Fusion // Confusion
The art of reference
12 January 2008 – 30 March 2008
Museum Folkwang, Essen
A group exhibition with:
Zbynek Baladrán (Czech Republic), Michael Beutler (Germany), Luca Buvoli (Italy), Simon Dybbroe Møller (Denmark), Cyprien Gaillard (France), Dionisio González (Spain), Konsortium (Germany), Ciprian Muresan (Rumania), Deimantas Narkevicius (Lithuania), Veit
Why do so many young artists deal with the beginnings of the Modern and those Modernist forms which developed thereafter? Which models do they draw on, which heroes are overthrown? These questions are the starting point of a succinct selection of younger artists from Western and Eastern Europe who have attracted international attention in the last few years. They provide a complex formulation of the ambivalent relation to the Modern, a nostalgia for its innocent purity of language, its utopian potential, but equally critique.
The term “Fusion”, often used in economics today, describes these artists’ methodology.: they take on forms, theses and construction principles from art and architecture through citation, copying or transformation, sometimes refusing clear authorship, commentating critically and ironically, merging artistic genres and transforming existing references.
A new vision of a younger artist generation of the Modern, against a background of global political and economic change, makes evident an ever growing distance to avant-garde art of the 20’s and the 60’s. The visions of the past, however, still define the aesthetic parameters of contemporary art. But the promises of “yesterday” can no longer serve as prescription of today’s reality. They no longer mean the same thing. Where can art go? Which functions can be formulated for art today – beyond the art market.
Curator: Sabine Maria Schmidt
One excerpt chapter of the catalogue
Some installation views:
Reference, Ruin, Utopia
Preliminary remarks on three inherent, central concepts in the exhibition
Fusion // Confusion
The fact that art refers to art seems to be a simple, if not the exclusive basis of artistic production. Over the course of the centuries, masters, traditions and schools have provided the role models, stimuli and stylistic guidelines for subsequent generations of artists. However, it is only relatively recently that reference to a different work of art has become the key topic of the work itself. Repeatedly, the creative response to art has appeared in phases since the second half of the 20th century, experiencing any number of specifications – from homage to citation, the appropriative copy, transformation, ironic persiflage, montage and sampling. First and foremost, it has gone along with breaks, radical advances and exceptional achievements. Art may employ traditional forms in this process while making quite clear that their actual content is no longer being conveyed.
When the young Rumanian Ciprian Muresan presents re-interpretations of Maurizio Cattelan and Yves Klein, he takes his place – whether intentionally or not – in this sequence of visual responses in art; works whose simplicity and aptness make them appear as brilliant as the models they cite. One is reminded e.g. of Duchamp’s Mona Lisa, General Idea’s adaptation (Aids, 1987) of Robert Indiana’s Love (1972), Johannes Wohnseifer’s untitled corner of grease (Meister Proper Ultra, 1993), Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1952) and Warhol’s attacks on Jackson Pollock with the Oxidation Paintings (1978). Muresan’s appropriation of Cattelan’s La nona ora (1999) – which shows Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteorite – is enigmatic, intelligent, ironic and above all rich in references. Muresan alters the title to The End of the Five Year Plan and substitutes a new protagonist. Here, it is Teoctist I, the patriarch of the Rumanian Church, who is stretched out in the same pose. In this way, the young Rumanian succeeds in practising a subtle criticism of the links between his home country’s religious and political systems, and of their ambiguous national idea; at the same time, he appropriates the grotesque language of one of the most radical contemporary western artists in a playfully light-hearted manner.
Just as 20-year-old Yves Klein declared to his friends Claude Pascal and Arman on the beach of Nice that the blue sky was his rightful property and first work of art, in their work the artists of Konsortium formulate a claim to the availability of everything and quote without reference Arthur C. Danto’s sentence: “It is part of what defines contemporary art that the art of the past is available for such use as artists care to give.” This is meant less as a call to plunder than as a reference to the repeatedly formulated act of liberation, which – in art – was both a symbolic and extremely real act of liberation from acknowledged regulations; an almost paradoxical union of continuity and breach, in which the thing that is to be broken with nonetheless meets with the greatest admiration and recognition. The members of the group Konsortium (Lars Breuer, Sebastian Freytag, Guido Münch, Jan Kämmerling) work in this field as artists and events managers – organised like an independent label -, exploiting all means of art distribution. They refer to themselves as “fans of Minimal and Concept Art” and operate on an extremely complex and subversive level on the “concept of the image” and the borders of art, design, architecture and pop.
