press release

From Trash to Trash

500 important critics, art historians, and gallery owners have agreed that the most significant art work of the 20th century is Duchamp’s urinal. I fully agree with them, but this general agreement does not automatically make it the most high-priced work of art. On the contrary. I wish to suggest that any other urinal placed in an exhibition space has precisely the same worth as the one placed there by Duchamp. (Assuming that such urinal still exists. Most of Duchamp’s objects came from an edition of multiples from the collector named Schwarz in Milan). Marcel Duchamp made a fundamental gesture. He brought into a gallery an object of common industrial production and called it a work of art. By this he announced to the world that under certain conditions basically anything can become a work of art, but he definitely did not claim that such work would remain a work of art forever. The same way an object can suddenly become a work of art, it can lose such “artistic quality.” The worth of Duchamp’s urinal is the fact that it is quite worthless. To perceive Duchamp’s ready-made as a classical work of art, where the value lies in the work in and of itself (i.e. in its actual physical appearance, as we know it from examples of classical paintings of Rembrandt or Van Gogh, or of Michelangelo’s sculptures), is senseless. There is no doubt that Duchamp’s gesture has formed a standard, but it would be ridiculous to think that this standard has anything to do with the “touch of the master’s hand,” (i.e. to think it essential that it was actually Duchamp himself who took the urinal out of the garbage where he found it, or who bought it in a store around the corner, or, in today’s standard, ordered it through the internet). What makes such work of art authentic is not the work as a physical object, but as a gesture, as a position. Thinking in terms of the original authorship when it comes to works of art that exist outside of the category of what we can call the traditional perception of art, has brought enormous confusion into viewing of contemporary art. Artworks that possess merely the quality of a gesture should end up back in the same garbage can that they had been taken out of. At the end of the 1960s, relics of artistic happenings became the items of art collecting, despite the fact that the very point of action artists was that their works would be impossible to conserve, would have a beginning and an end, and would be impossible to be kept in museums and galleries. Understandably, this happened due to the art market’s hunger for something that business can be carried out with. This tendency of the market was so strong that consequently, (naturally in combination with other factors,) it brought into being a new wave of painting, i.e. of works that fall into classical artistic categories. True, Duchamp’s ready-mades can be sold the same way the handkerchief of Mme Pompadur, Lennnon’s guitar, or Clinton’s pants are sold. Such souvenirs reach enormous prices in auctions, but compared to the famous works of art their prices amount to nothing. Duchamp’s urinal is a souvenir of a similar kind, for its value lies in Duchamp’s act and not in the actual object that he presented. In contemporary art we find a number of tendencies that are conditioned on one hand directly by Duchamp’s position, but also (on the other hand) by the unhealthy opinion about the importance of the original authorship and about the work of art in its actual physical properties. This brings into being works that are contradictory from the start. They stand for something that they at the same time deny. My advice to the contemporary artists would be to, after their presentation, return their works back to the damp, or to recycle them. This would by no means amount to the works’ desecration, more on the contrary, this would mean that we take Duchamp’s gesture seriously. In the meantime we have used his humanistic and ground-breaking message as an argument for making financial profits out of artworks that were never meant to become the subject of the market. This false comprehension of Duchamp’s legacy is one of current art-historical errors adding up to a distorted and limited understanding of modern art on our behalf. By such miscomprehension we seem to claim that we have no use for the freedom that Duchamp has offered us.

