and The Paradox of Art Spaces
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 06-26-11
Does the Avant-Garde need Lincoln Center?
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Earlier this month I wrote about the journalist Yoav Sivan, who submitted a Duchampesque art concept to the Columbia Arts Initiative exhibition at Lincoln Center: calling his work "The Restroom of King Francis," he proposed to build a replica of the Louvre hall that contains the Mona Lisa, and then hang a Duchamp urinal on the wall next to it; meanwhile, an adjoining men's room would be hung with a copy of the Mona Lisa, perhaps defaced with the infamous moustache. As virtually occurred with Duchamp's Fountain, Sivan's piece was rejected (The Fountain wasn't actually rejected by the Salon Des Independants, which had promised to take all comers, but made a point of hiding the urinal out of sight).

In a way, however, Columbia's rejection of Sivan's work isn't precisely the interesting thing about it (though the rejection was key to Fountain's notoriety). Rather, what's worth exploring is the way it reopens the question of art spaces, contexts, and institutions in the "post-avant-garde" age.

What's the significance of the gesture of hanging the urinal on the wall next to the Mona Lisa? Like a good midgame chess move, it's over-determined, ambiguous, polysemous. It could be part of several strategies at once: it may suggest a devaluation of high art spaces, such as the Louvre; alternatively, it could emphasize their recrudescence and triumph, having incorporated too the icons of skeptical modernism alongside the classical greats.

And to place the Mona Lisa in the restroom, well...that could be a renewed call to take everyday spaces seriously as loci of art. Or else it could be advocating for the cultural diminishment of the Renaissance painting, still tourist-beloved almost a century after L.H.O.O.Q. In a more scatological vein, in could imply there was indeed always something anal-retentive about the physical process of art collecting, going back to the days of King Francis himself.

Then there's the additional wrinkle that Sivan's creation exists only in virtual space, in rooms digitally rendered by an artist. There is where the rejection matters; had it been accepted it would have been made physical, the following question neutralized: is a virtual space legitimate for art viewing? Could it somehow be more versatile, better? How many people spend time in Lincoln Center as compared to Second Life or World of Warcraft? (This would be my next recommendation for Sivan: display his work in Second Life.) Does the prestige accrued by physically distinct, culturally blessed institutions such as Lincoln Center diminish as rapidly proliferating images and information (not to mention mimetic worlds inhabited by spatially disparate people), appear to mock geography? Or does the mysterious aura of immobile property simply reassert itself all the more strongly, revealing itself as a transcendent barrier to the nomadic, decentralized utopian dream?

Well, it's certainly interesting to think about.

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