Yves Klein expressed quite clearly the disappearing relevance of the objectifying language practised in art and revealed the emergence of a historical reality in which the world is experienced as an (ideal) space. As a young man, or so he tells us, he “hated the birds that flew back and forth punching holes in my blue, cloudless sky, in my most beautiful, my grandest work.” Being able to fly as freely through the sphere of references is an attractive image. But there is always the threat of crash-landings here, too. It is already close to an act of erasure when Ciprian Muresan “post-dates” Klein’s famous Leap into the Void by only five seconds. After all, the cyclist – following the rules of time travel – has advanced a little on his journey without becoming aware of the horror of the dystopian.
It was probably Klein’s most spectacular conquest of space; a bold staging of the human dream to overcome one’s own physical limitations. The legendary photo, on which Klein floats in mid air, was published in Dimanche – La journal d’un seul jour, in a daily newspaper that Yves Klein produced himself. It only exists as a single edition, 27th November 1960, and could be bought from kiosks all over Paris. He succeeded in challenging the birds’ place in the monochrome sky with the aid of two trained judokas, who held a jumping blanket, and a photographer who created a montage of two photographs in order to retouch the image and erase the “disturbing reality”.
However, the stable recovery position to which Muresan subjects the protagonist brings together something else: he guides such utopian leaps into the air back into the gravitational field of reality and sets the “sculpture” (the leaper’s performance) back onto its “plinth” (the street). A similar thing happens in Once in the XXth Century by Deimantas Narkevičius, a film based on found-footage material. Few works sum up the problems with monuments experienced by former Eastern Bloc states in a comparably forceful and yet simple way, making clear the impossibility of the artworks’ function as a surrogate to suppressed rituals of reappraising and coming to terms with history. The film suggests that the responsibility for this reappraisal lies in the hands of those who honour rather than the honoured.
The Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius, like the Czech artist Zbynĕk Baladrán, is concerned with the experience of collective, chiefly Eastern European history. In the politically and culturally changed situation of Eastern European states since the 1990s, the artists trace a vacuum in which the ideological perception in their countries is not characterised by either reflection on their own history, or on a vision for the future.
Groups of artists like IRWIN were the first to draw our attention to a fundamental problem of artistic production during Socialism: during the socialist epoch there were “scarcely any transparent structures with which to organise events, artworks and artists with art historical significance within a system of references that was accepted and respected beyond the borders of a single country”. Communication between artists, critics and theorists was blocked to a great extent. The lack of support and networks already made it difficult to grasp the art produced in the era of Socialism as a whole, but it was even more difficult to discern links between local and international art systems, and the group formulate this in their project East Art Map. The deficit is reflected in a desire for reference and unusual networking with temporary artist groups, the creation of online-magazines, and individual project spaces.
Eastern European artists clarify a paradigmatic change in the reception of the historical avant-garde in (media-) artistic projects of the late 1980s and 1990s. “This paradigmatic change is founded in a new relation to the concept of the (political and artistic) utopia. Since the beginning of the 1990s in particular, a significantly altered reception of the historical artistic avant-garde can be ascertained in projects by young artists from Eastern Europe (neo-utopianism, retro-utopianism). In these artistic projects, it is possible to perceive e.g. an increased media-archaeological interest in the avant-garde’s early utopian technological fantasies, which is symptomatic of a significantly changed relation to the utopia or the utopian: the utopian is escaping its starkly negative, since politically totalitarian overtone (understood as ‘utopianism’) and is being lent increasingly positive political connotations, i.e. being understood as emancipating or visionary-fictive potential (‘utopianity’).”
The representatives of the avant-garde had always intended art and art criticism as practices capable of changing society, but the European avant-garde with their radical utopias were already considered a failure before the Second World War. “A new understanding of avant-garde spread in the art scene from around 1960 onwards; as a strategy that sought to identify new perspectives for an art that changes society by means of critical reflection on its own self-image, but was constantly in danger of losing its practical reference to social reality as an outcome of this self-criticism.” Here, it must be left as speculation whether the current impulses of Eastern European artists are having a reflected impact on a large number of young Western European artists who reject a conceptual art of gestures – a sometimes sarcastic attitude, primarily oriented on the art market – and call for new (or the old new) assignments for art in society.
Muresan’s obliteration of the protagonist in the above-mentioned photographic work is reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg’s famous visit to Willem de Kooning in 1953, when he requested a drawing for the purpose of erasing it.