Milan Knížák General Director of the National Gallery in Prague

Subject Matter without Any Subject

The conversations that went on between curators and critics during preparations of the International Triennale of Contemporary Art pertained to several contemporary phenomena. Questions about the position and significance of art in contemporary culture lay at the centre of our discussions. The nature of art today and its place in society seem to change more often than the lay and professional public are able to apprehend. The global population explosion, consumerist nature of society and spread of digital communication challenge the idea of the unique character of traditional cultural values, and this pertains, inter alia, to the idea of the exceptional nature of the artist’s position in society and the unique character of his or her work. The loss of the artwork’s aura, as so clairvoyantly characterized by Walter Benjamin in post-modern period as a symptom of the mass production and distribution of manifestations of modern culture, continues; this has led artists to a critical point not hitherto experienced in the cultural history of western civilization. Today thousands, hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of artists worldwide find themselves outside the centre of public attention and no public or private collection will find space to preserve the work of the prevailing majority of these artists as traditional collection objects. Never before in the history of culture has art (except for rituals) experienced the degree of ephemerality that it does today. Art’s ephemeral nature is related to the artist’s position in society; assimilated and no longer exclusive, the artist has joined the intelligentsia and lost any chance to do independent or creative work. He depends on the communication media and their technologies and on the viewers’ capacity to find in his work or artefact an opportunity for the stimuli created by the artist to become art. It is a well-known fact that many of the celebrities among contemporary artists adroitly exploit changes in the nature and function of art by refusing to participate in its manifestations in any other way than as representatives of the copyright of an artwork made by someone else in a gigantic studio or factory. For financial and ideological reasons, the Triennale has avoided the work of such celebrities. The edge on which creative qualities of contemporary art are determined must be defined differently than by contemporary culture’s stereotypes of taste. Perfect idols merely offer a consumer opportunity, while not affording the public an opportunity to participate in the artwork’s creation. If the boundaries between the artist and society begin to merge more often than before and artistic and extra-artistic realities blend, a much larger scope opens for the social functions of art, though these differ greatly from the avant-garde’s dreams of “constructive” tendencies. The priorities of the discussions about the Triennale and the artwork selection include sensitivity to social reality and the role of individual thinking in today’s increasingly homogeneous culture. We call for difference in form and difference in its “reading”. We have considered the marginal and ephemeral aspects of being an outsider as well as all the interactive figures of current creative discourses in art, film, video art, music and acoustic manifestations, performances and genuine and non-genuine non-verbal literary manifestations employed in visual and spatial presentations. In this respect, we are not limited by a generationally-defined contemporary reality alone. The permeability of genre and the functions of contemporary art goes along with the permeability of time and criticism of the present as an idea of place in a linearly-defined concept of history. We espouse the idea of the present as an intersection of a number of differently-based times. In this respect, I have not hesitated to include in my curator’s project some marginal works or rather modest manifestations by the artists, works whose meaning eluded the grasp of the professional art community. The virtual “archaeological” examination of contemporary art discloses the roots or relics of forgotten positions of actions and games, which could not previously find a place among interpretations of the actual values of the art of the modern past. The shifting of criteria during the formation and perception of contemporary art, influenced by the shifting of different cultural contexts within the framework of globalized culture, is the theme of a freestanding part of the Triennale called “Mobility”. One part of the exhibition will continue when the Triennale in Prague is over, i.e. in different forms given by the different contexts of Europe’s four other cultural centres in Krakow, Helsinki, Lisbon, and Sofia. The Triennale has included a retrospective exhibition of major works of kinetic art of the second half of the twentieth century. We find kinetism interesting in this context as a major step forward in an artwork’s expression of time. Although kinetism is formed in the spirit of a modernist combination of the technical possibilities of modern times with a traditional object of modern art, such as a painting or sculpture, we find its meaning in the employment of temporality and openness of form as opposed to time and variability in the principle of its creation. The current work of Stanislav Zippe documents the transformation of kinetism from so-called modifications within a single model of a kinetic work’s motion to a much more open structure, in which the computer’s shaping of visual expression changes to make each moment of the transformation of form in time unique. Although the exhibition of kinetic art documents the idea of art’s nature and radically transforms milieus of the contemporary world’s cultures based on the older roots of modern and post-modern art, it finds its meaning in a new reading, change and the archaeology of its social functions and significance.

Tomáš Vlček Director of the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art of the National Gallery in Prague

only in german

ITCA 2008 - International Triennale of Contemporary Art 2008
Re-Reading the Future
Ort: Veletrini palac

mit Jesper Alvaer, Maria Thereza Alves, John Armleder, Miroslaw Balka, Olivo Barbieri, Matthew Benedict, Baldur Burwitz, Pavel Büchler, Alex Cecchetti, Filipa Cesar, Sean Dawson, Sven Drühl, Jimmie Durham, Jürgen von Dückerhoff, Bogomir Ecker, Esra Ersen, Adriana Garcia Galan, Jarg Geismar, Melissa Gordon, Iris Kettner, Jan Kotik, Katarzyna Kozyra, Elke Krystufek, Christina Kubisch, Christelle Lheureux, Zbigniew Libera, Liu Zhenchen, Yasumasa Morimura, Anna Oppermann, Adrian Paci, Werner Reiterer, Michal Rovner, Maya Schweizer, Santiago Sierra, Shahzia Sikander, Nedko Solakov, Miroslav Tichy, Gavin Tremlett, Jean-Luc Vilmouth, Clemens von Wedemeyer, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pae White, Christof Zwiener ...