Picabia Was Also a Post-Impressionist
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 08-28-11

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Francis Picabia, a good friend of Marcel Duchamp who would have been the cold-veined hitman if Dada had been an organized crime organization, is best known for his allusively erotic faux-machinic diagrams. He once splattered an inkblot on a piece of paper and called it a portrait of the Virgin Mary. But as the blog "Adventures in the Print Trade" points out, he also had a reasonable career etching fuzzy naturalistic prints of boats, people and landscapes, in the style of Pisarro and Cezanne: "It's as if Damian Hirst had begun as a Pre-Raphaelite, or Marina Abramovic were to suddenly unveil a hidden stash of genteel watercolours of flowers in vases."

Just one more reminder that avant-gardistes weren't avant-gardistes because they couldn't draw trees right.

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Bicycle the Last Artistic Transportation?
By Eli Epstein-Deutsch
posted: 08-27-11
Five-Man Pedersen (Prototype No.1), Simon Starling, 2003
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"No other icon in sport or transport has retained such constant or potent significance [as the bike]. The car, once all open road and opportunity, now evokes the dystopia of Jeremy Clarkson and carmageddon. The train has surrendered its Brief Encounter romance to the absurdity of leaves on the line, and the misery of the sweaty commute."

-Matthew Wright, in the Guardian


"The centrality of flight to culture and ‘social drama’ might have seemed obvious as late as the 1930s – but it isn’t now"

-Julius Purcell, in the Financial Times


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Daniel Spoerri's Multiplication d'Art Transformable
By Maria Goldverg
posted: 08-26-11
Niki de Saint Phalle, Tr-Edition MAT, 1964 (number 90 in a series of 100)
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The following was written by critic Pierre Restany in 1966 for Daniel Spoerri's Edition MAT— which, for about a decade in the late nineteen fifties through the sixties, offered mass-produced and affordable works of art to the general public:
(printed here thanks to Will Brand of Art Fag City)

A permanent manifesto of social art.

I. MAT is firstly an adventure, an episode in the capricious career of a "beat" poet-dancer who is in a perpetual state of wandering, a well regarded topographer-alchemist who goes by the name of Daniel Spoerri.

Upon arriving in Paris in 1959, Spoerri set up the first chapter of MAT (Multiplication d'Art Transformable). It consisted of an edition of 100 original multiples, all signed and individually priced. To sum up, the artists were: Agam, Bury, Marcel Duchamp, Munari, Dieter Roth, Soto, Tinguely, Vasarely. Subsequent editions were something approximating a mix of avant-gardist Pop and Op tendencies: Arman, Christo, Spoerri, Villagie, Baj and Lichtenstein; Mack, Le Parc, Morrelet, Talman, etc. Marcel Duchamp would later be joined by Arp and Man Ray.

II. But the Spoerrian dialectic leads to a general idea: art as a social phenomenon. MAT is above all a manifesto/response to this problem, an affirmation of contemporary art's social calling.

The idea of original multiples is nothing new. Born out of the ambiguous visuals of a simultaneous diffusion of individual aesthetic pleasure, it was unviable. Fautrier proved it brilliantly in 1950. Ten years later the situation was different. Spoerri was the catalyst. The choice of the first line-up of artists is significant: whether it was through the intervention of the viewer-consumer, through mechanical animation, or through pure optical effect, the works chosen for the 1959 edition are organically and fundamentally multiples, theoretically infinite in their potential transformations.

Thus the full scope of the challenge that MAT presents becomes apparent. The multiplication of an artwork is a specific quality of the dissemination of its message, grasped in its inherent diversity: the creative urge facilitated by mass communication—art speaking to as many people as possible.

MAT clearly signifies the death of the unique artwork and a move beyond artisanal aesthetics. At the most profound level of contemporary expressiveness, the excellence of a piece of work has made way for the richness of information. As Yves Klein proclaimed, there are no technical difficulties, just answers. From the beginning, MAT was an act of faith, a creed for artworks that can be disseminated thanks to machines and by machines. Today, poets have joined artists in responding to this matter—Robert Filliou, Maurice Henry, Andre Thompkins—making ideas concrete, visualizing words, rendering syntax into the will of the reader-manipulator. The perspectives are clear: MAT, reedited in 1966 and enriched with MAT-MOT, is today's response to the anachronistic elements of the past that have survived; it's a further step toward the decommercialization of art—the logical corollary of its integration into society.