Although completely opposite in terms of method, Simon Dybbroe Møller’s ceiling painting Inside the ceiling seems closely related in this respect. Rauschenberg needed four weeks of work and several rubber erasers to obliterate de Kooning’s drawing. Simon Dybbroe Møller’s drawing requires an equally enduring period to unfold fully. The portrait of Le Corbusier drops from the ceiling gradually, as a veritable epiphany of artificial water damage, and provides a subtle footnote to the widely circulated incidents with flat roofs. Simon Dybbroe Møller takes up the tradition of the American Concept Art of the 1960s with his installations, in particular that of artists like Robert Morris, whose works were devoted to the topic of Institutional Critique. Unlike the representatives of the first generation, who attributed meaning primarily to abstract ideas and regarded the visualisation of the concept as secondary, Dybbroe Møller attaches great importance to a poetic, playful handling of conceptual issues. The debate with architecture can be encountered on many complex levels in his work. In an early video work, Simon Dybbroe Møller combines his own music and the image of a Modernist ruin, the 91m high “Skeletor” in Krakow. This was planned as a modern high-rise but never completed, and it has never been anything more than a ruin. The filmed ruin is filmed in turn as a projection, while Simon Dybbroe Møller undertakes the paradoxical attempt to respond with music to a film in which no action is visible. “We have arrived too late; the event has already taken place, we inhabit the ruins that it has left behind. On the other hand, we perceive ourselves […] in this broken relationship. The ruins that we inhabit are the place in which we live and thus a kind of home, after all.”
In a similar way, Mark Lewis describes his feelings towards a building, an apartment house in Vancouver that he photographed over the course of many years: “My” building, of course, remains standing, and it has resisted (temporarily) any contemporary “remodeling,” though it has started to look more than a little neglected: its paint is peeling; the concrete has started to crumble here and there, softening the building’s hard angular edges […] Alarmingly, it occurs to me that this disintegration and decay might be the real reason why I am drawn to this building, and why I continue to think that it may have something to reveal […]. The idea of a modernist ruin in the making, while compellingly seductive, seems depressingly elegiac and tautological at best. ”10
The ruin expresses the ideal in its failure. Perhaps this is a decisive factor in our long-continuing love of Modernism.
The young French artist Cyprien Gaillard employs his works to thematise the handling of brutalist architecture from the 1960s in France and England. One of his concepts envisages the creation of a large-scale park of ruins of modern international high-rise architecture based on the model of romantic landscape gardens. Unlike Karl Friedrich Schinkel or later Caspar David Friedrich, however, he does not seek to stage the “ruin”, but is concerned with the protection of monuments already beginning today (cf. the text by Payam Sharifi). In his etchings, he inserts apartment houses of brutalist architecture into classical-traditional landscapes and points to the diverse, ambivalent perspective of Modernism in the future. In photo documentations and video works, he produces vivid architectural portraits tracing the demolition of high-rises that have made architectural history; these are now demolished with the same “celebrity” as they were once opened. Gaillard works less with reportage and documentation than with historicising and simultaneously ambiguous scenarios. He adopts an interim standpoint, which has discernible aspects of drifting situationist dérive, the occupation of the graffiti gangs, and a specific visual scanning of the concrete architectural surfaces (comparable to the physical activity of skaters).
Increasingly, since the 1970s at the latest, 20th century urban architecture has emerged as the reversal of modernist ideals, which often contradicted the everyday needs of residents. At the beginning of the 1990s, more and more projects critical of urbanism were initiated, which clarified the relative nature of evaluating individual architectures. We know now that a single piece of architecture cannot either improve or worsen an urban environment, any more than a single work of art can define a building (art in an architectural context). For many years now, there have been indications of a fresh evaluation of modernist architecture, not least by fine artists. This is also a matter of recalling its utopian potential: the beauty of the machine, an apartment for everyone, the glass house, the customer as king (the department store), the collective house, the vertical garden city, clay buildings for the poor, residential palaces for the workers11.
However, there are other fields that may be opened up by this exhibition. In his revised panorama photographs, Dionisio González expands on the self-organising favelas using elements from avant-garde architectures. Self-organising spatial identity here is compared and contrasted with the formal concept of traditional urban planning, which can only intervene partially in the rapid development of mega-cities. The ruinous aspect of the favela shack becomes the starting point for new architecture.
Michael Beutler creates extremely complex architectonic-sculptural interventions. They alter the given site and its usage, but also create new temporary spaces as well. He develops his own “production apparatuses” to realise them, only producing the exact amount of material that he needs for his works, but nonetheless discovering forms of duplication typical of machines. Beutler questions production processes, the “integrity of materials” and – not least – he points to fundamental architectonic attitudes by referring to famous architects and designers. The ambivalent relation of an open working situation is quite tangible in his installation Babel in Essen. It remains unclear whether further construction will take place.
