On December 1st,
2000, Thomas Hirschhorn was announced the winner of the Prix
Marcel Duchamp, the first time this new award was presented.
Aimed at contemporary artists living in France, the winner of the Prix
Marcel Duchamp receives FF 200,000 (a little less than US $30,000) and
gets a two-month show at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Hirschhorn's "Pole-Self"
was exhibited there between February 28 -- April 30, 2001.
course, is no stranger to the art world. Born in Berne, Switzerland,
in1957, he had been on the rise even before Catherine David showed his
work at the Jeu de Paume, Paris, in 1994. And with five solo shows in
2001 alone, from Zurich to Barcelona, as well as his participation in
major art events such as the Venice Biennale, the demand for his works
is way up.
installation views of Thomas Hirschhorn's "Pole Self,"
Paris, Centre Pompidou, February 28 -- April 30, 2001
is not easy to grasp and almost impossible to forget. Using everyday
material such as silver foil, cardboard or duct tape, his installations
incorporate entire rooms. His art seems to grow and spread wherever
it is displayed. To some viewers Hirschhorn's environments appear plain
ugly, his material too cheap and his eagerness to intellectually involve
the visitor is seen as too didactic. To be sure, his is not the inaccessibly
polished surface of a Jeff Koons. The use of material is embedded in
a democratic and egalitarian notion of the viewer having the possibility
to see exactly how his art is made. And art is not only for glances
or aesthetic pleasantries but for spending some time with, for engaging
the viewer and generating ideas. Often, Hirschhorn builds "altars"
or "kiosks" in public spaces, dedicating them to writers and
artists such as Raymond Carver or Robert Walser, Meret Oppenheim or
Ingeborg Bachmann. He tackles the Holocaust straight-on (no niceties
here) and pokes fun at his native country's obsession with the production
of luxury goods. For "Pole Self" Thomas Hirschorn transformed
various rooms of the Centre Pompidou into a library, with books attached
to metal chains dangling from the ceiling. Other installations included
sandbags to wrestle with as well as an "anticapitalist trash heap"
in which books on luxury and wealth could be found.
in Artforum's December issue of 2001, London-based art critic
Kate Bush praised Hirschhorn's "distinctive nonaesthetic--based
on rickety form, cheap materials, and a blizzard of images and words--[…]
powered by a sense of urgency and incomprehension in the face of catastrophe
that leaves us, under his unforgiving neon, nowhere to hide."
Sas de Contamination, 2000
Raymond Carver-Altar, 2000
Deleuze Monument, 2000
Critical Laboratory, 2000
Hirschhorn, Rolex, etc, Freudlichs Aufstieg and
Flying Boxes, 1993
*All documentation (figures 1-6) from Gilles Fuchs (ed.), Le
Prix Marcel Duchamp 2000 (Paris: ADIAF, 2001)
When awarded the
Prix Marcel Duchamp through Gilles Fuchs, the president of the Association
pour la Diffusion Internationale de l'Art Français, a simple "Merci"
is reported to be all Thomas Hirschhorn said during the ceremony. Tout-Fait
wanted to know a little more regarding the artist and his appreciation
of Marcel Duchamp. What follows are Hirschhorn's answers to seven questions
we were eager to ask him.
on the Prix Duchamp 2001. Any idea about why it was you who received
It is by chance that the price bears Marcel Duchamp's name. It is by
chance that the price was given to me.
there any specific projects you have used your winnings for?
I have used the money for the production of the work “Pole Self.”
Click to enlarge
Duchamp, Design for "The Temptation of St. Anthony,"
1946 (on the cover, the catalogue shows Max Ernst's winning entry
for the Hollywood movie The Private Affairs of Bel Ami)
seemed to despise the very idea of a jury although unlike Breton, he
did not refuse awards. In 1946, together with Alfred H. Barr and Sidney
Janis, Duchamp chose "The Temptation of St. Anthony"(Fig.
7) from a number of submissions on the same subject to be
the winning entry of a competition. Regarding his experience as a juror,
Duchamp said: "Jurors are always apt to be wrong…even the conviction
of having been fair does not change any doubts on the right to judge
Receiving an award engages the giver more than it does the laureate.
I on the other hand am engaged towards my work and to my work alone.
Tout-Fait: To what extent, if at all, has Duchamp influenced your work?
I enthusiastically embraced Duchamp’s contributions to the Paris exhibition
“Internationale du Surréalisme” (Fig. 8)
as well as the show in New York “First Papers of Surrealism”
(Fig. 9). What fascinates me is his understanding
of being an artist. Marcel Duchamp was free with his own.
Duchamp, Twelve Hundred Coal Bags Suspended from the Ceiling
over a Stove, 1938 (part of his installation for the Exposition
Internationale du Surréalisme, Paris)
Duchamp, Sixteen Miles of String, 1942 (part of his installation
for the First Papers of Surrealism exhibition, NY)
you remember the first time you became aware of Duchamp's art?
Thomas Hirschhorn: This was at the Kunstgewerbeschule
(School of Applied Arts) in Zurich during art history class. We discussed
The Passage from Virgin to Bride(Fig. 10),
works he did back then, like The Chocolate Grinder(Fig.
11), or this magnificent Large Glass
(Fig. 12) as well as the "Ready-mades." Then I read the book Pictorial
Nominalism by Thierry de Duve, which was very important to me. Later
I saw the wonderful collection of Louise and Walter Arensberg at the Philadelphia
Duchamp, The Passage from Virgin to Bride, 1912
Duchamp, Chocolate Grinder, No.1, 1913
Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
(aka the Large Glass), 1915-23
You once said that what you are interested in is the "doing-too-much,
the provision of extra-work, as is the case with light." Is this
statement comparable to Duchamp's notes about "infra-mince"
(a concept first published posthumously in Marcel Duchamp, Notes,
Paul Matisse, ed., Boston: G.K. Hall & Company, 1980, notes 1-46),
in which he makes known his interest in the warmth of chairs, after
sitting on them, the extra-energy used when pushing down a light-switch,
One cannot compare the two. I’m interested in the 'too much,' doing
too much, giving too much, putting too much of an effort into something.
Wastefulness as tool or weapon.
Within your works, I sometimes sense the inherent unwillingness to even
do as much as to exhibit within the given context of the artworld. Your
installation for the Guggenheim Museum Store in Soho was such a total
refusal without having to say. In the beginning Duchamp did not exhibit
his Ready-mades and often refused to participate in exhibitions. Are
your new works in the classic size of large oil on canvas (with picture
frame to hang from a wall) a first compromise regarding the possibility
of displaying your work (i.e., within the apartments of collectors),
comparable to Duchamp's later editions of the Ready-mades?
Hirschhorn's handwritten response (in German), faxed on September
Duchamp never made any compromises. He was the most intelligent artist
of his century.
interview was conducted by Thomas Girst via e-mail and fax. Thomas Hirschhorn's
answers were sent to ASRL on September 20th, 2001, consisting
of two handwritten pages, excl. the cover page. Many thanks to both
Ms. Petra Gördüren of Arndt&Partner,
Berlin, for establishing contact, as well as to Ms. Sophie Pulicani,
studio Thomas Hirschhorn, Paris, for making the images available.