Pierre Restany

Paris, November 26, 1966.

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"This is the Apocalyptic Nature of Our Modernity"
By Maria Goldverg
posted: 08-25-11
From Leo Bersani's Culture of Redemption
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Part of our challenge here at is figuring out where to draw the boundaries for what is pertinent to the subjects of “modernism” and “avant-garde.”  Personally, I have always found the effort to narrow the historical or general “avant-garde” into a single definition confounding. 

For anyone who may be experiencing a similar problem, I’d like to propose taking a close look at the following passage.  Berkley’s literary theorist Leo Bersani begins his essay, Boundaries of Time and Being: Benjamin, Baudelaire, Nietzsche, by formulating a number of questions that circle around the larger question of how to situate the modern against (or within?) the contemporary landscape.  The following selection may be long, but I recommend giving it the time it’s due. 

“the modern…retains an incomparable aura: that of being spiritually stranded, uniquely special in its radical break with traditional values and modes of consciousness.  And to say this is to return to the logical problem I raised at the start: if an exacerbated consciousness of the modern is necessarily characterized by the sense of being cut off from the premodern, how can we understand the terms in relation to which, more exactly against which, the modern itself is to be defined?  This very problem is perhaps a creation of the modernistic modernity to which I have just referred.  If the concept of modernity always implies the sense of a break with the past, of living at moments when certain important thresholds are crossed (thresholds of political or economic modes of organization, of demographic movements and the distribution of social pressures and loci of power, of cultural hierarchies—including the place of religion in a culture’s resources for making its experience intelligible and for guiding ethical choices), it does not necessarily imply that modern times are chiefly characterized by an inability to do something that past epochs were able to do: to make connections and, more precisely, to connect with their own traditions.  Now, however, the modern is understood not merely as a break with the past but as an inability to understand the past.  The modernity of the twentieth century includes the loss of what other maternities did not necessarily give up when they defined their own distinctiveness: an understanding of the tradition to which that modernity added something new.  The break with the past now is marked by a mournful sense of the break itself as unique.  We are modern because our modernity makes absolute the notion of discontinuity as a loss of the aptitude for continuities.  To speak of the past therefore becomes nearly inconceivable once it is no longer merely a question of describing other customs, other systems of justice, other sets of beliefs, but rather the lost capacity of consciousness to place itself in relation to history.  Modern consciousness, in short, is irremediably cut off from other ways in which human beings have understood their modernity, their comparatively limited break with their own past.  This is the apocalyptic nature of out modernity, which in this century has frequently been spoken of as if it were a mutation of consciousness rather than the latest in a series of regular turns, accretions, and ruptures within an organically whole tradition.  How, then, can we speak of that from which we have mutated?  Is the mournful consciousness that describes this evolutionary drama the vestigial remnant of an extinct mode of being?”


(Leo Bersani, “Boundaries of Time and Being: Benjamin, Baudelaire, Nietzsche,” in The Culture of Redemption (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 47-48.)

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Ai Weiwei exhibition to open in L.A.
By Lucy Li
posted: 08-24-11
Ai's Zodiac Heads
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There are artists that break all the rules, and then there's Ai Weiwei. Activist Ai Weiwei's installation, "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads", is on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until February.

Although Ai will not be attending the opening of "Circle" because his bail arrangements prevent him from leaving Beijing, he was in a "chatty" mood while talking with an L.A. Times reporter. He opened up about his art, health and generally about life outside prison. He's also back on Twitter, although he's not allowed to mention his legal case.

The exhibition, according to Ai, is about "the future and the past, and how China is looked at today and how it looks at itself ... it has many, many different layers--is it art or not art, and to what degree?" "Circle" features large-scale statue heads of the Chinese zodiac, and is inspired by similar figures at the Yuan Ming Yuan palace, an imperial garden filled with invaluable antiques that was raided and pillaged by British and French forces in 1860. Ai hopes that the exhibition will appeal to artists and laymen alike.

An artist, curator, architect, photographer and cultural critic, Ai has been dealing with the routinely oppressing Chinese government for years, and was finally arrested this year in April. Chinese prison is no picnic: Ai lost 26 pounds, and in 2009 he even had to undergo brain surgery due to beating at the hands of the police. Still charged with tax evasion, Ai is currently living with his wife and young child in Beijing and respecting most of the terms of his bail. "Twitter is not allowed," Ai told the LA Times. "I have been warned again."

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