In “Velocity Zero”, Luca Buvoli takes up models and manifestos of Futurism, the great model of modernist Italian art that was to become so tragically involved with Fascism. In a video work shown at the Venice Biennial recently, people with speech defects recite the Futurist Manifesto with its glorification of technology and speed. For Essen, Buvoli developed a new form of presentation. The fragmentary language of those reciting – determined by a natural speech defect – goes a step further, interpreting the manifest ecstasy of technology and speed with a view to its fundamental failure.
Ruins, Archaeology and the Gap between Images is the name of Zbynĕk Baladrán’s text drawing our attention to the current flood of images and our fragmentary view of the world as a consequence of millions of disparate images. At the same time, he shows the synchrony of images from different periods: “Images that are hundred years old exist side by side with images that are ten years old and images that are a few seconds old.” Images therefore have an early expiry date; they overlap above and alongside each other like the layers of archaeological excavations. They cover each other or combine to create new arrangements outside of their actual context. According to their position or “excavation phase”, they alter their connections and relations and are infinitely ambiguous as a result. New images can also turn into metaphorical ruins almost immediately. The more rapid and extensive the image production, the more quickly an image is covered over by new layers12. As if in an archaeological excavation, therefore, Baladrán sees the images of different phases move closer together and create an epoch. For the artist, they represent the starting point of numerous references and interpretations. He focuses his media-archaeological investigations on the last fifty years, a period that guarantees an active and subjective culture of memory in the present and makes clear the contrast between different media perspectives. To the artist, the metaphor of the “archaeological excavation site” is an analogy expressing the impossibility of seeing and understanding the image in its full context.
And the same metaphor may be applied to the exhibition as a whole, for it intends with its numerous references to highlight the web of historical, conceptual and methodical fusions, but also confusions, on which artists and curators must continue to work.
Sabine Maria Schmidt
(translation by David Higgins)
 On this, cf.: Gregor Stemmrich: Rezeptionsmodelle. Kunst als Reflexionsform ihrer Geschichte, in: cat. Kunst nach Kunst, Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen 2002, pp. 12–19 (engl. translation ibid.: Models of reception. Art as a Form of Reflecting its Own History, pp. 20–25)
 Arthur C. Danto: Das Fortleben der Kunst, Munich 2000.
 Quoted from Nuit Banai: Vom Mythos der Objekthaftigkeit zur Ordnung des Raums: Yves Kleins Abenteuer der Leere, in: cat. Yves Klein, ed. by Olivier Berggruen, Max Hollein and Ingrid Pfeiffer, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt 2004, p. 17; cf. also Yves Klein: Hotel Chelsea. New York 1961, Kunstverein Hannover and Kunsthalle Bern, 1971, p. 44.
 Two versions of the photo exist; one with a cyclist in the background and one without, making the photomontage obvious. The photographers were Harry Shunk and John Kender. The leap was recorded in front of the wall of the house Rue Gentil Bernard 5, Fontenay-aux-Roses, a suburb east of Paris. Ciprian Muresan’s photo was taken in a street in his home town Cluj.
 For more detail on this, cf.: East Art Map a project by IRWIN and New Moment, since 2001 (http://www.projekt-relations.de/de/explore/east_art_map/index.php)
 For more details on this, see: East Art Map a project by IRWIN and New Moment, since 2001 (http://www.projekt-relations.de/de/explore/east_art_map/index.php)
 Inke Arns: Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear, diss. Berlin 2004. (Abstract quoted from http://edoc.hu-berlin.de/docviews/abstract.php?lang=ger&id=20894)
 Guido Boulboullé: Kunst nach Kunst – ein Avantgardekonzept. Eine Problemskizze, in: cat. Kunst nach Kunst, Bremen 2002, p. 26.
 Jan Verwoert „Es ist dasselbe alte Lied, aber mit einer anderen Bedeutung seit du gegangen bist“, in: catalogue: Simon Dybbroe Møller „Like origami gone wrong“, ed. by Aarhus Kunstbygning and Kunstmuseum Thun, 2006.
10 Mark Lewis: Ist die Moderne unsere Antike?, in: Documenta Magazine No. 1, 2007. Modernity?, Kassel/Cologne 2007, pp. 31f., 28 – 53
11 Taken from some chapter headings by Ursula Muscheler: Haus ohne Augenbrauen. Architekturgeschichten aus dem 20. Jahrhundert, Munich 2007.
12 Cf. Zbynĕk Baladrán: Ruins, Archaeology and the Gap between Images, also published on his homepage http://tranzitcz.media7.sk/artists/artist.php?id_aa=10&page=1&id_aa_praca=31